She wakes in the tank.
That is not supposed to happen, and she knows it while it is happening, that it is wrong, that she is wrong. There is a whispering in her ears: repetitive, soothing. Language. She turns her head to see where the whispering originates, but sees nothing.
No one notices: the technician is one of those who sleep or read or jack off on duty, isn’t even at his station, and so she goes safely back to sleep without being known.
She is brought out on schedule, when she was fully cooked, fully formed, something like a sixteen-year old human female, while in actuality being something else entirely.
Days of examinations follow. She has not been taught modesty or fear, and feels neither while standing naked in front of a dozen strangers, being poked and prodded and measured and appreciated. She feels cold from time to time. One of the medtechs notices goose bumps rising and comments on it for the log, but does not adjust the room’s ambient temperature.
Placed in a nondescript room — bed and dressing-table with mirror and chair and a half-bath with no door — she sits without knowing what to do. Eventually she falls asleep, sitting in the chair.
When she wakes it is to the sound of a medtech chiding her for not sleeping on the bed. “Stupid. You’ll have a crick in your neck.” She has brought clothes: a plain, dark green jumpsuit and soft shoes with a rubber sole. “Get dressed. You have training.”
Training is a classroom with a teacher. There are others, in jumpsuits like hers. Some of the jumpsuits are orange, but most are green. The difference is never explained. The teacher is dressed normally.
She is being taught behavior. The first day, she learns how to serve tea. One classmate in an orange jumpsuit spills the tea repeatedly and is sent out of the room. No one seems angry or upset, but the ejected classmate does not reappear.
She is returned to her room exhausted and knows now to sleep on the bed. The next morning the same tech wakes her. “Shower and change into a clean suit.” The tech points to the closet, where several jumpsuits identical to the one she now wears hang.
This day is like the last, with a different lesson. No one is removed this day, or the next.
The classes go on, the lessons grow more complex. She learns more behavior, interpersonal behavior, intimate behavior. She learns skill and technique. She is not taught shame or joy. Only one more student is removed over the entire course: the teacher tells the tech who comes to retrieve the errant student, “this one’s frigid”.
At the end of the course a man comes in, flanked by attendants, and he smiles and declaims a short and practiced speech about pride of accomplishment. They have taught her how to read a man too well: the visitor’s insincerity is ill-hidden.
They are given new clothes to replace the jumpsuits. They are more delicate, less practical. She is colder than before. She is shown to her new quarters, which are gaudy and cloying.
She receives her first client, and she is perfect in every gesture and expression. He smells of wealth and self-loathing, and the encounter is perfunctory. She smiles emptily and intones soft pleasantries and he is fooled.
Two days later she receives her second client. He is large and boorish, and she is made uneasy by a look in his eye she does not recognize. There are gaps in her training, she understands: some of what she must know she must learn in practice.
He is rough in ways she has not experienced before, but she does not balk. She has not been taught fear or dignity. She is uncomfortable but undamaged. He seems pleased, and promises to return. Afterwards she returns to the classroom to ask the teacher for instruction, but finds the room empty. A passing tech says, “The teacher’s gone. You know everything you need to know.” When she asks specifically about the violence of her recent client, the tech grins. “Takes all kinds. Improvise.”
She returns to her new quarters and showers; she notes light bruising on her arms and neck, thighs and waist. She sleeps soundly.
Her third client is a woman who is uncertain of something, but will not say what, and leaves without completion. She is worried that she has failed in some inscrutable way, but when the tech wakes her the next morning, no rebuke is forthcoming.
The next night the second client — the ruffian — returns. He has brought disciplinary paraphernalia. She prepares to improvise.
He begins as before, but quickly grows rougher than she had expected. She cries out in pain, but it seems only to encourage him to further exertions. She feels she understands. She reaches up to hold his face between her palms, and twists as hard as she can until she hears a loud cracking sound from his neck. He falls limp on top of her.
It takes an even greater exertion to push his deadweight off. She has not been taught guilt. She goes to the shower.
When she emerges two techs are waiting. They motion for her to follow. She understands that she is being removed.
She is returned to the same laboratory where she was first removed from the tank. She is stripped of her clothing and stands again while being poked and prodded. She feels cold. They ask her questions, and she gives factual answers that seem somehow unsatisfactory and worrisome. The same questions are asked in different ways, using different phrasing, but she gives the same answers each time.
The man who gave the speech at the end of training appears. He speaks to the techs in hushed tones. He eyes her with ill-concealed disappointment.
She is given an injection and told to lie down on the examination table. She complies. She feels warm, finally, and goes to sleep.