She stood before the Examiner, trying for the compromise between pride and insecurity. Above all she had to be perfect. The Thought Police didn't take recruits, and they didn't take refusals. Either she went through with this or she lost everything. Exactly what that meant, no one knew, but everyone suspected.
"Your application is now free of unwords," the pale man admitted, his fingers tapping the folder.
It had taken five tries. They were changing the words too frequently. But she didn't protest. That was beyond thought.
"Grimes," he began.
"I go by my mother's name," she said before she could stop herself.
"Not here," the man answered.
"Of course," she said, clenching her trembling hands.
He opened the folder and read. "You were chosen for your exemplary work at the Ministry. However, it has been noted that you are not a member of the Anti-Sex League," he commented.
"Not at this time," she replied.
"The Chief of the Thought Police has taken a deep interest in anti-sex activities."
He leaned over the desk and looked into her eyes, speaking in a low voice and turning his back to the screen in the corner. "I'll be blunt with you. Off the record. Do you understand?"
Grimes, as she now was, didn't believe anything was truly off the record, but she nodded.
"If there is a man, and you are caught with him, the consequences will go beyond being expelled from the Thought Police. Everyone knows there are irregularities, but I cannot permit even a shadow of this one to fall upon us. Do you understand?"
She thought for a moment of Lucy, waiting in her own tiny apartment. They didn't dare share, even though people's suspicions weren't running in that direction this season. Lucy was so delicate. She would never survive without her, wouldn't make it a week in the City alone.
It was only for Lucy that she was here. Not that she had a choice, or could have run, but if it were for herself she would taken the consquences rather than join the Thought Police. But for Lucy's sake she stayed alive and would do what she dreaded, telling herself that someone else would only do it if she didn't.
For a moment she dwelled on the sensation of Lucy's hand clasped in hers, but she couldn't show emotion in front of the Examiner.
"There is certainly no man," she replied in almost a whisper. "I shall be most pleased to ally myself with the Anti-Sex League at my earliest opportunity."
He sat back, no longer breathing into her face. "Very well. I trust that as a Party Member you are well aware of the consequences of your future assignment. You must purge yourself of any pity, any compromise. We root out the unthinkable here, and what you consider unthinkable is unimportant. If your own mother, your own sister, were to express themselves against the party, you would be expected to turn them in with your own hands."
"Of course," she replied. She had no mother or sister, and even if she had... only one person mattered to her now.
"You know what's funny?" the Examiner continued. "I know exactly what you are thinking."
"What do you mean?" she asked, keeping her voice calm.
"You are thinking of the one person you would never betray. They all do. There is always one."
"I'm sure I don't know--"
"And they all do it. After a month, a year, when that person turns, and it's always someone who will turn, they bring them in."
Grimes was silent.
"It doesn't matter. Tell yourself what you must. You're hired, and you will report tomorrow."
"Yes," she replied. Her voice was steely, but something inside her had broken. Examiners lie; it's all built on lies...
But try as she might, she could not rid herself of the vision of Lucy struggling in her arms as she dragged her away.