Our new “home” was the Special Services Agency, which would play such a large part in my life over the coming years. After breakfast the next morning, in a dining room much smaller than the one at the Center, we were taken, without any explanation, to a small waiting room and left there. As I knelt there with the others, just as if we were in class, the differences from the Center began to be apparent. Chairs were lined up along the side walls, but it didn’t occur to any of us that we might be expected to use them. I noticed that the walls weren’t white, but a color I had to wrack my brains to remember — a soft green. Every so often, one of us would be summoned into the next room. When he was brought back out, he sat down on one of the chairs. I happened to be the last one, and observed the others’ discomfort as they sat. When I was finally taken into the other room, a voice told me to be seated.
I raised my head enough to see a large desk with a chair in front of it. I sat down on the very edge of the chair, but was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of having done something wrong. At the Center, we sat on the floor or on the benches in the dining hall, not on chairs, and I feared that this was a trick. I was so distracted by the problem that I was badly startled when the man sitting behind the desk spoke. “Do you know where you are, Shand?”
I was caught between surprise and panic. The world had suddenly become a dangerous place where I didn’t know what was expected of me. Someone had spoken my name for the first time in three years, but only to ask a question that had no obvious right answer. I was in a room in a building, but I was sure that couldn’t be what the man wanted. Would I be punished for not knowing? I might have lied, if that possibility had occurred to me, but lying was no longer in my repertoire of behavior. The man was waiting, and I had to say something, right or wrong.
I could hear my voice shaking when I replied, “No, Master.” But there was no punishment. Instead, I learned that the Special Services Agency had bought my entire group and would be responsible for finding owners for us.
“I’m Master Kenrick. I will be your counselor and placement officer. You will stay here at the agency and continue with your education and general training. I will be responsible for your adjustment and whatever new training is necessary to assure that you meet our standards and are ready to be offered for sale. If and when your owner no longer needs your services, you will return here and wait for another buyer. We will also supply whatever specialized training an owner might require.”
I didn’t understand what that meant. If they were going to sell me, this place must be a slave market. I didn’t know much about them, only what my friends from before the Center had passed around. The markets were supposed to be terrible places where the slaves were chained together, naked, for display. People would look them over, and examine their bodies, even their privates. I was accustomed to being touched and handled by my master, but the prospect of having strangers do it was frightening. I could only hope that someone would buy me very quickly.
To my astonishment, Master Kenrick began to speak about my accomplishments at the Center. The only way we knew whether we were doing well or badly in our studies had been punishment or lack of it. Now I learned that my teachers had considered me an exceptional student. There was no danger that I would succumb to pride because of that revelation. Any tendency in that direction had been thoroughly destroyed. In any case, Master Kenrick made it perfectly clear that it had nothing to do with me as an individual. I was merely a product, an admirable example of the Center’s training methods.
The next surprise came when Master Kenrick said I was free to ask him questions. Was there anything that I’d like to know? It was useless permission for someone who hadn’t been allowed to speak freely for three years, much less ask any questions. The only question I could dredge up from my overloaded mind was whether I would really be chained and naked at the market, but I was afraid to hear the answer. I expected him to be angry when I said that I didn’t have any questions. Instead, he assured me that there would be other opportunities, and he would explain anything that I needed to know.
Years later, looking back over my life, my first time at Special Services stands out sharply. Everything about it was so different from my experiences at the Center that I was in a state of confusion. But Master Kenrick did exactly as he had said. When I was able to formulate some questions at our next meeting, he answered them to my satisfaction and encouraged me to speak without fear of being punished. He even seemed to be concerned for my well-being. He was a kindly man, even though he was a slave dealer, and someone the citizens of Trusland would certainly disapprove of or possibly consider downright evil. That belief in his good intentions was a measure of my ignorance and naiveté at the time. If it had been anyone but Master Kenrick, I would have been disillusioned very quickly.
We were kept busy with classes — mostly review — and regular exercise periods, for which I was grateful. As comfortable as kneeling for long periods had eventually become, my body still needed movement. After all, I was young and full of energy. Physical education classes at the Center had focused on the development of lean, muscular bodies. Special Services made sure we remained in good physical condition. Potential buyers would want to see handsome, well-toned bodies, so our looks and physical fitness would be an important factor in our sale.
The time there was easy, even pleasant, compared to the rigorous routines of the Center. At first, I was overwhelmed by the colors and sounds, especially the sound of people speaking to each other. My master’s apartment had been only slightly more colorful than the rest of the Center, and he never spoke to me except to give me commands, or explanations, if I needed them.
After the week of orientation, we were given individual schedules and were free to come and go without supervision. That was another big adjustment. For several days, I felt lost, and was afraid of doing something wrong. We were even allowed some time for ourselves, which was another difficult adjustment, but brought me great pleasure. When I wasn’t in classes, I spent much of my free time in the well-stocked library, adding to my store of knowledge, and exploring subjects that had been ignored in the Center.
Our instructors treated us like human beings and encouraged us to discuss what we were learning. That was a learning process in itself. After three years of near-total silence, our speech was stilted and we tended to say as little as possible. For a long time, a few of the boys remained too fearful to say much, speaking only when they were directly addressed. We were even allowed to chat with one another, an amazing privilege that none of us would have expected. We came to know each other as individuals with names and personalities. Eventually, even the most timid boys began to accept that they wouldn’t be punished for speaking out. We learned to laugh, to express our feelings, to have opinions. We regained some of our humanity, but our previous training and our new instructors’ more gentle admonitions ensured that we never strayed from the standards to which we had been trained.