The alarm goes off as he looks at himself in the bathroom mirror. His eyes are blue, face as youthful as it had ever been. He examines himself through splatters of toothpaste and the several necklaces hanging from the corner of the mirror. The alarm keeps beeping.
He wonders how long he has been alive, how much longer he will be alive. He wonders about the woman in the living room and the little girl he hears talking to one friend or another from school. He wonders about the rent. The alarm keeps beeping.
He goes over equations in his mind as his fingers take a winding route over his chin, to his neck and the implanted ports there. He thinks about trajectory tracking paths and long range sensor readings. He thinks about old man Theo who is retiring in 8 days. The knife in his guts brings his thoughts back to the rent. The alarm turns off.
“Baby? You are gonna be late and we still have to go shopping this evening.” Her name is Margaret. She stands at the door to the bathroom looking at him in his towel. She’s cute. She’s planning the week. Planning what to do after payday. He hated her a little bit.
“I know hon just trying to get my head together.” He moves past her and starts to dress in their little room that’s too functional to be comfortable. He’s grinding his teeth. He knows she will notice but cant stop it. He cant even have these feelings to himself.
“Baby, everything is going to be fine. They are going to give you an extension, its 8 days.” She means what she says. He hears the same tones she gives their daughter when shes asking for frivolous things.
“We will see.”
“Ansel, even if it doesn’t…” She starts
“I know.” he retorts and thinks to himself ‘please just shut up’
She takes his arms before he can get them in his shirt and looks him in the eyes. He wonders if any man has ever felt any sort of relief or comfort from this sort of thing.
“You,” she says in her most serious of tones “have always been an ideal employee. You’ve completes 16 cycles with zero problems. They are going to give you the extra time.”
He says something, anything to shut her up. Then he gets back to dressing. Easy clothes made from recycled materials and paid for in their all inclusive package. He goes into the living space and sees setting at the kitchen table a little girl that he would give up immortality for. She gazes deeply at a screen were someone else plays a game. She does not look at him “Morning Dad!”
“Hey honey, feed your cat please.” he grabs food off the table and stuffs it into his mouth before heading to the door.
“What your father means is good morning honey good to see you!” Margaret was so happy. She was always happy when it came time for rent. He definitely hated her this morning.
“I know,” the little girl says, nose still in her screen “he’s just worried about the rent.”
“I know! I keep telling him its going to be fine but your Daddy doesn’t listen to me.” She comes behind him and hugs him. Now he has to stand there. Now he has to pretend like it helped.
“Ok, Ok! Its gonna be fine I know, I just worry about things. I’m going to go talk to Theo then head over for…”
“You are going to head over to get confirmatory of your extension and to find out when you start your new job!” She bounces on her heels as she says the last words. Like she can jump high enough to lift him out of the mood he is in. He smiles. This many years and a child has afforded her that.
He leaves the hab unit and makes his way down the winding halls that each level of the large habitation structure is built upon. These are old Gallente structures and the sweeping curves of its design were marred by decades of human living. He never liked Gallente architecture, reminded him of someone trying too hard to seem intelligent.
He thought about his own intelligence as the hab wing hall opened to the large elevator system that acted as the main thoroughfare for the structure. Domed lights and arches that had clever angels of connection decorated what was essentially a shaft that ran several kilometers north and south of the stations plane. He leaned over one railing to gaze down the cliff like walls to see the cruiser size transport making its way up to where hundreds of people just like him waited. Well not just like him. They didn’t pay their rent the way he did.
“Hubris,” he thought “these people started with less than me and we ended up in the same place. Who’s the sucker now?”
He had once considered throwing himself down the large shaft that delivered him to and from ‘work’ everyday. He’d plotted the trajectory his body would take. This was where his learned skills had first been of any real use to him. By looking at the sides of the walls he was able to calculate the velocity he would have to attain to be able to throw himself clear of the safety netting. The numbers swirled in his mind as he paced out the distance to start running from. He had even moved a trashcan to mark the spot. Just in case he came to the lift one day with the courage to do it. He could leave this place.
No sooner was the thought in his head before he heard his little girl laughing. She haunted him. She was the thing that kept him here. Margaret he could leave but a little girl in a far flung station. That couldn’t be his legacy. So he stayed. He stayed and he paid the rent.
“Hey young timer! I’ve got a heck of a mess waiting for ya when you get down to astro!” The man was short. Shorter than anyone Ansel had ever met with a fat belly and watery eyes. His name was Theophelis and he was in possession of an operations job. A job that by all rights would be going to Ansel, if he got an extension.
Theo had been born on a planetary mining facility and moved out to space by stowing away on a resource ship. Ansel found that hard to believe but had never questioned it too much. He had come to the station and been cleared for astrometrics spending the better portion of his life looking for unknown signals in system. Ansel was fairly sure the bulk of Theos time had been spent using the stations vast scanning networks to broadcast fleet actions in systems. He had heard that the operations guys placed bets on the winners.
That’s what had gotten them to talk. Theo had seen Ansels ports and was keen to hear all the glorious story’s he had. The truth was Ansel had very few. He had been little more than a recruit when he found himself in Null space. The corporation he had applied to had given him a ship and brought him to some “glorious battle” that none of them won. They had all died, surely back to their home system but Ansel had found himself here on this station. He had tried to get home. With no money and no contacts he had taken a corvette out system. He had done it several times. He never made it back to CONCORD space though. Always another camp, another dictor, another way to die.
They talked as they went. Down the long tunnel that looked like the mouth to Hell to Ansel. Mindless things. Theo endlessly telling him all the things he would need to catch up on.
“Don’t tell the boss this but I retired about 2 years ago as far as I’m concerned and you’ll have some logging to do kid!” Theo was a good man that had lived a good life. Ansel wanted to get his kid old enough to feel alright about leaving her.
They made there way to a large white arched entrance on the upper mezzanine of the administration black. Theo paused in his rambling and for just a moment his face became grim beyond anything his demeanor said he had rights to know.
“I’ve sent in my requests for you son. I’ve told um out of every single learner we have you’d be the right man for the job. Now you go in there and just let things happen.’ He clapped him in the shoulder and held firm for a moment. Ansel went through the arch.
The reclamation facility was painfully sedate. More curves and domes. Lounges cleverly built into raised flower beds and lights that had been calibrated for ease of eye strain. He would have hated it if his gut would let him feel anything other than dread. He moved to the counter. Gave his name to a girl much older than her face would suggest and sat down. There was nothing that ever stood out about these transactions. They were designed to be innocuously inevitable. In a timely manner a voice called his name. He followed it.
Julie was the voices name and she had been his handler for the past 6 or 7 cycles. She was nice enough. Had two kids and a husband she claimed to be “mostly worth it”. A real down to earth kinda gal. She had laughed when he called her that.
“Julie, I was just wondering if you had heard anything about my extension request. I was talking to Theo earlier…” she didn’t stop walking down the hall as they talked. That made him nervous.
“Yeah, I heard he was retiring. He’s in Astro right?”
“Yeah, he was kinda pulling for me to fill his spot at the end of the month.” He heard the quiver in his voice. He hated that too.
“O, that would be awesome! We would sure miss you Mr. Tull.” He didn’t like that this conversation had become a last name affair.
“Yes well, I’d miss you guys as well.” They stopped at “the” door. She turned and looked into his eyes.
“So this may be the last time we do this then?” Odd, if you had written down the words coming out of her mouth you may be able to convince yourself that there was kindness in them.
“Well, ma’am, I’m sure you have gotten my requests for an extension on my monthly. He wont be leaving for a week but as soon as I take his position,” he was willing her not to open the door.
“If, Mr. Tull, you were to get his potion.” She swiped her hand in front of the door and it opened to a room that was too cold and too white.
“Well, yes ma’am, if but I am one of the highest testing learners you have and he assures me he has sent in a letter of approval for the job. I’m sure I’ll get it.” He felt like a child begging his mother for a new pet.
“Mr. Tull that is fantastic I really hope that you are able to get the position but we will need to fulfill your contractual obligations for housing and medical services.”
The room had a single chair with straps and nobs all over it. To the side was a table and a man wearing a white coat and gloves. On the table was placed a series of instruments surrounding a large empty metal framed tube.
“If I do this now I will not have the skills to pass the job testing.” He wondered if his eyes were as watery as Theos had been. He wondered if his voice had betrayed him. From the look in her eyes it had. She sighed and tucked the data slate she was carrying under her arm.
“Mr.Tull are you saying that you wish to breach your contract at this time and not provide the learning services you have signed up for?” This was scripted, he was sure of it. Something attorneys had pored over to make sure that whatever came after would be legal.
'I don’t want to breach anything , I just think I would be more useful to you if.” But she was ushering him towards the chair and damn him he was going.
“Mr. Tull, you are an excellent learner and have done so well in our learning program. While I am sure that you would be amazing at any task we are happy with what you have done for us so far.” She looked like she wanted to pinch his cheek. Like he was a dog eager to please. And he was. He would be her dog if it meant he didn’t have to. But the straps where around his wrists now. He didn’t even know he had sat down.
Suddenly the man in the white coat was beside him with some damnable machinery in his hands. The long glass tube inserted into the contraption.
“Mr. Tull, before we begin I just want to double check. Do you wish to breach contract with us? If so I can send a move team down to your home to help you and your wife and daughter move.” Razors in every word.
He thought about them then. He thought about his daughter. His little girl born of loneliness and fear. He thought about the galaxy that had made him an immortal. He thought about the decisions that had shrank that Galaxy to this one station.
“Don’t let me learn astrometrics again.” A last whimper against a storm of inevitability.
“Of course Mr. Tull.” She nodded to the man holding the skill extractor.