The uniforms the pre-breeders wore at the Center were broken down by age category. The pre-teens wore a gray uniform to school, and they also had a gray set of athletic and casual wear. The teenager uniforms were similar in design but were a dark green color. There was also a special commissary where they could be temporarily issued common human clothing when they went outside the Center with their teachers or other adult chaperones for one of their human-interaction assignments.
Additionally, the uniforms were broken down into a set of male-appearance clothing and a set of female-appearance clothing for the teenagers. The female-appearance uniforms were still pants, but they were designed to better fit the body for the particular gender-appearance a pre-breeder teenager had been born with.
An examination of their internal organs might reveal some peculiarities, but, for the most part, a human surgeon wouldn’t notice anything different enough to raise any red flags. The noticeable differences were mostly at the genetic and bio-chemical level. Also just like the humans, Intermediates sweat and emit body odor. They consume food and excrete it in the same way as a human. That meant that their clothes, bed sheets, and linens got dirty and stinky.
Azriah’s breeder years were long behind him. He was five foot two. In male phase, human females hadn’t been particularly interested in him. It wasn’t his height alone that had been the problem. He could have overcome that with sufficient charm and friendliness –which were qualities he chose not to cultivate.
Azriah had preferred to simmer in how unfair the universe was because he had been born so diminutive in stature. This gave him a perpetual chip on his shoulder that drove away the human women who would have been willing to overlook his height. During female phase, Azriah had been a little over four foot six, and she had been regarded as too childlike by most human men to be sexually appealing. The chip on Azriah’s shoulder had also carried over into female phase, making her as bitter and unlovable as her male phase alter-ego.
Now, at sixty-three years old Azriah had to work at the Center’s industrial-grade laundry facility cleaning the clothes of the pre-breeders and managing garbage collection and disposal, in exchange for a measly salary. In another five years, he could retire with a modest pension that one could earn for doing a sufficient number of years of post-breeder service for the Syndicate, but in the meantime, he enjoyed taking out his bitter resentment on the pre-breeder teens that worked for him at the laundry and sanitation facility.
Teenagers were eligible to fulfill various job roles around the Center, which earned them service points in their permanent record. That record was used when evaluating them for breeder-certification. Even’s mediocre academic performance had meant he needed to earn service points to ensure he would be breeder-certified, so he had been working laundry detail for the last year. Azriah seemed to have it in for him almost from the beginning.
Even would sometimes notice Azriah watching him from afar. Watching Even’s tall, lean, muscular body as he worked, loading in dirty laundry, unloading clean linens, and folding them all. Even noticed out of the corner of his eye that the old post-breeder always had a grim frown on his face.
One time, Even had tripped over the edge of one of the large, wheeled laundry baskets and been unable to catch his fall with his hands. The concrete floor had slammed into the side of his face, blackening his eye and swelling it shut. When the stars cleared away, Even had noticed Azriah standing some distance away, a toothy grin on his face. It was the only time Even had ever seen Azriah smile.
Azriah had also seemed to relish in giving Even orders to do one thing, and then later to undo whatever he had just told him to do. He would tell Even to empty dirty laundry from a machine because it was supposedly broken. After Even was done, Azriah would suddenly “remember” that it had been the next machine over that was broken, and tell him to put the laundry back in, then empty the other machine.
Even didn’t spend too much time trying to figure out what made Azriah tick. In his mind, the old man was simply an asshole. Even was happy when his last enzyme treatment ended, not just because he was going to be a breeder, but because he was done with Azriah and laundry detail.
As Even packed his few belongings the morning of his last day at the Center, he found his work coveralls in his closet, and cursed. He had hoped never to see that pitiable little creature, Azriah, again. He pulled them off their coat hanger and headed across campus to the laundry and sanitation facility. It was on the edge of the Center’s outer perimeter and was used for storing garbage for periodic pickup, while another section contained industrial-grade washing machines, similar to the ones found in prisons.
In front of the laundry and sanitation facility was a smaller building with a set of offices inside. It didn’t open until 9am, and it was only 8:30am, but Even still had his key to the back door. He opened it, walked over to a garment rack, and hung his coveralls. He decided there was no point taking the key, so he dropped it on a desk. The back door would only lock from the outside with the key, so he turned the deadbolt from the inside and started walking down a long hallway to the front. He realized he could hear Azriah talking to someone in a room up front, and stopped when he heard the other voice. It was Robin.
“You’ll drive home at the same time you always do. I’ve paid off one of the gate guards to open the trunk of your car, but he’ll overlook the fact that I’m hiding inside,” Robin said.
“Which gate do I go to? There are four gates leading out of the Center.”
“I’ll tell you when we meet tonight,” Robin said. “I’ve also paid someone to watch and make sure that my bribed guard is working tonight. If he isn’t there for some reason, I’ve arranged for my watcher to let me know with a pre-arranged signal.”
“What kind of signal?”
“Innocuous enough that no one will know that’s what it is, but easily perceivable from anywhere I might be in the Center, so I’ll know. You don’t need to worry about details like that.” Robin said.
Even crept to the back of the building, and left through the backdoor. He’d return the key later.
As Even walked back to his dorm, he considered his options. He wasn’t involved and none of this could come back to him. He didn’t want to report it. Although Even tried to stay out of trouble himself, he also didn’t report others for infractions as long as he had good plausible deniability. Robin had apparently bribed money-hungry Azriah, since Even knew the post-breeder wretch would never help Robin out of kindness. Sneaking out in Azriah’s trunk would probably work, and security probably wouldn’t notice Robin was gone until sometime the next day. Plenty of time to get away.
There had never been a desertion from the Center while Even had been living there. He doubted it had occurred at the Center in decades. In Even’s mind, and in most other pre-breeders minds, the thought of desertion would have been like a human child running away from his parents. It happened, but it was rare.
Even had learned in his classes that human children sometimes ran away from their parents, but that was because their parents weren’t suitable for raising children, and didn’t care for them like the Syndicate did. Their kind was better because the Syndicate raised pre-breeders at the Center, thereby ensuring that all pre-breeders were given an equal chance. They all had the same parent –the Syndicate. Additionally, desertion was more than just running away from the people who had raised you, it was running away from your entire race and civilization. How many human children would have been willing to leave, not just their parents, but their entire species to go live on a desert island with lesser animals? That was what desertion amounted to in the eyes of most pre-breeders.
“Oh well, whatever,” Even said as he got back to his dorm. He was leaving tomorrow, and it couldn’t affect him. He’d just pretend like he hadn’t heard what he heard and continue with his day.
But it wasn’t going to be that easy for Even.
Later that day, Even had to go to the Office of Security for his exit-interview. At the interview, he would be fingerprinted one last time, a fresh DNA sample would be taken, and he would be photographed. He would be issued an ID-card that he was supposed to carry at all times. The ID card consisted of his picture and a series of cryptographic symbols that would only make sense to the Syndicate and security agents. To a human, it would just look like an odd photo of Even with non-sense symbols on it. The card, along with a cryptic tattoo they all received on their inside lip during childhood, marked them as members of the Syndicate.
The Security Office was located on the grounds of the Center, in a squat building made out of concrete, with a hard metal roof. It was drab and gray. The front of it was clear of vegetation or any evidence of life whatsoever. The residents of the Center, as well as the other staff and teachers, tended to steer a wide path of the building.
Even entered the front and was greeted by a humorless, post-breeder woman in her fifties, with her hair up in a tight bun and a pair of librarian’s glasses on her nose.
“Wait right there,” she said to Even, and pointed at a chair sitting in front of a long hallway. Then she walked off, and disappeared from view.
He sat down, and tried to keep from fidgeting.
As Even stared down the long hallway, he saw Azriah, handcuffed, being led out of one room and into another in the hallway, escorted by the Center’s two plainclothes Security agents.
“Oh fuck,” Even said to no one in particular.