(End of the Dream)
“Yargg!” Steve woke up with a start. His heart was beating like a jack hammer and his sheets have been soaked through. He tried to recollect just what it was that he had been dreaming about, but all that came to mind were just small fragments. Which understandably left him with even more questions. Why were the leaves changing colors? And why did he feel so cold even though he was sitting there sweating like a whore in church?
Shaking his head, Steve reached over and adjusted the blinds. Looking out he could only see Phobos visible at the moment. “Guess it’s going to be an early start,” he muttered to himself as he put a cigarette up to his lips.
Upon lighting it, a soft beep echoed in his quarters followed by a robotic voice stating, “Unauthorized smoking detected. Please pay penalty of $20 within 30 seconds or authorities will be notified.” Sighing, Steve placed his palm on the blinking screen. “Thank you for your prompt payment. If you wish to continue smoking a pass can be purchased for $200 for 2 weeks.”
Smirking to himself he puts the cigarette out in the ashtray. “Yeah, well fuck you very much.” God this was going to a a long day. Up before the sun and now he couldn’t even smoke a damn cigarette. “Well might as well get started,” he stated while he climbed into his uniform. “God, I hate this damn thing.” The uniform was a pale grey that just seemed to reflect the planet’s lifelessness.
Surrendering himself to the fate of the day, he placed his palm on the panel next to the door. With an almost surgical silence the door quickly opened, and he stepped out into the dimly lit hallway. His footsteps echoing eiriely behind him, at one point had been unnerving but now just seems to be a routine as everything is every single day. He proceeded to the mess, hoping against hope that someone had made a new pot of coffee. Looking at the film on the top, he knew that today was just going to be one of those days. Still he poured himself a cup and grimaced as he drank the cold soup that would keep him alert for a little while at least.
“Good Morning, Lieutenant Lance,” the sentry greeted him as he walked up to the security door.
‘What the fuck is so good about it?’ he thought to himself, but just nodded towards the sentry, of whom he couldn’t even remember the name of. He just continued inward and was greeted by the glow of hundreds of monitors, all showing the same thing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing yesterday, and nothing the day before that. It is the kind of monotony that slowly kills the slow, and pushes the mind towards insanity.
Behind him he hears the door open. He doesn’t even turn around as he asks, “What you got for me?”
“New prisoner arriving today. Estimated arrival time is 1000 hours. This is a new one, this’ll be our first military prisoner.”
“Military? But we aren’t contracted for that!”
“Guess someone on Earth thought they could expand into new territory. Seems that this is going to be a test run, so Corporate wants this to be by the numbers. They might even be sending a rep later this week to check on how things are running.”
“Well, shit… Let me see the file.” Without taking his eyes away from the screen, Steve reaches for the file over his shoulder. He briefs through the file, “Well, it looks simple enough. Why do you think that they are making a big deal about this one after all?”
“Rumor is that he is the son of some big shot admiral or something.”
“No, shit? Well at the very least it might break up the monotony around here. Pass the word along and make sure that everything is going by the book. At the very least we have to make it look like we know what we are doing here. Has the old man been notified?”
That was the nickname given to the warden. Which is a little funny considering that he was younger than about half the staff, but if you spoke to him it felt like you were talking to your dad.
“No sir, he usually doesn’t hit the floor for another 2 hours.”
“Well make sure you tell him, and bring him up to speed with the status of everything going on.”
Steve hears the sentry’s boots click followed by the almost silent doors opening and closing. He chuckles to himself. What was the top brass thinking. No one was even qualified to be here in the first place and now they are going to be sending them military prisoners. Oh, if he could see Commander Howlett again, he would tell him that he could shove that contract right up his ass.
“I knew today was going to shit,” he muttered to himself as he kept looking over the monitors. How long has he been staring at these monitors, he wonders. Just how many years has he wasted here. Granted he wasn’t doing to well back home. Debt collectors calling everyday after the loss of his job. And once his job was gone, so was Laurel. No way she was going to be with a loser like that. So broke and desperate, Steven found himself at the unemployment office speaking to Commander Howlett. Looking back, Steven would tell himself that the commander really needed to work on his pitch.
“Yes sir, we have finally colonized Mars. Now you would think this that ordeal would be amazing in and of itself. However, there is one major drawback. The planet is dead. Yeah, we’ve been search for life for close to 50 years, and so far all we have found is just some ice. So the search for extraterrestrial life is now expanding to other worlds.”
“Then someone had a great idea. Why not turn the unused habitats into a prison? It really is ideal. Escape would be nearly impossible. What, with the very atmosphere being as deadly as it was. And if by happenstance someone would be able to pilot a ship, the journey home would most likely be fraught with unknown dangers and don’t forget about the reentry through the earth’s atmosphere.”
“Now the work is contracted. You get to spend 10 years off planet, tax free. Basically all of your needs are taken care of. You get room and board, but anything extra can be purchased and shipped off world to you. And don’t worry about the prisoners. You see the fundamental problem with mankind is a simple want. Everyone wants to live. Oh, I know there are some suicidal idiots out there but for the majority nobody wants to really die. Especially the way that it may happen out there.”
So after a year of training, Steven found himself on the red planet of Mars. Whoop de fucking do. The food sucks on a daily basis, and sleep for him is nearly non-existent. Christ can’t even smoke a damn cigarette without having to pay for it. And the loneliness, forget about it. It sees that women are too smart to want to work off Earth. So that would only leave the female prisoners. Now it was against the rules but one of the benefits of being someplace that nobody wants to be is that the rules really don’t apply anymore. Steve had thought about it, and his hand was begging him to really consider it. However, since they were stuck there as well, it just seemed wrong.
If the loneliness was the only problem then maybe he wouldn’t have much to complain about. However the danger of everyday life was overwhelming. Hell, if even one thing failed it could kill everyone. Here even the death of something as simple as a tree could eventually spell disaster for everyone. One would have to be utterly mad to have willingly signed up for such an assignment.
But here he was, one a distant red ball, millions of miles away from the planet that he called home. No longer able to feel the sun on his face, or the wind on his skin. Just the artificial warmth of a light bulb and the recycled air from a vent. No amount of training could have ever prepared Steven for taking that away from him.
Steven glanced at his watch he still had four hours until drop off. Oh well, no sense in complaining about shit that you can’t fix. He ran through his daily checklist, starting with the greenhouse. Funny how most people would think that the most important system would be something to do with computers, but in actuality it was organic. Without the greenhouse, the air scrubbers would have been fried within the first six months. It not only provided clean air, but food as well.
Next, he check in on the power plant. It was a mixture of a nuclear core located off site and multiple solar panels. Why make thinks harder than they needed to be? At least this way they would be able to have power even through the frequent dust storms. And believe you me, they were frequent.
Now was time to check the stockroom. He punched in a quick command and brought up the stockroom ledger. Even thought they have never had a shortage of supplies before, it was always better to be prepared. Everything was listed here, from batteries to yes, even condoms. Yep, better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
Finally, he went through the duty sheet for the day. He had to make sure that every prisoner was assigned a duty. Yeah, that’s right. All of the essential operating systems were maintained by the prisoners. Even the power plant. To put it bluntly his ass was in the hands of degenerates so bad that they weren’t wanted on Earth any longer. But up here he had to place his life in their hands.
As soon as he was done, he checked his watch again. It was time for the old man to be getting in. “Christ,” he says under his breath as he hears the doors open.