by Tamlyn Dreaver
The woman in front of me stepped up to the window. Her jacket had slipped, and I could see the faint line of a scar on her neck. The clerk behind the glass took his time, keeping her waiting, but she didn’t complain. So many did, but she seemed to realise it just slowed things down.
The cold of the day wrapped around me, creeping under my clothes, toes turning numb in worn boots. I jiggled back and forth, careful not to break from the line. Thick, oily smoke hung heavily over the yard; Jacks Quarter, across the city, was burning today. Luxury goods factories, the newscasts had wailed.
No one in this line cared. All that mattered were new ID papers since the latest rule change before we missed yet another cut-off. You needed ID for everything—rations, shelters, medication. For being outside even in curfew hours.
A soldier moved up and down the line, his rifle his authority and his bright, new coat his privilege. I kept one ear out for barked orders, in case something changed, if I had to switch to a new queue, get down on the ground, give up and waste the hours today. The soldiers were always eager to use their weapons.
“Second reference,” the bored clerk behind the bullet proof glass said to the woman in front of me.
She slid a scrap of paper under the glass. Her fingers shook despite her thick coat. It must have cost her at least three months’ worth of rations.
I pulled the fraying ends of my sleeves down over my hands. I’d make another winter.
A flickering cast wavered onto the screen on the side of the registration building, all loud blares and garish colours. “Warning!” it cried every two seconds in punctuation. The picture showed a naked android, nothing covering the seams on its body, no clothes, no skin tone, no hair. I tuned out the rest: report, sneak, snoop, turn in, any you see. The standard. I’d never seen something that looked like that.
The woman in front of me shuffled. Her scar still showed, smooth and straight—seam-like. I blinked. I looked back at the blaring cast.
The soldier stumped up and down the line. He entertained himself by coming too close and trying to scare people out of place.
The woman wore her jacket with long sleeves. She wore gloves. Thick skirt and stockings. Shoes. A hat over a short bob. The only bare skin was her face, and that thin strip of neck.
It was cold.
The scar was so perfect.
“Third reference,” the clerk behind the glass said. The final reference.
The woman handed it across. Her hands shook even more. Third reference was law enforcement. Military or local. You couldn’t fake those ones. I had mine in my inner pocket, tucked against my skin; I’d run contraband for them for a month before they’d handed it over.
The soldier came back our way.
I looked at the woman’s shaking hands instead of her seam. I shuffled on my feet, a minuscule step sideways, so I stood between her and the soldier, so he couldn’t see her back.
The clerk behind the glass handed across the new ID. Gripping it tightly, the woman turned aside. I fiddled with my coat collar, turning it up, and she automatically did the same.
I didn’t watch her walk away. I stepped up to the counter. You needed ID for everything.
Everyone needed it.
Tamlyn Dreaver lives in Western Australia. She writes to make up for the lack of secret basements and nesting dragons in her life. She can be found at www.tamlyndreaver.com and followed on Twitter @tamlyn_dreaver.