Ch-ch-ch-Changes

Posted in response to my own TBC September Writing Challenge: Changes. It’s a little long at around 700 words, but that’s ok. I won’t grade myself down for it.

The alarm went off, and Gus groaned. Just five more minutes he wished, but it was not to be. The Schedule had to be maintained, even today. With a sigh, he unhooked the netting and let if float off. Holding onto the bars surrounding his bunk for exactly this reason, he oriented himself and pushed off, drifting across the room to the closet. Using the straps there, he held himself steady while he dressed.

It’s the small things they never tell you about. When he applied for the Safety Management position here at the utterly unimaginatively named L5-3 Nuclear Reactor Array, the in-company recruiter had talked on and on about the benefits of some time spent away from the pollution and insane weather on Earth, and how big a bonus he would accrue for a six month stint in space. The smarmy, smiling man had never mentioned how annoying it was to get dressed in Zero-G, or to use the charmingly named ‘facilities.’ No, all he talked about was the good stuff, none of the bad.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. For the last 160 days, he had been blessedly, gloriously alone. With the population on Earth swiftly approaching the eleven billion mark and the seas so much higher than they had been even 20 years ago, personal space and privacy were mere legends the older folks told the younger ones, along with stories about how gas used to only be $6 a gallon, and how there used to be things called ‘trees,’ once upon a time.

The alone-ness had taken some getting used to, of course. For the first ten days of his shift, he had overlapped with the last guy to work his position, John “Call me Jack” Birchfield. That wasn’t enough, of course. The first week or so after Jack left, Gus thought he would go mad from all the silence. To someone who grew up in the conditions back home, the utter solitude of the station was nearly intolerable. Gus had spent roughly a quarter of his pay for the first month calling back to Earth for any number or inane reasons, just so he could hear another voice.

Gradually, of course, he had become used to it. It’s amazing what people can adapt to.

Today, all that was going to change. Today, he had to begin training the new guy. His replacement. The last text communique from the home office said this guy’s name was Sendhil Singh. He would be arriving at 1000 hours. Of course, before then, Gus had to perform the morning Schedule.

The Schedule was what got him through those early days. It was relentless, with almost ever minute from 0700 to 2000 strictly regimented. There was no time for feeling afraid or alone or crazy. He had time for a quick lunch in the middle, and two fifteen minute breaks where he could scarf down a protein pack, but otherwise it was work work work. If any segment of the Schedule was missed, alarms would go off. If he ever fell so much as an hour behind, the home office would conclude that the reactor was going critical and automated rockets would push it out of orbit, away from the others in the L5 cluster so there couldn’t be a chain reaction. Once that happened, there was no cost-effective way to retrieve the reactor even if it turned out to be a false alarm. And today, of course, he had to complete the first three hours earlier than normal so he could be there to greet the new guy when he showed up.

Gus’ stomach turned at the thought of leaving this solitude behind and returning to the teeming, stinking masses down on Earth. He had even contemplated letting the alarms go off, letting the home office send him to go crawling slowly across the solar system. Except he didn’t have much food left: the shuttle bringing the new guy would also be bringing him seven months of food, the six he was expected to work plus one extra just for emergencies. No, he concluded with a sigh, there was nothing for it but to accept. Changes were coming and he could do nothing to stop them.

He barely even noticed it when he started to cry.

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