By Greg van Eekhout
When you live on a spaceship, you learn to make your own fun. Exploring the tunnels is some of the very best fun the October’s got. After school hour, me and Droller go scuttling through the darkest conduits you ever will find. The starboard Hab gets minimal heat, so our breath clouds in the light of our head torches as we crawl on our hands and knees.
“You hear that?” Droller whispers from a couple of meters ahead.
I do hear it, a deep, wet wheezing that sounds exactly like Droller trying to spook me.
“You better go ahead and check it out, Droller.”
“Naw, Kitch, it’s behind you. It smells your butt. It’s a butthunter.”
I laugh at Droller’s stupid joke, because the stupider, the funnier, and she’s by far my stupidest friend.
We’re both from Aft Hab, both from the same birth lottery, and out of the eight babies born that season, we’re the only survivors. It used to be the three of us, me and Droller, and Jamm, but Jamm died last year along with her parents when the CO2 scrubbers in their cube failed. The scrubbers were item thirty-three on the fixems’ to-do list.
“How much farther?” I ask Droller.
“Just a couple of panels.”
It’s more like a couple dozen panels, but we finally arrive at the section of conduit above Town Square. Using just our fingers, Droller and me remove the fasteners holding the panel in place and slide it aside, just enough for us to peak out.
Down below, a crowd settles on the rings of benches surrounding the lawn. The brass band toots “Onward or Bust” in a marching beat, their jackets sparkling with silver buttons and silver loops of rope. Droller and I exchange a sad look. Jamm wanted to be a drummer and wear a thick, warm jacket like that. The odds were against an Aft Habber like her, but she was good enough that she might have made it.
Once the tooting is over, one of the Vice Captains ascends the grandstand. The audience stands and salutes in respect. Everyone on the October acts as like salutes are required, but White Madeleine told us saluting was never in the contract the original families signed. The Fore Habbers made up the requirement only eighty years ago.
The kind of people who come to witness a Course Correction are the type who do what they’re supposed to.
The Vice Captain says some stuff into a bullhorn. It’s too distorted for me and Droller to make out actual words, but we know what he’s saying, because this isn’t the first time we’ve watched a Course Correction from the conduits. He’s announcing the name of the violator and their crime.
The guards bring out a man, their hands gripping his arms and shoving. He’s dressed in thin brown paper coveralls. His face is bloodless. I bet he’s shivering in the cold.
“I’ve seen him before,” says Droller. She doesn’t know his name, but he does look familiar. Maybe I’ve spotted him in line at Distro, or maybe on a community service detail. Yeah, that’s it. A few months ago we were on the same crew scraping mold off crop troughs in the farm module. He was quiet and sniffed a lot.
“What do you think he did?” Droller asks.
“I bet he buggered a robot.”
Droller laughs, because it’s stupid. (Continue Reading…)