I apologize for not putting this out sooner. The summer heat left me feeling a little under the weather. Thought I have an additional short story that I’d like to share, spoiling you all with giving two in one week. This one is a little different and doesn’t really follow a ‘theme’ like the others.
Franklin pressed his hand on the thick lens before him. Beyond was an inky black sea that could drain the life from him with impunity. He had actually seen it happen. His hand curled into a fist and he turned away. He could hardly believe he ever thought space was amazing or great. Now he was just sick of it.
He reclaimed his tools and continued down the hallway. He only had two minutes of lee-way to get to you next assigned task. Franklin really wasn’t interested in being punished for something as stupid as day-dreaming. The work wasn’t hard, just tedious. Any monkey could tighten airlock gates and it was the bottom rung of society that had the honor of handling it.
It fell to the hands of criminals, like him.
A pair of simple dog tags jingled around his thick neck serving as both his identification and prison. They seemed harmless enough but he had to leave them on even when he slept. Any attempt at displacing them would identify him as a rogue resident. It was a conundrum; they might not be able to track him without him wearing it, but he had nowhere to run.
He was on space frigate thirteen. It was one of forty-eight satellite ships in the eagle class star fleet. He might have been in a country once, but that didn’t matter. Frigate 13 was home now. It could have been worse; the Eagle fleet’s technology was cutting edge enough that it was hard to tell you were even in space. The food wasn’t bad, if not a little repetitive, and the air was fresh and crisp. It was a small consolation that coming home from work to find the commons filled with plants and free of exhaust.
He didn’t know the specifics and he didn’t care. He might have been classified as a ‘technician’ on the ship but all he knew about were ancient machines that ran on fuel. On the frigate those were not only obsolete, but banned. There was no reason to travel by any other reason by foot. The frigates travel systems were a sophisticated web of shuttles that saw to it one wouldn’t have to walk more than five hundred feet to any destination.
Franklin rolled his shoulder, it was thick and muscular. He passed his time by working out for lack of a better thing to do. Three years prior he had been somewhat soft, but he had turned that into considerable muscle. That was around the same time his life was ruined.
He tried not to dwell on it. It was his fault thinking they would get away with it. Two of his ‘friends’ insisted they could score a huge pile of credits by breaking into the high quarter after curfew. He hadn’t heard from them since, he could only assume they got off a lot worse than he did. He was caught red handed for burglary and foolishly tried to deck the security detail that discovered them. It didn’t work out. If he was in as good shape as he was now he probably could have floored him, but it was a blessing in disguise. Even if his friends claimed they scrambled the scanners to identify their ID tags they would likely find out somehow.
The fuckers probably even knew when he took a piss. There was no privacy on this oversized can.
Franklin stood in front of the doorway to his next and thankfully last task. He waited patiently as the door recognized his dog tags. An annoying beep signaled something was wrong.
“Technician Franklin Holcomb,” A mechanical voice said. “Repairs to this sector has been withdrawn. Report to your next task.”
Franklin raised a brow. He wasn’t sure what to make of this considering it was his last task of the day. Did it just mean he had the rest of the day off? No. It was bad to assume. “Computer, what’s my next job?”
“Input not recognized.” The voice said.
Franklin rubbed his forehead. He hated computers, he could never remember the stupid protocols. He snapped his fingers trying to jog his memory. “Computer, requesting… next assignment details.”
“Next assignment for Technician Franklin Holcomb: 0700 Second Day, Second Month, Star date 0020.
Franklin’s eyes widened. According to the hunk of circuits he didn’t have to work for three whole days. He had been working six day weeks since his conviction. He cleared his throat. “Clarification: Free time is granted until the time of the next assignment?”
“Additional information needed.” The voice said.
“Oh come on. I just asked you about that; the next assignment thing. “ Franklin said folding his arms.
“Input not recognized.” The voice said.
Franklin pinched the bridge of his nose. “Regarding accepted last input made by me. You remember that right?”
“The system has processed Log number E-13-2001272075422 successfully: Query for assignment status requested by Technician Franklin Holcomb.”
“That one,” Franklin fixed his eyes on the tiny speaker above the door.
“Don’t give me that crap! Do I have any work schedule arrangements between now and February 2nd?”
“And the Next time I have to work is February 2nd?”
“But you just said my next assignment was on the second.”
“Affirmative. Needless exchange detected. Would Technician Franklin Holcomb like clarification for the past queries?”
“Please.” Franklin said.
“Remaining incomplete work assignment for today shows status of cancelled. Reason defined as work completion unnecessary due to automated protocol checks. Technician Franklin Holcomb, defined as user, exhibits signs of confusion and trepidation in result to this cancellation. Discrepancy detected amongst last ten command entries. Brief assessment of situation cross referenced with ship logic engines has come to the conclusion that user is unclear of the distinction between general scheduling assignments and work assignments. Clarification has been prepared. Technician Franklin Holcomb, would you like the details on this clarification?”
“That wasn’t the clarification?” Franklin said scratching the stubble on his chin.
“Affirmative. The clarification offered was that of the queries. The current clarification that the system has prepared is that of the discrepancy between assignments.”
“Oh… right. You weren’t making any sense when you said… Whatever. Just tell me already. You’re making my head hurt.”
“My programming prioritizes physical health to information. Do you wish to have a medical crew—”
“No. Just tell me.”
The voice went on. “The appointment on Day 2 Month 2 Stardate 0020, casual weekly assignment ‘Monday’, is not a work assignment. Instead it is a review for a pending vacation time for good behavior regarding Technician Franklin Holcomb. Are additional details desired?”
“A vacation?” Franklin squirmed in place. “I thought I was a prisoner.”
“Psychological profiling has deemed Technician Franklin Holcomb a reasonably acceptable member of society based on factors of work ethic, promptness, lack of sick relief days, and lack of a criminal record previous to incident recorded on—”
“I know about that. Don’t bring it up. How much time am I supposed to get?”
“Variable undefined.” The Voice said.
“Great. How do I know they don’t just plan on spacing me?”
“Likelihood of authorities intentionally casting user into space through forcible assessment as a direct result of this assessment is approximately Zero-point-zero-zero-three percent.”
“Good to know.” Franklin held up his toolbox. “Can you deposit this for me then? I’m going home.”
“Affirmative,” The voice said as a small compartment opened next to the door.
Franklin slid his toolbox into the compartment and watched it close. It was deconstructed particle by particle moments later. He didn’t stay to watch. He turned on his heels and made his way to the commercial district. He had a tradition of having a cold beer after a hard day of work. Even if he could only catch a simulated buzz on the stuff it was a simple pleasure. His grandfather insisted the taste was right at least. They actually had the capacity to sober someone if their SBAC or Simulated Blood Alcohol Content is too high. Along with side effects for the process they issued citations for those that abuse it. Franklin had passed the limit a few times before his arrest, but he had been careful not to afterwards. Citations tripled in value for convicts.
He approached the transport station and sat in a shuttle craft. It was designed for all walks of life, so the cramped little shuttle wasn’t even remotely exciting. They even tampered with the gravity so those with motion sickness could ride. If not for the simple clear paneling it would be impossible to tell he was shooting through Frigate 13 at roughly two hundred Kilometers per hour.
It came to a calm stop and Franklin stepped out into the elaborate atrium and central city scape of Frigate 13. There was a massive dome that loomed above, large enough to encapsulate the old city of New York. The day night cycle was preserved by the sky being projected above it during the day hours and made clear during the night. The inky sea of stars was laid bare then; save for the artificial sun that loomed above.
It was jarring to see it at ‘night’ as it was needed to provide light and warmth to the cityscape below. At that time it had a paler light and served to emulate the moon. Franklin was told when he was young, shortly after the great migration that the ships were made mostly uniform but they were designed to parrot the regions of the country.
The population of Frigate 13 housed close to ten million people, that was including roughly two million commuters that traveled space every day to come to work. There were even people that left thirteen to go other places, mostly Frigates 1 and 7. They were much fewer at two hundred thousand or so. Franklin always felt crowded though.
He could remember the day they left earth clearly even though he was only four. He remembered the earth vanishing in the distance like a little blue marble rolled away from him. Looking back on the ordeal, it seemed so surreal that everyone agreed to the migration. Ninety Eight percent of the population left on the grand fleet leaving Earth barren and empty.
If not for the fact that every government body in every civilized country agreed on the motion was absolutely necessary, it would have been soundly opposed. There was some great truth that was kept from the majority of Earth’s population. Most people didn’t care. Some tried to rebel, but it was quickly silenced. There is a reason the Eagle fleet only had forty eight frigates…
Frigate 13 used to house the least amount of people by far, but now it was one of the more crowded ones. When frigates 11 and 31 were lost the mood of the Eagle fleet changed forever.
It was at that time we realized this had to be done, and there was no room for upstarts. Whatever Frigate 13 was, it was home. Franklin Holcomb did not envy the tens of millions of people that asphyxiated in the sea of space for no other reason than their own foolishness and pride.
He was a simple man. And above all else, the air in his lungs was worth more than any freedom.