World’s Eye View – 16

Well, now that the cat’s out of the bag, or storage locker as the case may be, what’s next?”, Thompson queried. Kim looked at him like he’d grown a second head. “You see all this, then ask what’s next? Do you not ever process what you see, friend David?” Thompson ducked his head like a man caught with his hand in the cashier’s till. “Oh hell, I don’t know. We’re all on edge, this is getting to us. If there was a way to blow off steam, but there isn’t. We’re caught between the devil and deep black space.” Kim looked at Thompson. That’s right, talk with me, ignore the other two. Keep them out of the conversation. “I think you an Vyhovsky ought to work together doing my job on the panels and in hydroponics. That would really keep you two busy.”

Me? Work with that Ukranian dictator? Friend David, I think you’ve gone crazy if you think that is a good idea.” Thompson smiled. “Is that a professional observation?” “I….no, it is not”, Kim said slowly. He peered at Thompson who looked back at him with a guiless smile. He’s starting to suspect something. I think I overdid the smartass parts. “Look Kim, we all know we have to get along, and right now you and Vyhovsky aren’t. Whatever was simmering between you two has really gone overboard, and we need to fix it. Salila got a signal, people are still alive down there. If we want to get home, we have to work together to make it happen. We can’t just go and do it. We need a plan, and we need teamwork.”

Kim smiled, making Thompson feel like he just put a word very, very wrong. “Of course we do. Any attempt at returning home is going to take much effort on everyone’s part to make it happen. We have the equpiment, just not the data for a proper launch window. And, with our current … political … situation, we are not in any way ready or willing to work completely together.” Kim reached up to an overhead handhold, uncurling himself from the ergo seat. He pulled ‘up’ and maneuvered to avoid bumping the table. “It is why we need the democratic process. It would guarantee proper airing of all our greivances. How can you n ot see that it is the perfect way to deal with others in this emotionally charged system we are living in?” He puffed up a little like Thompson saw Turkeys do on his grandfather’s farm. “Rules to help us deal with the stresses of the day-to-day difficulties.”

Thompson watched Kim Glance past him, and he turned his head to see both Roels and Ms Shukla disappear out the back hatchway. “Excuse me, there are some things I must do, friend David”, Kim said politely. Thompson held up his hand and said, “Wait a second Kim. We need to talk.” Kim looked down at Thompson with narrowed eyes. “What must we discuss now, David?”, Kim all but sneered. “Another random talk of things?” “No, Myung. Just, talk”, Thompson replied quietly.

I just want to sit here and talk, like we all did before all this happened. Like about Botany, or ‘what space means to you’ or just anything except politics, religon, or personal stuff, ’cause we know those are all conversation killers.” Thompson tried to smile, and his lips felt like they were lead. The effort was almost beyond him.

Kim, to his surprise, actually drifted down to the ergo chair and hooked his feet through the pads to face Thompson. “We should, friend David. This place is making us all crazy. What did Eugeni call it, a ‘hamster cage’? I think it more resembles a tube trail cage, but I am not one to quibble about so apt a description.” Thompson chuckled, and was surprised by how that small joke had lifted him from the bone-weariness he felt. “I know, I could just see everyone in one of those Manga comics drawn up as Gerbils screaming ‘we are NOT HAMSTERS!’ and trying to escape.” Myung’s eyes crinkled in humor at the thought, and Thompson felt the tension ease. “That, friend Thompson, is an image to cherish.” Thompson started to feel uncomfortably ‘normal’ that the rest of their plight seemed far away and more a dream than reality. A sudden shout from the hatchway drew them both back to the ugly present.

Thompson was first though the hatch, ricocheting off the corridor wall as he grabbed a handhold to steer and add speed to his glide. He heard Kim thump the wall behind him, muttering in Korean. The argument gathered rapidly in volume as the two men came up on Roels and Ingers facing off in Salila’s cube. Roels was pressed against the wall as Ingers held him in place with one hand as his boot braced on an overhead handhold. Roels was trying to slap the restraining hand away, but Ingers had chosen a place away from all handholds so Roels couldn’t shift his mass enough to break free. Ingers other hand was trying t control one of Roels’s which had a plastic carton in it.

WHAT THE HELL?!”, Thompson screamed, and was caromed into by Kim, who’d missed the handhold in his haste to catch up. “HEY!”, Thompson yelled as both men tumbled weightlessly to impact Ingers and Roels. Roels and Ingers were caught off-guard and the four spun awkwardly in the air across the cube into the far wall with a heavy thump. Ingers cushioned Thompson’s impact, as Kim and Roels somehow managed to land feet first into the wall. Thompson grabbed a handhold and pulled himself away from the stunned Ingers. “Ingers, aare you all right?”, he asked, momentatrily forgetting what had been occurring just moments before. Ingers nodded slightly as he started to drift away from the wall. He looked over at Kim and Roels. The Belgian seemed ready to start all over again with Ingers. Salila drifted next to him, laying a hand on his shoulder as Ingers slowly shook off his disorientation.

World’s Eye View – 15

The six crowded back into the control room. “I was doing what Mr. Ingers said to do, and I got a signal!”, Slaila shouted excitedly. “I left it on the channel and turned on the main channel and called you!” Her excitement made her glow in Thompson’s eyes. Oh my god she’s beautiful! Roels, you lucky, lucky bastard! “It was just a buzzing sound, someone’s voice, but it is a signal.” Vyhovsky and Ingers moved to the scanner. Ingers sat down and began to check the system, punching filters to scrub out white noise, and lowering the threshold to compensate for the weak signal. “Koll, what do you think it might be?”, Vyhovsky queried him. “Most likely some HAM operator. We should have been getting military traffic, but nothing’s come through. I can check the antennas. Why didn’t any of you look at them?” Vyhovsky grimaced. “It slipped through the cracks. You think with how important it is…”, He grumbled. Kim’s voice sliced through their chat. “It’s because he didn’t want us to go back home!” Kim floated back from the knot around the scanner.

Don’t you all see it? If we can’t listen, we can’t find out the … status of the world. We don’t know that it’s safe. We don’t know if it’s poisoned beyond saving. He keeps it all to himself like a bloated spider in a web!” Kim was shouting at the end, and Thompson, was alarmed at how changed his friend looked. Kim had lost weight, and looked gaunt. His burly frame had melted back to a hungry lankiness that reminded Thompson of a starving coyote. Ingers glanced at Vyhovsky, then at Kim, then at Vyhovsky again. “What friend Kim is saying, is this true?”, Ingers asked him. Vyhovsky looked at Ingers, and Thompson felt a chill that had nothing to do with the air. “No, it is not true. Why would I hide something so obvious?”

Why did no one look at the antennas?”, Ingers asked him again. “Because it was missed. We had many things to take care of, and that was one that fell out of sight. An oversight, that is simply all it was.” Vyhovsky looked fierce. His position as leader was being questioned directly, and even though Thompson did the same thing, forgetting about the antennas, he still felt doubt creep into his mind. “Hey, how about we talk later, Salilia did Ingers..”, Thomson started to ask, and Kim cut him off. “We will talk about it now! This is important, we need to know why he hid it from us!”

I didn’t hide anything!”, Vyhovsky roared. Everyone seemed to float back involuntarily from him. Kim’s really pushing his buttons. Maybe he forgot. Hell, we all forgot, even Kim. “I forget. We all forget the antennas. Why didn’t you remember, Myung? Huh? You forget too!” Vyhovsky’s accent thickened as his anger did the same. Thompson watched the red creep up his neck and sufuse his cheeks and forehead almost crimson in the artificial lighting. Kim floated back, and then pushed to one side, just behind Ingers. “You made certain we wouldn’t ask, by continuously making drills, and work when we didn’t need to. You used Friend Ingers illness to further your ends. Using him to control all of us up here!”

HEY!”, Thompson yelled as loudly as he could, startling the two men. He saw Roels and Salila flinch from the sounds and reach for each other’s hand. “You forgot, Eugene, and you, Kim, you forgot too.” “DON’T!” He said loudly as Kim opened his mouth. “Just drop it.” He watched Vyhovsky listen, his face still red, his hands clenching so tightly to the handhold that they had turned white. Did I just screw myself here? Are they both going to jump me for butting in? He watched with a great sense of relief as Vyhovsky’s hands slowly loosened on the handhold, and color returned to them. Kim glared at Vyhovsky, and at Thompson in undisguised hatred. Then the mask of hate disappeared behind a bland exterior as Kim in haled then exhaled slowly. “You are right, friend David. We are trying to survive. This could have been resolved more easily if we had followed the voting procedure”, Kim explained. His demeanor chnged completely, being closer to the old Kim. Thompson felt a glimmer of hope that things might resolve quielty.

Again with the voting?!”, Vyhovsky spat. “Is everything a vote?” He gestured to the people in the room. “Are they a vote?” He gestured at the scanner. “Is it a vote?”, he snarled at Kim. “We are not in a position to vote. Voting wastes time needed for repair, and maintenance.” He took a ragged breath. Thompson could hear his voice starting to rasp from all the angry shouting. “We no what we need to do, no voting needed to know the station needs maintenance. We need to hold on until we can find out what we need to do.” He looked up at the ceiling, then to the floor, and finally to Kim once more. “This hamster cage make us all crazy.” Kim gave Vyhovsky a strangled look, and Ingers looked back at him as if he’d heard something. Kim shook his head, and seemed to calm. “You are right, friend Eugeni, all this does change one, if they allow it to.”

Vyhovsky blinked in surprise at Kim’s statement, obviously expecting something more venomous. Thompson watched the two slowly wind down from the near-conflict. He looked carefully at Roels and Salila, watching their reactions. They are the ones who are going to be pushed the hardest in all this. By trying to stay out of the middle, they’re putting themselves square in it. Me and Eugeni on one, Ingers and Kim on the other. They’re the deciding factor regardless of how much they want to be left out. He looked back over to Vyhovsky, who was gliding to the exit. He looked hunched up, as if tired of the whole situation. Kim’s been riding hikm with little things ever since they started arguing about Ingers. How much has that taken out of each of them?

Thompson shrugged, then floated over towards Roels and Salila Shukla, who were at that moment getting food packs out of the storage. Thompson noticed neither ever tried to look around, but concentrated solely on procuring and readying the food. He bumped the table as he used it to brake his drift through the room, which startled both Roels and Salila. Thompson noted Ingers long, calculating glance towards the three of them before he left the galley. Kim waited as Ingers left then launched himself at the trio across the room. Thompson moved to the side to let Kim brake by bumping the table, as he did. He made certain that Kim landed to his right while keeping the others to his left, effectively blocking Kim from speaking directly to them.

We are needing to find a way to deal with our situation. I know small spats occur on all missions, but none really have had to deal with the same conditions as this. There must be an open way to air difficulties”, He stated as Thompson floated across the table to get himself and Kim a food pack. He pulled one out, checked the title, then gave it a slow push towards Kim, who caught it and nodded as he read the pack label. “This is a good one. Thank you, David”, Kim said with a tired smile. “It is your favorite. I swear, if you’d been the one doing the ordering that would be all we’d have in the storage locker”, Thompson teased him. Kim’s face twisted angrily for a moment, then he slapped his hand down on the table and pulled himself to one of the ergo chairs, hooking his feet into it. “You, are right”, he said with a forced smile.

World’s Eye View – 14

Vyhovsky Got the inspiration first, though a brute-force sort. “Thompson, Roels, go check on the panels. I think they need a quick inspection. It would be a wise idea I think, to make certain nothing was jarred out of place by the burn.” Thompson looked over to Roels, who was looking back. Roels seemed distressed, and oddly relieved at being told to go somewhere. The two glided out of the room, then brushed the far wall as they used it to propel themselves down the coridor, sterring by handholds. They helped each other into the bulky space suits, and then Thompson held up 3 fingers, indicating Roels should go to private channel 3.

What do you think they’re, uh, talking about, David?”, Roels asked as soon as the channel popped indicating it was ‘on’ and ‘open’. “Probably who’s got the biggest balls”, Thompson replied. “God, why now. Of all the times in this place why now and why do we have to argue? We got enough troubles without being at each other’s throat for no reason.” Thompson heard the faint pop as Roels condenser mic activated. “I don’t know. Kim wants the votes, and wants that ‘democratic process’. I think he just hates Vyhovsky. The two have been at it since, well, since everything happened.” Roels clipped onto the support beam for the first panel series, a then slowly floated out to conduct the visual inspection. Thompson did the same to the opposite panel.

I don’t get why we have to fight about it. Vy was installed as mission leader since he’d been up here twice before, and the rest of us are just rookies, our first time up. Why not listen to the man who’s been here before?” “I don’t know”, Roels replied, his mic popping as it was activated by Roels voice. “Well, I think we all need to figure out what’s going on and how it affects us”, Thompson shot back, more vehemently than he expected. “Easy, David, easy”, Benoit placated. “I hear you, and I know there’s things you’re upset about. We need to…” , he traid to continue, but Thompson cut him off. “Dammit Benoit, first you roll over because you don’t want to get in a confrontatation, now you’re rolling over because you are doing the same damn thing. Grow a spine!”, he shouted angrily.

Roels visibly flinched as he continued the inspection on the port panel. “I know, David!” Roels coughed, then Thompson heard choking sounds over the mic. “Roels”, he queried. There were more choking sounds. “Roels”, Thompson shouted into the mic, alarmed that Roels was having trouble with his suit. “David, I, I don’t want this confrontation. I just want to get home. Salila, I just want to keep her safe, and it’s like walking a minefiled between you, Eugeni, Koll, and Kim. You all want Salila and I to agree with you and you push and push and push to get us to. Fix it yourself for god’s sake. Leave us out of it. We just want to go home!” Roels choked the words out, like each one was a piece of glass in his throat. Roels, I’m sorry, but I can’t see a way out of all this without you and Salila choosing sides. You’re the two trying to avoid everything, which makes you the neutral parties in all of this. God help me, if I could think of any other way to keep us from tearing ourselves apart, I’d take it. There isn’t, not now. Not any more. Any chance of that disappeared when those missles flew.

Roels”, Thompson quietly replied. “You got to see it. We’re tearing ourselves apart. Kim and Vyhovsky are both wanting to be in charge. And we can’t have two leaders. You have to choose a side. It sucks, and I sympathize with you, but you put yourself in the middle by trying to avoid conflict. You have to see that.” Roels was quiet for a long time. Thompson turned over to look, and Roels was hanging by his tether, slight movements the only thing that indicated he was alive. Thompson was about to call again when Roels voice came over the channel. “I’ll be finished with inspection shortly.” His voice sounded hollow, broken. Dear God, what happened? Is he shutting down to avoid things, or, what? Did I push too hard?

His musings were broken by an announcement from Salila. “I got a channel! I got someone from Earth! They’re alive!”, she choked out excitedly. “They’re alive!”

Another side trip – thoughts and comments

Here we are again with another side trip while I catch up on ‘World’s Eye View’.  I want to discuss a little about writing, and what motivates me.  I love telling stories.  That for me is a part of why I write.  Another part is I want to know what happens next in the story past where I have written.  So I keep writing.  A third is, and maybe one you might disagree or agree with, is that I hate leaving something unfinished.  I am a lazy sort and a lot of things here don’t get done on time, but I can’t just leave things alone, so I have about a half-dozen projects all going at once, not including stories, so that I’m always moving from one thing to another.  For me it helps handle my ADHD, oddly enough.  The other part is I can give myself permission to drop everything to add to a story.  Otherwise I think I’d implode from all the undone stuff around here.   There’s a lot more to writing, and motivation, but for me the three above seem to be the ones that are those the crop up most often as i write.

A side-trip to a different ending

Hi there!  I haven’t commented much as I wanted to catch up on posting parts for ‘World’s Eye View’  and now that I’m semi-caught up, I wanted to add in a story that was written with two endings.  the first version ‘Rat Race’ was published in Corporate Catharsis.  This is the alternate ending, with an alternate title.  It gives the story a completely different feel and is a much more dark and dystopian.

Title – ‘To the Victor’

The guards were at the gated entry. the two men in brown and black looked out over the restless swarm of business suits and blue jeans. Each person there in the misty morning carried a briefcase with The bright silver letters ‘HKI’ stenciled on both sides. What HKI stood for was cause of a constant debate online after work, as no one professed to know what exactly the letters represented.

Cameron Farver was there, two rows back. Cameron, or Cam for short, was inches below six feet, pounds over being considered slim, and with less hair than considered attractive. His bulldog-like face belied his gentle demeanor and polite method of speech. He was at once the epitome of the classic squat, sharp-eyed con-man or pawn shop operator, and an elegant refined maitre-de at the most posh and expensive restaurants.

This morning, despite the mist, Cameron had forgone his usual business attire of brown jacket and pants with a white shirt, for the more practical pair of dockers and a button collar blue shirt with black running shoes. He looked at his watch. Five minutes before the gates opened. Because of his height, he couldn’t see higher than most people’s shoulders, so he didn’t know how large the crowd was. He could guess however, because of the way the crowd was pushing forward, squeezing against the gate. His heart sped up. There’d been times people had been trampled when the gate opened. He didn’t want to be one of them, and began using his elbows to open space around him. The quick jabs opened breathing room and calmed the unease he always got during the crush just before the gates opened.

Open they did with a blare of air horns. The gate dropped away as the workers charged ahead like racehorses leaping from the gates. Cameron was carried through by the initial surge. He managed to keep his feet under him as he was pushed through the gate and onto the HKI campus. People began to spread out, racing towards different locations.

Good morning employees, it is a wonderful day at HKI. At this moemtn there are fourteen thousand, eight hundred forty three jobs available in all departments.” The bright, cheerful voice blared over the loudspeakers as the swarm spread out. Cameron looked around him at the familiar surroundings.

The large hangars were to the south of the gate, maintenance and transport to the southwest. To the west were security and software, while northeast was research, production, and HKI headquarters. A few ran towards maintenance. This was the easiest job to get, with bare minimum pay and a lot of time running around cleaning up after the water cooler drones, who spilled drinks and dropped food while they hovered around the dispenser. Transport was an okay job. You got to drive small golf carts all over the place delivering parts to research and production. The trouble here was that there were a lot of golf carts and a lot of people walking around. Bump any one of them with a cart and you were back with the Cooler drones for the rest of the day.

Down at the hangars were where jobs like welders, riveters, and other assembly personnel resided. These were hard jobs with a lot of lifting and carrying, plus a lot of work holding tools to help build a product. They were part of production, but didn’t do anything more than get pieces and put them together.

Some sprinted off towards security, where you could get a good job, with decent credit pay for walking around and making sure nothing was getting stolen or broken during use. Software was another fairly easy job, with a lot of console typing and fixing software puzzles. That job Cameron hated. He’d done it once and found he had no aptitude for wither typing in a foreign language, nor solving conundrums in software.

Research was one of the primo jobs on the campus. A chance to do research to create new products, and develop these ideas into a product. The workers who were assigned to the winning project got a salary bonus for its creation and a ten second head start at a random auxiliary gate. literally, Research was the best place to get ahead. 4Cameron liked having ten seconds no one else had. It was THE chance to get a lead. There was a lot to choose from with that kind of time.

Another option was production, turning a design from research into a real thing for sale. This involved problem solving on how you’d get an object from an idea to a finished object. It was here people solved puzzles fitting pieces together to make a whole. Like research, a finished product garnered a salary bonus and a three second head start the next day. Not as exciting as ten seconds, but any early start was welcome.

Most of the crowd, which included Cameron, scrambled to the Northeast, towards headquarters. The cushiest jobs were there. An executive job wasn’t Cameron’s choice this time. Too many tried for them, and ended up water-cooler slackers for the rest of the day. Cam wanted a good job this time, one that would pay for the water, electric, and PlayStation charges that Andrea, the home help program said he was behind on. It was really hard for Cam to concentrate without his PlayBox. He felt his body getting twitchy and his mind was always more and more aching for the sonic high that the PlayBox emitted when he played online.

Good morning HKI employees, it is a wonderful productive day at HKI. There are seven hundred fifty-five jobs available in all departments. All director positions have been filled. There will be another job update in five minutes.”

Gaming was his life. He had to have more time. It was so hard to concentrate if he didn’t get time. He pushed his squat body faster, angling off from a gaggle of people running towards the second-tier jobs in management. Cameron was gasping for air by the time he’d gotten to the door. It was a brown rectangle in a featureless ivory wall. The door had stenciled in bright white lettering; ‘Employees Only beyond this point.’ Cameron gripped his briefcase tighter, twisting the doorknob and pulling the door open.

The door had no stop, and banged hard against the painted cinder block, adding more scrapes and streaked color to it. If he remembered right, this would shortcut into the research area, coming in opposite the main doorway that led to the job cubicles. The only trouble was he was currently trying to hack up a lung, and his legs were shaking. It was three floors up to research, and one huge production floor west from the exit. This was a secure area. He wasn’t supposed to be here. It was, however, the best shortcut to where he wanted to go.

The trick was to avoid security. The previous shift hadn’t finished yet. They would be relieved by the newcomers in a few minutes. It was a fortunate window he could use if he was careful. Cameron walked quickly and as silently as he could in his hard-soled shoes. The faint tapping of his shoes sounded like gunshots as he moved along the gray and yellow corridor.

A sudden bang startled him. He looked over his shoulder and gasped out a curse. It wasn’t security, it was Blondell Jasper. Blondell spotted Cameron at the same instant, and tucked his chin down against his pale rotund chest and pushed his massive body into a waddling charge towards Cam. Unlike Cameron, he was dressed code-monkey casual; bluejeans, a red t-shirt, and sneakers. Both the pants and shirt were a trifle undersized for his bulk. But Blondell was a full head taller, and much wider.

Cam didn’t wait, tucking his own head down and running as fast as he could. If security showed up, it was better to be in front and closest to the exit. He’d done a job in security, and they always, always walked the same route day in and day out. Deviating from the path or missing a checkpoint got you demoted to Slacker, and your paycheck revoked.

No money meant no PlayBox. No PlayBox meant no way to game, order food, clothing, pay energy bills, socialize, or game. It was solitary confinement until the next day and a new chance for a job. Cameron had been through a number of days like that as he had reached the age of job-holding. There was no breaking in period. You got in line, and ran for a job. It took a few tries to get an idea where to run. The jobs weren’t just for crossing the finish line, you had to FIND it. Jobs like the golf cart delivery were easy. Collect the right key and put it in the right lock, and the job was yours.

Security jobs required you find a clean uniform, put it on and then find a security guard whose shift was up. There was a little red light on top of their caps to help identify those who needed relief.

Just as Cam reached the yellow door on the yellow wall, with Blondell only twenty steps behind him, the door behind Blondell banged open a third time with security yelling ‘Halt!’ at his retreating back. Cam, threw the door open, stepped through and pulled it closed behind him in one smooth motion. He turned the lock just as Blondell started trying to pull the door open. Another shouted ‘Halt!’ vibrated through the metal door, and Cam heard Blondell curse. The heavy footsteps receded, followed by multiple footsteps rushing past the door. Cam heaved a sigh of relief. With Blondell occupied he could get on with his mission to find his job.

After listening for any footsteps, he turned his back to the door and faced the stairs. Listening for any noise, he slowly started up, ready to bolt if he was discovered. This was part of the test for this job. You had to get past the obstacles to claim the job. Risk versus reward. Cam didn’t know of any job like this one. He’d found it totally by accident, after he’d done seven straight shifts for security. “Good morning HKI employees, it is a wonderful morning. There are five unfilled management positions, eleven unfilled security positions, six unfilled manufacturing positions, fourteen unfilled maintenance positions, two unfilled research positions, one unfilled position…”

The Public System would announce the number of unfound jobs, and what department they were in. All except one. Every day there was always ‘one job unfilled’. Just that. No location. No other information. At first he thought it was just to keep the Water Cooler Slackers stirred up. It didn’t. No one seemed to care about the job, apparently because no one had ever found it. It was a small mystery that the Public System never explained. Most concluded it was just a glitch. Cameron wasn’t so certain. There wouldn’t be a fake unfilled job would there? The Public System was perfect after all. So the job had to be real, didn’t it?

Cam’s curiosity had gotten the better of him during the last day he tried for a security posting. He walked the halls diligently, making every check-in location on time. But, for all their diligence in covering the security stations, something seemed off. Cam began charting the circuits. There was one area that the circuits avoided. It was a nondescript location, far away from any of the secure rooms and manufacturing floor. The closest thing of any consequence were three vending machines and a small square table on the Northern edge of the area in question. There were doors, with the usual admonition of ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ in white block letters on brown doors set in ivory-yellow walls.

It took him weeks to explore the campus, and finally he found a clue. There was a hole in security. Five different routes overlapped along the edges of an unpatrolled section above the manufacturing floor. No one entered the area, but with all the overlap, it was impossible to hunt for where the JOB, as Cam called it, might be. The unpatrolled location was a break area

So far, all the doors had been locked. His time between security sweeps was up. He hurried back to the small snack alcove and slid in-between the two vending machines. The machines had been set up back to back, rather than side to side. Why this was Cameron didn’t question. It was a hiding place, and he was in dire need of one.

He’d just finished squeezing into the space when heavy booted footsteps announced the latest round by security. He squeezed all the way back, shutting his eyes and holding his breath, hoping that this would not be the time security got diligent and searched the gap between the two machines. The guard stood to the left of where Cam was hiding. Cam heard the familiar ‘clunk’ of the Guard’s key check, then there were two heavy steps closer. Cam’s heart thundered in his chest when the footsteps stopped. He closed his eyes and tried to will himself deeper into the dubious shadows when he heard a series of coins falling into the machine. Another, louder ‘clunk’ followed . Then the hiss of a can being opened. He heard the guard swallow, then continue on his route without looking back.

This mystery job had to be something important. It had to be! All this searching and puzzle work to figure out where it might be had to be right. If it wasn’t he’d be isolated for a whole night. No one to chat with, no game to make credits to pay bills or get groceries, much less any fun time. Everything ran through the MMO’s. Everything. From shopping to conversation to barters, sales, purchases, anything and everything was for sale on the MMO. All you needed to do was play. But to play you had to get a job.

The job got you credits to open up your account. Your account was created for you when you were born. The whole system worked through the MMOs. Farming MMO, hunting MMO, combat, sports, puzzles, they all made resources for consumption. Everything done in them produced credits, and items for sale or personal use. in a hunting sim, if you shoot a wild pig, then pork was delivered to your door, or you could sell some of it for other credits. Not enough to be independent of the system, you always had to go get a job for usage credits. You had to have a job to earn time online.

He was betting his future on this. Get behind a few times and things got more expensive. The simple jobs to get weren’t enough and when you got far enough behind it was a death spiral. He was so close to that now. A lot of lousy jobs that didn’t pay well and barely making do, he was at the edge where death spirals began. He wanted ahead of the death spiral, and he had to know what the mystery job was. The curiosity had blown into a full-on obsession.

Њ ᄥ 㓲  Ф

The obsession is what caught Blondell’s attention when he’d been at the security jobs for a month. Blondell had been working security too, and was much more aggressive about finding slackers and giving them the boot off the grounds. He got a bonus for each one he caught and escorted out. All security did. But most didn’t care one way or the other about the Water Cooler Slackers. They were there trying to fill a job if one became available due to illness or someone getting fired.

Blondell had noticed Cam’s activity, and spotted him scratching out patrols on a piece of paper. That he used paper was unusual enough to remember. Most everything can be downloaded to goggles and displayed as overlays, or diagrams, or whatever the user wants. It had to be something important. Cameron was keeping it off the System. He wanted to know why.

Good morning HKI employees, to day is a wonderful day for business. There are three emergency openings in manufacturing, one unfilled opening in security, one unfilled opening.”

He did some searching of his own, and found Cameron’s last five jobs. They were all security. Each job was in a different part of the building. Of the eleven, there were only seven that overlapped. Blondell figured after spotting this trend he ought to get ahead of him, and see what he was after. After days of following him around, Blondell discovered it; blank empty space. Cameron was searching all the routes and charting the areas covered. The only area without any patrols going through it.

Blondell looked at the patrol routes. None in a thirty meter diameter. He rubbed his cheek in curiosity. Was Cameron looking for a place to hide something? Something dangerous? Something valuable? Blondell’s mind whirled with possibilities. It was important clearly. What was it? Why not check online? Everything was online. Money, food, entertainment. Why use paper? Hardly anyone bothered to use it. finally, he decided it was unimportant. Beating Cameron to the prize was. He just had to figure it out first.

That figuring came when he noticed the wall midway along the south edge of Cameron’s open area. The color was slightly off to his eyes, being a tan-yellow rather than the usual bright and cheery canary yellow at the other break areas. As he pondered the reason for the different color, he noticed a series of smudges that were lighter in color than the rest. Curiosity brought him closer, and he could make out under the paint a series of letters: “AUTHORI D PERS NLY” Someone had painted over a door!

Blondell grinned in triumph. This had to be what Cameron was looking for! Feverishly he worked at the edges of the door Blondell dug in his pocket for the little universal multi-tool and drew it out. frantic scraping revealed the seams of the doorway. At waist level was another lighter off-color section that looked like a long vertical rectangle. Blondell recognized it as a push plate. He put his hand on the plate and shoved with all his considerable bulk. The Door flexed, then opened with a sticky cracking sound and swung open. Blondell eagerly slipped inside and the door closed silently behind him.

Њ ᄥ 㓲  Ф

Cameron moved slowly along the catwalk over the work floor. Below workers scurried back and forth, running the printers, fitting parts, building items that had been ordered online. The factory floor was not dedicated to producing one thing, such as an automobile. Instead it was a series of inter-related 3-D printers that produced parts for automobiles, planes, engines, and anything that needed manufacturing capacity. Once the parts were finished, they were moved according to etched tags to assembly areas, where the actual building of the car, plane, or toaster occurred. Then off to shipping it went, and the printer was assigned another part. Workers scurried around the printers like ants, moving finished parts, checking resource levels, sweeping the floor, rushing to claim an empty printer for use. Foremen, armed with tablets, kept track of their teams and item output, and guarding their team against Water Cooler Slackers trying to hijack a job from an employed worker.

All the noise and activity actually made it easier to sneak along the catwalk. Everyone was preoccupied with their own jobs, allowing Cameron to saunter over to the restricted door and pull it open. He stepped in as the PA system announced, “Two new job openings in maintenance, one job opening in IT, one job opening.” The last was the one he wanted. It was always announced throughout the day at hourly intervals. He hadn’t seen Blondell since he’d barely escaped earlier, but was certain that the huge man was still hunting him.

Blondell and he had a history. Literally. They shared history classes, math classes, science and programming in school. They both vied for the top grades in the classes, as both men enjoyed learning, and were fiercely competitive. The AI used that competitiveness to enrich the classes by offering rewards to the best performers that week. This turned their potential friendship into a vicious animosity for each other which carried over into their work life.

Blondell would win, and rub it in Cameron’s face, only to have it thrown back in his by Cameron on the next test or job hunt. Cameron knew Blondell was trying to figure out what he, Cameron was looking for. The job was to get there first.

Good afternoon HKI employees, it is a wonderful day for business. There are two emergency jobs in programming unfilled, one security job unfilled.”

The announcement surprised Cameron. The one mystery job hadn’t been announced! Sick with fear, Cameron forgot about stealth and charged forward, taking the direct route to the unpatrolled area. What if Blondell had got there first?! He could challenge him for the position, but knew that would be futile. Blondell was larger and heavier. Unless Cameron surprised him, there was no way to win. But the job was his! He did the study! He did the research! Did Blondell!? NO! He was just the parasite that tried to steal the job from him. That job was HIS!

Cameron stormed into the break area, spoiling for a fight. It was empty, clean even. The walls glistened with fresh yellow paint that was already starting to let the covered paint bleed through.

Cameron frantically scanned the area, looking for any clue that might tell him the job was here. There! on the floor against the left wall. Bits of brown and yellow sprinkled the floor. Cameron dropped to his hands and knees to peer at his discovery. On the ground were small flakes of yellowish-tan paint. He looked up at the freshly coated wall, studying it intently. He spotted an area where the paint dimpled in. Following the minute depression in the paint, a rectangle revealed itself. His heart beat faster as he realized that the rectangle was a door.

The wet paint puzzled Cameron, but not enough to curb his burning desire to open the door and claim the job inside. He scanned the rectangle for any clue hoe to open it. There were no depressions or bubbles that might be a hidden latch on the door, but a small rectangle at waist height was barely visible under the fresh paint. Cameron recognized the push plate immediately.

He started to lean back to kick at it, then stopped. Noise could draw security. He had to be quiet and alert. Five different routes intersected at the edges for the patrols. He had a window right now, and there was no time. Gritting his teeth he aimed a clumsy kick at the push plate. To his surprise the door flew open with a squishing thud of wet paint and sticky lintel. Inside was a series of screens to rival the security hub for the HKI campus.

The dark wood desk in front of him was semi-circular with a similar cut-out at it’s center for a luxurious brown-leather chair. From one side of the desk to the other were monitors, stacked six-high, each one showing a different picture with the camera number and location at the bottom of the screens. On the far right was a large refrigerator sunk into the wall.

Good afternoon sir, you have found the ultimate job on campus. From here your merest whim will be turned to reality by the A.I. Please sit, and take the job.” The voice was sultry and soothing, just like the Gamebox voice “Lexi”. Cameron absently noticed the door closing silently behind him, and immediately stepped to the chair and pulled it out. He’d done it! The ultimate job was his!.

Cameron sat down in the chair. Needles in the seat and the back plunged into him, releasing poison. Cameron arched as the poison hit him, then slumped in the seat. The seat then turned towards the refrigerator, and rolled forward. The door swmong open and the chair stopped. Cameron’s body slid forward off the chair onto a slanting chute. The chair then returned to its position at the desk.

The danger was averted. Employees who were ambitious were a danger to the stability of the company. The solution was to cull these unusual individuals, and make certain they did not pollute the working stock. Once reset, the system waited for the next ambitious employee.

Good afternoon HKI employees, it is a wonderful day to be here. There are four emergency manufactuing jobs unfilled, one security job unfilled, one job unfilled”

World’s Eye View – 13

Roels, Kim, are you ready for ignition?”, Vyhovsky barked. The two men nodded as Vyhovsky settled at the controls. The layout of the station’s room meant that two men were needed to run the controls. One to monitor the fuel use, and control flow, the other to time the burn, and monitor engine pressure. Vyhovsky had chosen to perate the engines, and had put Roels on fuel monitoring. Kim was there to assist and monitor the proximity of any space debris. It was highly unlikely that any debris was in the five kilometer window the station typicall occupied, but after wall they had seen, it was more important to be ready, rather than surprised and sorry. “Fuel on, pressure nominal at three hundred psi”, Fuel feed ready”, intoned Roels. “Engine ready. Ignition in three, two, one, ignition.”

Vyhovsky watched the pressure on the engines as Roels monitored the fuel. The burn continued for twelve seconds, enough to slow descent. Two more braking burns would be done, to stabilize the station at zero descent. Another burst would start the push upwards. Two more would create the rise to the new altitude. This burn would go differently though. Instead of a last burn to kill momentum, Vyhovsky was planning on shortening the burn so the station would use its own momentum to eventually kill the ascent. Without telemetry from ground control, there was a good chance they would be in the range they wanted, but there was no means to be certain. It had taken a week of simulation and adjustment to the program to determine a best guess for burn time.

The first burn fired. The structure shuddered with the braking thrust. Thompson and the others could feel the rumble of the rockets when they touched the walls, otherwise the burn was quiet, more like a outdoor ai conditioning unit cutting on. All the members except for the three on the insturments, noticed the change immediately as they drifted to the ‘ceiling’. “Mark burn one”, Vyhovsky droned. “Pressure and flow prop…nominal”, Roels added. “No radar signature”, Kim finished. “Time three minutes until next burn”, Roels said. The lag between burns was to dampen and oscillation from the first braking burn. As the time approached Roels read off the seconds. “Three…two…one…Mark”, he counted, his voice rising in volume like an actor on stage, getting a wry smile from Vyhovsky. “Burn ignition”, he replied in a similar tone. Kim frowned at the two of them and continued his reports in a firm, detached manner, refusing to join in the humor.

The Lifting burn changed the direction of the momentum and Thompson felt weight in his arms for the first time in a while. He held onto the handhold and avoided being ‘dropped’ to the floor. He could hear Ingers grunt as he bounced off the floor, then scrabble for a moment under the acceleration for a handhold. It’d be funny if it was anyone else. Ingers just seems so intense now, we all act like even a smile at the wrong time could set him off, even though he hasn’t. He did chuckle as Salila giggled and landed upright on the ‘deck’. Roels looked over as Vyhovsky monitoered the burn. “Gravity, acceleration versus inertia. What an amazing thing”, he observed drily, bringing a chuckle from Vyhovsky. Kim appeared to smile also, and the sense of tension slowly eased.

The burn finished, and Vyhovsky locked the controls, so no accidental pressing of any commands could occur, and then closed the Lexan case over the machine to further isolate the controls. “Good job everyone, we can call it a day. Roels, when you go through maintenance tomorrow, take Ingers with you. He looks like he can handle himself.” Kim, who had started to leave the control room, spun at Vyhovsky’s statement. “He is not ready, he is still recovering.”

Vyhovsky looked over at Kim, as one might look at a roach scuttling on the floor. “He has been ready for days, it is time to let him pick up where he left off.” Kim looked over at Roels, who seemed to shrink in on himself under Kim’s gaze. “I…think he could use a … few more days. he still doesn’t look, healthy”, Roels quavered. Kim smiled and looked over to Thompson. Greeeeaaat. Just what we need, and power play. Thompson looked back at Kim, then to Roels, and finally to Vyhovsky. He tried to deflect the question by claming ignorance. “Are you asking my opinion? I’m not a psychiatrist.” He looked at Kim again, noting the deepening frown when he didn’t back Kim. Vyhovsky snorted, then stared over to Kim. “I am mission leader, so I am putting Ingers back on active duty.”

I am the one with the expertise in mental health”, Kim shot back. “I say he needs time to adjust still. We have made progress, but not enough to allow him to work. His mind is still disorganized. He could forget what he is doing partway through a critical repair. Do you want such a mind working on a system, knowing that any inattention might cause grievous harm or destruction? I do not think you do.” Kim smiled then continued. “Or perhaps you do. Perhaps you hope that Ingers will fail catastrophically, and the heroic Major Vyhovsky will have to come to the rescue. Perhaps that is what you’re wanting. Gods what bull. Does he expect us to swallow that? Well, he was acting strange around Salila. Maybe he could…no! Screw that. He’s acting odd because he’s got nothing to do. It’s boring up in the hamster house without having to be forced idle. He’s got to be just bored as hell trying to find something to do.

You gave up being mission leader when we had the vote. We are a democracy now. Which means everyone has a vote on what decisions should be made. Or have you forgotten?” Kim smiled again, only this time it was one of predatory triumph. Thompson was the only one that hadn’t voted, and the others back Kim’s idea simply because it was easier to get along than fight, atl least according to Roels and Salila. It’s easy, Vyhovsky and I on one side, kim on the other. Roels will back Vyhovsky. He’s got a head on his shoulders. It was when Kim turned to Roels again, and watched Roels wither under the gaze, that he realized the trap. He’s got Roels in his pocket, and Roels has Salila. With Ingers not voting he’s got 3 of the 5 votes. How can this be finessed? God, if you’re listening, I could really use some help right now.

World’s Eye View – 12

Thompson nodded. “It’s both our faults, so we share the blame, and joke about it over dinner after shift.” Ingers chuckled at the joke. Thompson was chilled to see the laugh didn’t reach his eyes. “I fill go back to the exercise room, friend Kim says I must push myself to counteract all the atrophy I put on my muscles, sleeping. Friend Kim says in two weeks I should be ready to go back on duty.” Thompson nodded, and smiled. “That’s great Koll. We’re gonna be glad for the extra help.” He looked to his left towards the front hatch of the galley. He didn’t know if Salila was inside still. Either way, if she was, or wasn’t keeping Ingers busy a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt. “How much exercise is Kim asking you to do?”, Thompson asked Ingers. “Enough to regain my health”, Ingers replied, shrugging his shoulders. “As long as I have been asleep, my body has weakened. Strengthening the body should strengthen the mind, Friend Kim says.”

That sounds like a plan, though that’s a lot of work just to get back to work. How are you going to take care of the calorie needs? We’re on a pretty strong rationing right now. All the food has to stretch as far as we can make it. We have to stay alive long enough to find a way home.” Ingers growled at the mention of ‘home’. “Yes, I want to go home, then I want to find those who fired the missiles. I want to talk with them very badly.” “So do I, Koll, so do I”, Thompson agreed with him, and this time when Ingers smiled, it seemed genuine as his eyes lit up like the Ingers of old after a bad joke or a good laugh. “I will remember, David. We’ll find those bastards, and have a little, personal, talk with them.” Koll looked down at his hands as he spoke, almost imagining what he would wrap them around if given a chance.

First, we need you back on duty, and then we have to start working on the ‘getting home’ part”, Thompson told Ingers. “I’m going to show Salila how to work the raido and how to sweep for signals. There’s no way bombs like that could wipe everyone off the face of the earth. There are people down there and we need to see if we can get some kind of idea what’s going on.” Ingers face flushed and he looked eagerly at Thompson. “I can show her how. I was a ham operator back in Stockholm. It should be easy to do.” Great, now what do I do? Ingers is crazy to see Salila, and she’s crazy when he’s around. Hell, we’re all crazy when she’s around. He trapped me neatly there. How do I pull the plug on his idea without becoming a target?

I think it’s something to think about”, Thompson hedged. He felt terrible about not shutting the idea down, and couldn’t shake the feeling something terrible was being set in place, but he couldn’t find it in himself to shut Ingers down. Half of it because he didn’t want to hurt the man, the other half because he was concerned what Ingers reaction would be. Ingers smiled like he’d been given the key to the candy store. “Thank you, It will work. I’m certain.” Thompson nodded numbly, and the feeling something was off kept gnawing at him. He forced the sensation away and concentrated on Ingers. “Let’s see what it’s like after everyone has given it some thought. Ms Shukla should be given a choice in things, she’s stuck up here as much as the rest of us.”

Ingers nodded, but it didn’t seem to Thompson he heard anything at all. “Ja, I fill teach her, She is intelligent, and focused. She will learn the basics quickly.” Ingers pushed off away from the corner, and down past the front hatchway to the galley. He glanced over for a moment, then continued on. She must have gotten out. That’s one nice thing about weightlessness, no footsteps to give you away. Though god I wish there was some way to get advance warning. The mirrors are supposed to give a picture around the corner. I wish we had more of them.

World’s Eye View – 11

Three hours later, Thompson was keying in the last of the data for the altitude change. Normally, it would be simply a call down to ground control, with both sides confirming current and intended altitude, then the burns would be keyed in by mission control. The ISS would control the firing and duration, with mission control doing monitor duty in case of the ISS computers malfunctioning, which had happened twice before to Thompson’s knowledge. The systems on the station, while robust and triply redundant, were slow by the technology’s standard, having been placed by Russia in the late 1990’s. The systems had been upgraded once, but the trouble was that the backup systems were not modular, but integrated to save weight.

Thus while the primary system had been upgraded, the backups were twenty years older, and much slower. A short or long burn could create troubles by inducing an unwanted rotation to the station, or push the station too high and possibly shift the orbit into a more dangerous position closer to orbiting junk such as discarded bossters, or dead satellites, or debris from any number of launches. The ‘sky’ above earth is jam-packed with floating debris, all of it traveling tens of thousands of kilometers per second in velocity. A two ton booster colliding at speed would turn the ISS into confetti. The altitude had to be extremely precise. And Vyhovsky is saying we need to gain altitude. Our last reading was five weeks ago, and if the drift is correct, we need another five kilometers of altitude to stay out of the atmosphere. Higher and we get to dodge space junk.

Thompson chuckled ruefully, then startled as a shadow cut the brightness in the room. He looked up at Salila Shukla, who was looked at him with a frightened gaze. “May I stay here with you, Mr. David? I don’t want to be alone right now”, she said, her eyes gazing back at the hatchway she’d floated in through. Thompson’s eyes followed her gaze, and thought he saw the last bit of a shadow flit away from the edge of the hatchway. He looked back to Salila. “What’s going on? Is one of us starting to give you trouble, Ms Shukla?” Salila looked down along her body, one hand hanging onto the overhead handhold. Her eyes blinked tears, which beaded on her skin without gravity to draw them down her cheeks.

She looked back at the hatch then gently grabbed Thompson’s arm, pulling herself close. Thompson’s head reeled. Even after the weeks together, or because of it, she smelled exotic, feminine, and he felt his body respond. Awkwardly he shifted his seat, as she leaned in to whisper, “It’s Mr. Ingers. He keeps following me from room to room when I’m awake, and he is in the galley every time I want food. I think…no he is, stalking me.” Her brown eyes seemed to swallow him whole when he glanced up into them. His heart started to race,a nd he swallowed drily.

Umm, M-Ms Salila…Ms Shukla…could you, please, let go of my arm?” Her hand jerked away as if she set it on a hot coal. Her eyes registered hurt as she believed him to be rejecting her. Thompson kept his voice quiet, and swivled his head to glance at all the entrances before turning back to Salila. “It’s not, you”, Thompson hatlingly told her. “It is but it isn’t.” he pinched his nose then ran a hand through his hair. “It’s you’re beautiful, and you’re the only woman here. Us guys, we can’t turn off what we are any more than you can.” He looked towards the near hatch once more, searching for any tell-tale signs of eavesdroppers.

Koll lost his wife and child. We’ve all lost something, and don’t know what we’re going to do. For some of us, we need that comfort. We need something to focus on to keep us sane.” He looked over at Salila, knowing he was rambling. He wondered if his words were for Ingers, or himself. She was close, warm, and her scent filled him. His face felt flushed as he gazed at her, noting in a detached way that her eyes were wide with alarm, like a frightened deer. And like a deer she trembled, fearful of moving too fast that it might alert the predator. Thompson closed his eyes and breathed deep, and slow, working at slwoing his heart rate, and getting his libido under control. Why not do it with her? Why not? Who’d stop you, we all want to have her. It’s the proverbial last woman alive with five men. How would anyone object? NO! I’m not that, I’m not that! I AM NOT A RAPIST! I AM NOT! He bit his tongue, shocking himself out of the internal argument. He gazed over to Salila, who had drifted back away, near the hatch.

I’m “, sorry he wanted to say, but ended up saying, “here.” He smiled as he swallowed some blood from his bleeding tongue. “I’m here, and we’ll figure something out”, he said encouragingly. Salila seemed more alarmed with his calm rationality that she had when he was fighting his own urges. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I Think we’re all on edge, and I have no clue how we can deal with it.” He thought some more. “You and Roels seem to be close. Stick with him. I keep an eye out too. We’ll do our best to see no one forces anything on you.” He felt her gaze soften at the mention of Roels, and knew she’d chosen him. I hope we get down before this all comes to a head. With Ingers following her everywhere, it could be real trouble if he starts something. How do we handle a situation like that? What do we do? Put him back to sleep? We have some drugs, but the only one who’s checked out as a physician is Kim. Maybe I should talk to him about this.

He nodded to Salila and started for the far hatch, pushing himself in the weightless atmosphere away from the frightened woman. His mind was still trying to get him to turn back, but for now his own will was stonger than the temptation. He floated out the far end, then turned to push down the hall towards Kim’s cubicle. At the corner, a sudden mass moved into him. He grunted at the impact, then again as he smacked into the wall behind him. He looked up into Ingers eyes, who was looking blankly at him. “Hey Koll, sorry about that, I didn’t se you in the mirror. What happened? Everything okay?” He looked at Koll from a distance of a few inches. Ingers blanks stare slowly returned to the gentle smile he usually wore. “David, it’s my fault, I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

World’s Eye View – 10

‘Friend’ Kim”, Vyhovsky almost whispered. “A mind held back never heals.” “So says the great psychologist”, Kim snarled. The two looked about to come to blows again. “HEY!”, Thompson yelled at the top of his lungs. The two looked at him as if ready to attack at the interruption. “How about we get food, and get rest, NOW. Then you two can try to argue this out. We’re stuck here in case you haven’t noticed, and our survival is dependent on STAYING TOGETHER!”, he shouted at them. God, what am I doing? I can’t yell at them, it’ll just make it worse. Pull your head out of your ass, Davey-boy, or we’re all gonna be up shit creek. He looked over at the two. “Besides, I still haven’t had any coffee, I really can’t do anything without the boost.” “Wanna join me, Ingers?” Kolls blank gaze turned to Thaompson. It almost seemed like something of the old Ingers was there. “I vould like dat, friend David”, Ingers said in a deep reumble. “Coffee is good in the morning.”

Huh, just like that, he answers and the other two shut down. Score one for indirect salvo Thompson thought. The tense mood dissipated rapidly as The two were left with each other, rather than being able to argue over Ingers. They floated out and over to Thompson’s cube. Thompson got Ingers a self heating can of coffee, and floated it towards him, giving it a soft push rather than an overhand toss. Ingers caught it cleanly, and popped the heating tab, then waited as the coffee heated up. “Thanks friend Thompson, they were sounding like two fishmarket women at home.”

Thompson smiled. “That’s a hell of a image, Koll.” He chuckled at the the image of Kim and Vyhovsky in old skirts and handkerchiefs on their heads, waving fish at each other and arguing. “Gotta say that really is appropriate.” He glanced over at the cupboard. Got eleven left, maybe I should ration them and stretch them out, for special occasions. He shook his head. No, if I use them up, then they’re gone and no one’s jonesing for one. Keeps the trouble down with nothing to fight over. He looked over at Ingers, who was returning his gaze with a tired speculative look of his own.

So, uh, do you remember anything of what, umm, happened, Koll?” Ingers looked down at the can in his paw-like hand. He took another squeeze of the coffee, then sighed. “I remember everything. The talk, the lights, and the knowledge that … my family’s gone.” He looked up. “There’s nothing down there any more for me. Nothing I want to think about. Right now I am numb. Empty. Friend Kim says that this is part of the process. The mind and body have not totally accepted what’s happened, and this numbness is the process where the mind hides parts of itself until the rest of the mind can handle more information.”

Thompson looked at his own can of coffee. “That sounds a lot like psychobabble, but Kim’s a lot more knowledgeable about that stuff than I am. I think he was supposed to be interviewing us each week or something to see how we all ‘get along’ up here. Lord knows what his government was going to do with the information. Maybe open up to the devil southlanders and ask about unification again.” He shrugged. Thompson watched Koll drift to the cupboard, then glance back Thompson questioningly. He waved his hand at Koll and nodded. Koll smiled and grabbed a second can of coffee, and pulled the heating tab. Ten left, Thompson thought, then chuckled ruefully. Look at it like he’s helping me get rid of a few ‘vices’. Caffeine is addictive, and god I wish we had more up here. “So how do you feel now? Umm, I know that’s kinda trite. I mean, when do you think you’ll be able to get back into the routine?”

Thompson felt Ingers gaze like a sudden weight on his heart. The feeling was totally out of context with the tired smile Ingers had. “Friend Kim says I need a week on exercise. My body atrophied some, according to Friend Kim, and it needs rebuilding.” Thompson nodded, unable to shake the odd feeling. “When is he…are you, going to start?” Thompson watched Ingers finish the second can of coffee, then place it in the small waste bag hovering on a hook by the door. “Friend Kim wants me to start today. He says that the sooner I start doing something, the faster I can help us all.” Thompson nodded once more. “Sounds like a plan. I’m going to take a quick nap, try to catch up on some of my lost rest, and then see what needs doing on the panels.

Ingers smiled and nodded to Thompson. “I will go to the exercise room, Friend Thompson. I fill see you later.” “Sure thing Koll, good to have you back. It wasn’t the same with you in bed all this time.” Ingers features darkened for a moment. Thompson’s guts fluttered. “Hey, I didn’t mean any…”, he started to apologize, and Ingers waved his hand and smiled. “I know Friend Thompson. I’m not angry at you, or anyone. I am angry at them. They trapped us all here with their greed. I want to get home, and let them know what their actions did to us.” Ingers face slowly screwed into a mask of hate as he spoke, alarming Thompson further. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay, Koll. We’ll find a way home. We just have to work together to get there.” Thompson watched Ingers features soften as he spoke. The fearful knot in his stomach loosened as Ingers visibly relaxed. “I’m going to the gym. Maybe the exercise will help my mood.” Thompson nodded, not speaking. Keep your mouth shut right now, Davey boy. He’s volatile. Let him work off some steam. Ingers floated to the hatch way and grabbed the overhead handhold, oriented himself, then used his feet to push of the edge of the hatchway down the corridor.

Koll’s so gentle, we’ve all forgotten he was an Olympian in the Pentathlon. He’s in shape with a vengeance, even after all that time sleeping. Thompson shook his head, then looked at the shelf of coffee cans. Nine left he told himself as he grabbed a second one. It wouldn’t help him with the shakes, but it tasted better than the recycled water. He launched himself from his cube, and angled into the hall with a slight push on one of the hand holds, then glided back towards the control center. Vyhovsky has the altitude adjustments done by now.

Back on the Hamster Wheel

Hello out there! My apologies for such a long layoff. I will be picking up where I left off with the story and will continue. The last year has been stressful with family being moved from Arizona to here after their home had to be sold. We are all dealing with it, but it’s been very difficult for all of us. Time to get back to storytelling. Thank you for sticking this out for so long. Readers are greatly appreciated, and feel free to comment. Any and all comments help me become a better writer.