Investing in the future

"What more do I want?"  Darnelle was finding it hard to talk to Marvin who acted more like she was one of the children than one of the staff.  "I want to help these children, not drug them into insensibility!  I want them to find hope, have a chance at a life outside the Orphanarium.  I want to know that some of them won't end up as Biologically Reclaimable Waste or drowned to death in that godawful aquarium tank of yours!"  She realised with a start that she was shouting, and that she had risen off her stool and was pointing dramatically through the viewing window.  Derek slid off his stool with a thump and coiled messily on the floor, unconscious.

"Your problem is that you think of these children as people," said Marvin, his eyes not leaving her face.  "You don't seem to remember that we buy the rights to these children from the government.  We are not a charity, we are a business, and these children are an investment.  Oh, and no-one drowns to death, Darnelle.  They merely drown, which is a state transition resulting in their death."

"You inhuman monster!"  Flecks of white spit escaped Darnelle's mouth as she screamed at Marvin.

"Pick Derek up, Darnelle, and take him to his room."  Marvin turned away, and then half-turned back again.  "So that you're aware in advance, his room is sparsely furnished because of his ability to summon Brownies.  We are not punishing him for being a child."

As Darnelle left Marvin's office with Derek cradled in her arms, his head lolling like a rag doll's and his breathing slightly laboured, tears were welling up from her eyes and refracting her vision into a kaleidoscope of blurred colour.  She had no idea there were any other children in the hallway until a small voice said "Ow!" and then apologised.  Darnelle set Derek down, rubbed her eyes clear, and looked for the source of the noise.  Christopher was cowering against the wall, all six of his extra arms attached, wearing only a pair of dirty blue jeans.

"You shouldn't be over here," said Darnelle, her voice soft but firm.  "Why are you here, Christopher?  Who brought you here?"  She picked Derek back up, and inclined her head to tell Christopher to follow her.  Three of his hands clutched her skirt.

"I heard that there's a swimming pool here," he said. "I was just looking for it."

"It's not really a swimming pool," said Darnelle.  "It's more of a therapeutic thing, uh, that means it's a medicine of a kind.  If you need it, you'll be shown it."  And I really hope you won't be shown it, she added to herself, because they'd have to turn you into a hermit crab or something like that.  Christopher nodded, seemingly happy with her explanation.  "How did you get in here though?" she asked again, but Christopher refused to answer.

Derek's room was a concrete cell with a concrete slab for a bed.  There was a blanket piled up on it, emblazoned with "Solzhenitsyn's Supplies", a logo found almost everywhere in the Orphanarium.  The only things they didn't seem to supply were the medication crates, which came from Kafka Kemikals.  The pillow turned out to be a shaped piece of wood painted blue.  Darnelle laid Derek down, tears once again welling up in her eyes, promising herself that she find him a little more comfort in the Orphanarium.

"Why does he get a pillow and I don't?" said Christopher.

The End

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