Space gives you time to think. Never on the past. You think about what you’ve done, the places you’ve been and pretty soon that’s all you’re seeing when you close your eyes. The sludge they pump into your veins just slows things down. Life, your body, it still goes on. You can spend four years in a tank and wake up a week older. But you’re thinking, always thinking and you don’t want to have a dream when waking up isn’t an option.
So you look to the future, waiting to get back home to Sol. They clamp the inhibitors on your paks, taking away that edge of power as the machines in your body cool down. The Veteran’s Outreach is next, waiting past the military checkpoints on Gateway station, civvies acting like old friends because most of them are. They do what they can. Cargo loader on Ceres, corp. security for some upstart House. You picked a new life or you shipped back out and they held your hand as far as the airlock and then you were on your own. A hundred billion humans and we were more alone than ever.
“Grappa, you move the containers in B6 yet?”
Grappa was a new kid, straight from Terra and eager to see the System. He’d made it to Mars and run out of credits. Now he was just another hand trading hours for air I had to boss around. He looked at me from his group and shrugged. He was new. The guys around him weren’t and they automatically shrank back, long before I’d started moving towards them.
I grabbed an arc pack, the kind the riggers used when welding out on the domes, and passed it to the kid. The thing weighed a hundred kilos easy and his Earth-norm arms took the weight. Barely.
“You look like you’re struggling to get used to the low-gee,” I said, helping him strap it on. “Maybe this’ll help. You can wear it the rest of your rotation while you’re moving those containers.”
“Hey, come on man, I ain’t gonna need this. I do well in this gee yeah?”
I clapped him on the back, watching him struggle now his muscles had to work again, and let him waddle towards the far hanger with a growing chorus of chuckles follow him.
Back in the Infantry we’d do a hundred push ups in full exo on a plus-gee world if we’d spoken like that to a CO. Sometimes I missed being able to put the fear of whatever Gods these upstarts believed in into them.
Shift over I logged what was done and handed over to the next supervisor. Capri was a hard-ass ice queen, another ex-Infantry, but the kind who’d only left because she’d received one too many reprimands for excessive use of force. Against recruits or rebels it didn’t matter.
“Creds? Help vet?”
The shuttle was empty this time of day, one of the reasons I liked the third rotation, when everyone else was back in their habs and the domes were free of pedestrians. The beggar had moved down the car as it passed from tube to tunnel and back again, the red dawn passing in between.
“Water ration again,” he said haltingly, holding out a beaten up debit chit stamped with the Orbital Infantry logo.
I flicked across a fiver. Enough to get a meal, a few bulbs of water but not enough to jack some kanar into his veins or whatever else was going through the low-tunnels these days. He smiled as his chit took receipt and I grabbed his arm before he moved off.
“Spindle?” His eyes flicked up as he heard me say the name. “When did you ship out? We missed you on the E-run.”
“Spindle. Spindle went. Home. Not home. There. Nowhere. Spindle here now. No back, no home.”
Two hours later, and a weeks worth of my own water rations, and Spindle emerged from the
shower, the atomiser still pumping out a fine mist until I could reach past him and shut it off. He’d kept up a steady patina of jumbled words throughout. My own body was crashing after thirteen hours on the docks, all it wanted was a good nights kip.
“Take the couch,” I told him, throwing him a blanket and a cushion. “I can get you something to eat when I wake yeah?”
Spindle sat on the edge of the small couch, staring at the wallscreen opposite, his head swivelling to take in the default channels I always left on. He was still sat there when I slid the shoji shut and hit the rack. Five hours. I’d spent eighteen years cumulative in sludge, deep sleeping, so now it was difficult to last more than a couple without chemical assistance.
“Hey Spindle, you want shakshuka or chilaquiles,” I called, tossing on some fresh greens.
The couch was bare. Not even an imprint. The blanket and cushion were stacked neatly at one end and for a moment I took a fleeting look around but everything else was where I’d left it. I picked up the blanket, knocking the cushion to the floor and had to stoop to pick it up from beneath the couch. My fingers, in their blind groping, knocked against something hard and for a moment I wondered if I’d finally found an chronometer I’d picked it up on Io.
Pulling it out revealed something wholly unexpected.
The jack was definitely not military-issue. Wetware updates, delivered via the neural link in the back of every Infantrymen’s neck, were packed up in single-use jacks, dull green and tagged with the usual health warnings and protocol checks. But this thing was black, just a single serial number punched along the bottom. The jackport was clean, the seal unbroken.
Two years I’d been out. Every now and then a pak would malfunction, my adrenal pumping at max or eyes seeing through rock walls until I got it fixed and I’d remember what it was like to be a soldier for those few short hours. As I turned the jack over in my hands I wondered what goodies were packed inside.
Spindle had cracked out there, before the company left for Little E. Where had he picked this up? Had it broken him further or was it the only thing holding him together. I pulled my finger back on the lever, watching the bio-gel flood the port, ready for mating.
Here goes nothing I thought.
Prompt originally posted by IamGront on reddit and received 8 upvotes.