Dimly lit posters hung the entire length of the dark corridor to the Reassignment Office. They repeated the party slogan over and over. “CONFORMITY. UNITY. PEACE.” Ethan stared blankly at the tiled floor – he knew the phrase by now. It was the sole purpose of his and everyone elses existence. Every day was like the sound of his footsteps echoing against the wall - a mundane repetition of the last.
Men, women and children stood in multiple long, straight lines inside the large, rectangular hall. At the front of each line sat an Official behind a plain black desk. They wore the same as everyone else. A dark grey jacket with matching trousers, a white shirt with a straight black tie in a tidy knot. But what made them stand out was the red cap they wore, decorated with the party logo on the front. One of the standing Officials by the entrance to the hall approached him.
“Ethan Staunton Williams.”
“Residential block 41-G, South West Sector, Great England.”
The Official tapped on the screen of his tablet and then pointing to one of the queues.
“Line D. Await your turn.” He saluted. “Comformity. Unity. Peace.”
Ethan repeated the slogan back and walked to the end of the queue. There wasn’t much else to do other than to listen to the humming of the lights and the solemn cloud of murmurs from everyone around him. The odd laugh from children was soon quietened by their mothers and fathers. Every so often an Official would remove someone from the queue and walk them to one of the side doors. Ethan resisted watching – if you did so, you could soon be following them.
“Psst! Ethan, dear boy!” he turned his head and saw Terry, his friend from the Adult Education Centre, standing in the queue next to him.
“Terry. Long time.” They stood and gave each other a brief, but bland smile. “Where are you living these days?”
“42-F South West Sector.”
“Not too far from me.” Perhaps we should arrange a meeting some time. Are you married?”
“Yes, a lady called Harriet.”
“Bring her with you.”
Terry nodded affirmingly. “Yes, I will.”
They both took a step forward with the queues, and then continued their discreet conversation. “Which assignment have you been taken from?”
“Agricultural Distribution and Manufacturing. They say my Gross Productive Output exceeded department expectations. You?”
“Social Care and Reintegration. They say my Empathy Response Levels were too sensitive, but my Logistical Thinking were formidable and best suited elsewhere.”
Terry nodded. “Hmm. Meanwhile, I hate to be the one to say this,” he said, looking around, “but are you aware violation of Code-196 of the Citizen Code of Conduct? It is one of the first things I noticed when I saw you.”
Ethan responded with a confused glance as he recited that particular chapter in his head, before looking down. “What’s wrong with my clothes?”
“Your socks. They are…” he quietened his voice to a whisper, “they are not the same colour as each other.”
Ethan tactfully raised one trouser leg up by no more than a few inches, and then doing the same on the other leg. Terry was indeed correct – one sock was light grey, the other jet black. “Fuck.” He muttered underneath his breath. “How could I have made…”
“Everything in order citizen?” Ethan flinched slightly as an Official suddenly appeared next to him, quickly moving her face closer to his. She had a wide nose and big ears, her jaw line was strong and manly. Her breath reeked. He tried to keep an innocent face as he responded.
“Ethan Staunton Williams. I wanted to be sure my shoes were polished in accordance with Code-197 of the Citizen Code of Conduct.”
From bold, brown eyes, she continued to stare at him, before looking down his body. “The shoes look fine,” she said as she returned her glance. “What about the socks.”
He started to quiver. “It is my understanding that, in accordance with Code-196 of the…of the…”
A huge explosion at the entrance rocked the building. Ethan was thrown to the floor and across the room by the force. When he stopped, he felt nothing but a ringing in his ears. After a while he opened his eyes - his hearing returned slowly to the sound of the National Anthem playing cheerfully over the murmurs of people helping the injured. Fire consumed the back wall, the lights flickered above. Smoke and dust filled the other end of the room. Everyone remained calm as per the Citizen Code of Conduct in Emergency situations. Ethan rolled his head to the side and there, lying beside him, was Terry. He was alive, but without his left arm. “Terry, your arm is no longer attached to your body.”
The pain made him groan, but he remained calm. “It appears you have suffered the same fate with your feet.”
Ethan looked down, and indeed Terry was correct – the lower parts of both his legs were no longer attached to his body. His blood formed a large puddle around the stumps of mangled bone and flesh.
“Well, that is unfortunate.” Ethan muttered.
“At least you don’t have to worry about your socks any more.” Terry quipped.
“Very true my friend, very true.”
© 2019 MattyRasker