Wednesday, October 16, 2013

DD-249 (A Sci-Fi Short Story)

A short story that I wrote in prep for NaNoWriMo. Let me know what you think down at the bottom.

Connor Alexander

Alex woke up feeling Holly's warmth on his back. He kept his body still but craned his head back to get a look at her. Her tight red curls still perfectly framed her face, despite having slept on them all night. Her breath drifted up at him in slow puffs, slightly acidic and bad smelling but at the same time comfortingly familiar. Her breasts were soft against his back and he had to smile. She really didn't like being 'big spoon' when they slept, but she always gave into his pleadings in the end.

He made the decision to try to let her sleep if he could, today of all days. Alex slipped out from under her arm and out of the bed that really was too small for two people. The room was cramped, the air stale. Where a normal window would have been, there was an LED sunlight simulator meant to both fool the brain as well as help Vitamin D production. There was no point in a real window. The view would have just been a lifeless, darkened wasteland.

At the closet, he turned and looked back at Holly, still asleep. A mix of emotions crossed his face. It wasn't fair. He cared for her, he really did. But as he pulled out one of a row of identical shirts, he mumbled, "Why can't you be Katherine?" He said it quietly enough that even if Holly had been awake, she wouldn't have heard. But Alex did and his own words disconcerted him. He pulled the shirt over his head and finished getting dressed. There was a day's work ahead. A day that he'd been dreading since the same day last year.

He stopped by the gym and put in his daily regimen. Thirty minutes of cardio, fifteen of weights, another fifteen of cardio. Alex was diligent when it came to taking care of his body, especially since most of the day kept him in an office chair. He finished grooming in the tiny gym's bathroom, making sure his hair was neat, his face well shaven and his teeth clean.

Not long after, Alex stepped into his office. Like his living quarters on this moon, they were confined, efficient and professional. Even though he wasn't required to, Alex dressed in corporate casual wear. There weren't any corporate executives around to impress for at least a dozen light years, but Alex always felt like he was more efficient in his office when he dressed the part. He also took care to personalize his office significantly, but never to overdo it. Every tchotchke in it's place. It was one thing to be whimsical outside of the office, entirely another in his work space.

He opened the main channel to the refining facility. "Good morning! I hope we're all off to a good start today!"

The workers didn't respond, but Frida did. The workers didn't have a voice or any other way to communicate with human beings. They were all automatons. Highly sophisticated, articulated and rugged automatons,  but automatons nonetheless. They went about their mining duties diligently and relentlessly in a way that ants would find enviable.

Frida, however, did have a voice. In fact, one might argue that that was all Frida had. She was the refinery's artificial intelligence. "Good morning to you as well, Alex. All is well on the floor. Shafts one through twelve are at one hundred percent. Shafts thirteen through fifteen are at ninety-two percent."

"Ninety-two? Another drop. Two points. Did you figure out what's going on?" Alex leaned back in his ergonomic office chair, watching the large desktop screen that took up its entire width. It was currently showing a slide show of perennial flowers from South America. He steepled his fingertips below his nose, waiting for Frida's response.

"While you were sleeping, Engineer Drones discovered four weak points in the shaft that were not initially planned for. Reinforcing is causing a bottleneck for the Retrieval Drones. Reinforcement is expected to be finished in twelve point two hours, Alex."

"Well, we'll still be able to make quota as long as it doesn't get much worse."

"What doesn't get much worse?" Alex turned to see Bull standing in the door. His name was Bill but Katherine liked to tease him about his thick neck and somewhere along the line, Bill had become Bull.

"Nothing security needs to worry about. Sorry I missed breakfast. How's everyone else this morning?" Alex turned back to his morning paperwork while he listened to the big man with the bulging biceps. Alex hated that the man always seemed to be wearing t-shirts that were two sizes too small.

"Fine, I guess. Didn't see Holly at breakfast either." There was accusation in his tone but Alex decided to ignore it. His relationship with Holly was none of Bull's business.

"I'll see you at lunch." Alex said it with as much dismissal as he could muster. He was in charge at the facility but there was always a tension between him and Bull, even when they were getting along. A sense that at any moment, Bull might turn on him. As a fellow professional, Alex was fine with Bull and knew that he would trust him in a tight spot to do his job as the lone security officer on this little moon. But sometimes when Alex saw Bull with his big grin sitting on top of that thick neck, he couldn't shake the impression that Bull wanted to snap him in half.

Once Bull had left, he allowed himself to think of Katherine again. Katherine was married to Bull and he was sure, beyond all reason, that if he thought of her face in Bull's presence, even for a moment, the man would know. He would somehow know.

Often, he wished that he hadn't signed off on their paperwork to get married. He could have refused. It would have caused a shit storm, to be sure. But maybe by now it would have died down. Maybe by now they'd be split up. Maybe Bull would have asked for a transfer. Maybe with Bull gone he would have had a chance with Katherine.

A tiny light flashed across his screen and there was a short bleeping sound. It was all the alert he needed to know that the relay was getting ready to send a data package. Interstellar messaging was expensive, so it only came once a month or in emergencies. There hadn't ever been an emergency.

The computer took a few moments to collate all the data from the relay and then messages began to appear in an increasing list. There were technical schematics, software updates, news from other parts of the galaxy, corporate newsletters  an email from Alex's aunt, and shining out from all the rest, a file that Alex had feared might be coming. Form DD-249. He sighed the long slow sigh of the weary. It would be a massive pile of paperwork, he knew. He ran his hands through his hair but he couldn't quite seem to muster the drive to open it.

He closed down his mail program and opened the line up to Frida again. "Frida, anything that needs my direct attention right now?"

"Regulations state that you'll need to sign off on the reinforcements in the next twenty-four-hour period, Alex. That's all I have for you." Frida's voice was female and pleasantly detached, like a well paid customer service operator.

"Okay, I'm going to go down to see Ryan. If anyone's looking for me, I'll be down in the pits." The pits were what he and Ryan affectionately called the reactors that powered the refining processors. There were a dozen of the fission units, all housed in a sunken room, shielded and walled off at the bottom of the facility. Ryan tinkered down in the pits for hours on end, making sure everything was operating to within one one-hundredth of a percent of its capacity.

Sometimes, late in the evening, when everyone else was socializing, someone, usually Katherine, would say, "Where's Ryan?" She and everyone else knew the answer though. Alex would find him fiddling, fine tuning, adjusting or cleaning something for the thousandth time. The Engineering Drones handled all the heavy lifting, but Ryan always felt the need to put his fine touch on it all. Today, he was cleaning a coolant filter with a toothbrush. His hair, which he tied back in a ponytail, was dirty and escaping from the rubber band he'd looped it through. His coveralls were smeared with grease and a half dozen other fluids. He didn't look up from the filter as Alex approached.

Alex leaned against a reactor and watched him."Engineer Drones found a few problems in thirteen through fifteen. Frida's working on it."

Ryan made a noncommittal snort and kept cleaning. Then he added quietly, "You hooking up with Holly again?"

Alex closed his eyes and sighed. "Even if I am, it's not your business. Or Bull's or anyone's but Holly's and mine." Ryan gave Alex a barely noticeable shrug. "Dammit, don't be like that," Alex said, exasperated. "What goes on in my bedroom is my business."

Ryan looked up from his filter. "Things just got tense around here last time is all. It was awkward. For all of us." Ryan's big eyes gleamed up at him. There was a sweetness to Ryan that everyone adored. He was simple, straightforward in a way that was disarming but could be frustrating as often as it was charming.

"Why is it that Bull and Katherine can be married here on our little island but I can't have anything that resembles a private life?" Alex felt his hands clenching. He was doing a job here. He was in charge. These were his employees. But at times like these, they felt like a dysfunctional family and not paid underlings.

"Because Katherine and Bull don't act like they're married," was Ryan's simple, honest reply.

Alex stiffened. "Maybe that's part of the problem!"

Ryan shook his head slowly, his greasy ponytail flopping back and forth. "I don't even know what you mean by that, Alex."

Alex walked off, no longer wanting to be in the pits with Ryan. He didn't know what he'd meant either. What he did know was that that damn form DD-249 was still waiting to be filed. It was an itch he didn't want to scratch. He just wanted it to go away.

"Alex?" It was Katherine's voice over his comm.

He stopped halfway up the stairs leading out of the pits. Her voice always put him in a better mood and he sorely needed a boost. "Yeah. Katherine. What's up?"

"Congrats on your four year mark. But you know what that means. Time for your evals." He loved her. Even just her voice coming through the tinny speaker of the comm badge filled him with contentment. It was full of warmth and intelligence, sexuality and confidence. She outshone Holly in every way. For a moment, he wondered if Holly knew it too, if Holly looked at Katherine and hated her for being so much more, so much better.

"I'll be there in a bit. Just a few office details to work out."

"I'll be here all day." He could hear the smile in her voice.

He resigned himself to heading back to the office and at least getting a start on the DD-249. It was a ridiculous amount of paperwork whether he approved it or not and there was no point in delaying it any longer.

But after an hour of filling out red tape, he finally got up from his ergonomic office chair and headed down to medical. Once there, he settled into the examination table. The room was cold and sterile, full of screens and robotic arms. But when Katherine walked in, she lit up the room, filling it with life. Her hair was jet, her eyes dark blue, a shade darker than the science division uniform she wore. Her body underneath was curvy and Alex was often reminded of the girls he'd seen painted on the noses of ancient airplanes.

Katherine was an exobiologist but she also doubled as the general science head and the staff doctor at the facility. She was reading a tablet as she walked in but she looked up and gave him that smile that let him know she would take care of him. He laid back on the bed and she leaned over him with a mix of professionalism and familiarity. "Okay. You know this drill. You've done this with me three times already. We'll go through all the physical stuff first, then all the psych stuff." She gripped his hand. "You've got nothing to worry about, okay?"

He tried to smile at her, but he knew it was a nervous smile. "Katherine. I wanted to tell you before you heard it from one of the guys. I..."


He hesitated, transfixed by her eyes, her smile. "Nothing. We'll talk about it tomorrow. Let's wait till we've finished all of this."

Four hours later he headed back to his office, tired and worried. Sure enough, as the heavy iron door slid open to his office, there was a blinking light on his desktop that told him that AmaStar corporate headquarters wanted a conference call. It was even more expensive than the regular monthly transmissions.

Alex straightened his shirt, smoothed his hair and clicked the appropriate buttons. A few seconds later, Mr. Pike appeared on the screen. "Alex. Good to see you."

"Sir. You too. How are things Earthside?"

"Alex, we've received your test results." This was it. His heart was thudding in his chest. He could barely breathe. "They've um...They've come back within margins."

"I'm in the green?" His voice was high, almost hysterical. He let his fingers un-clench, his heart started beating again.

"Technically. Yes. Barely."

"Well, that's what counts, right? I'm good for another year, right?"

Mr. Pike placed his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose and rubbed. "Alex, have you reviewed the DD-249 file we sent you?"

Alex shrugged. "I started most of the paperwork. I'll have it ready to send back to you by the end of the day."

Mr. Pike massaged the back of his neck with one hand. "Have you reviewed the crew member file? We think she'd be a great fit there. We've gone over all of your parameters, all the requirements."

Alex shook his head, unable to look at the screen. "No, I haven't. I like things like they are. We've got a good balance here. Work gets done. We've always made quota, right? That's what matters, right? The bottom line? Shipments are on time, regulations are kept. No muss, no fuss. Right? I like my crew the way it is."


"Don't. Sir, I know what you're going to say. We've gone over this before."

Mr. Pike nodded with a slow resoluteness. "Alex, will you just humor me and take two seconds to look at her profile with me. Right now. While I've got you. Please?" Mr Pike seemed close to losing his patience.

Alex ground down on his jaw. "Fine. Okay. Sure. Let's check her out." He clicked on the DD-249, opened it up and dug around inside until he found the personnel file. Mr. Pike opened the same thing on his end.

"As you can see, she's totally qualified. She's checked out on all of the gear, all the regulations. She knows her stuff. And if you'll look toward the bottom, you might notice that she's a Go player. We thought you might like that. I remembered you mentioned that you got tired of beating Frida." Alex shrugged, glancing over her file and then looking away. Mr. Pike added. "And, off the record, I'd like to add, check out that photo. She's quite attractive. Didn't you tell me once that you had a thing for redheads?"

Alex shrugged again. Mr Pike frowned. "Dammit, Alex. Do you have to be so stubborn? I'm trying to do you a favor here. The company is really sticking its neck out."

Alex's lips set into a firm line. "Sir, I've passed my tests, correct?" Mr. Pike grudgingly nodded. "So then, my position here is renewed, correct?"

Mr. Pike's face went to stone. "Under the current regulations, you have the right to renew for another year, yes."

A slight smile slid over Alex's mouth. "Alright then. Per regulations, I'll inform you of my decision. If there's nothing else Mr. Pike, I'll go ahead and sign off."

Mr. Pike looked like he wanted to say something more, but stopped himself and instead just threw his hands up. He clicked at a button and Alex's screen went dark.

Alex leaned back in his chair, stared at the ceiling, letting his grin slowly grow. He pulled the DD-249 file back up. He signed and initialed all the things he needed to. He put in all the numbers, added all the proper attachments. He saved the best for last though. At the bottom of the personnel file, there were two boxes. One was labeled approved. The other, declined. He checked declined. Below that, was a line labeled reason for decline. He wrote, "Executive Administrator feels as though another crew member would be superfluous."

Alex closed the file, sent it off to the relay station and then activated his comm badge. "Hey everyone. I'm here for another year. Let's celebrate!"

Connor Alexander


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