I stumble in a red rocky landscape. Serious pain around my stomach. The atmosphere is slightly purplish. I’m on Mars. I collapse from the pain, and lay down on the cold soil. “Aaaaaaa” I shout into the bucket-acoustic of my helmet. I’m retching. I spit up black goo. I’m drowning. My spacesuit tears up around my stomach, and a cloud of black, sting-like nanomachines swarms out of me. The stings eat everything around me … Everything … even me.
I awake with tingles in my whole body. The time is 7:15. I hear my heartbeat in my ear. I’m soaked in sweat. My stomach is still hurting.
“Navi! Call Charlotte! I’m feeling sick!” I growl with clenched teeth.
“The commander needs to authorize the call.”
“Don’t give a shit!” My voice cracks from pain.
“I take it as an okay.”
The line beeps a few for a short time. Then the commander speaks up.
“Is everything alright, Mr. Taylor?”
“No. I woke up to horrible pain in my stomach.”
“I put you through to Charlotte.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
After a beep, she answers instantly.
“Hello, Boston. Don’t worry, I’m almost there.”
I count to 15 in myself, then Charlotte enters into my cabin with a white bag on her side. I sit on the edge of my bed, bent by pain.
“It’s okay. I’m here!” she stands in front of me.
She puts her hand on my forehead, then she checks my pulse.
“That was fast!”
“Your nanoprobes sent a signal. I was already on my way when you called.” She checks my eyes with a small flashlight.
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing serious. Please lay down.”
I lay down on my bed…
“Will your dad come here?” I ask, ‘cos only my underwear is on me.
“For sure. So stay calm!” She knocks on my chest, then starts pressing my stomach.
“So it hurts here?” She asks, then presses there again.
“Aaah. Yes, there, but now it’s worse.”
“Not a big deal.” She opens her bag, and gets out a small, brown, shiny pill from it. “Chew this, and swallow it with a glass of water.”
“Sedative and antacid.”
“What’s the diagnosis, Doctor?”
“Acute reflux, and your blood pressure is really high too. It must be some kind of psychogenic problem… According to what we currently know about you, I guess it’s a post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“Awesome!” I put both of my hands on my head. Then the commander enters the cabin.
“How’s Mr. Taylor doing?” He asks instantly.
“He’ll be okay.” Charlotte answers. “But he might have psychogenic problems.”
“Is he capable of work?”
“It would be justified to give him a medicinal implant, if he gets nausea in the mines, I could intervene from here.”
“Is he capable of work?” The commander repeats the question to emphasize it.
“I won’t let him out in the mines alone today.” Charlotte answers.
“We’re running low on resources seriously. We do need an active shift there today… Looks like I gotta go out.”
Meanwhile, Susan arrived too. Now all three of them stands above my bed, and it’s getting awkward.
“Ben! I heard what happened … You’re alright?” She asks in a worried tone.
“I’m better, thanks.” I sit up, take the pill, and I chew it. “Excuse me, I’d like to drink some water to the pill.” and point to my bathroom.
“Okay, everyone out to the corridor.” Charlotte gives out the order, then she shepherds everyone, and locks them out. I walk to the restroom. No saliva was left in my mouth after the antacid. I open the tap, and sip from my hands.
“Thanks for everything!” I turn back to Charlotte.
“You’ll have the chance to give me gratitudes.” She whispers in my ears.
“Guess I gotta dress up.”
“I see” then she pets my awakening cock through my underwear. “I’ll be waiting outside with the others. Until then, try to take a piss … It’ll help.” She gives me a naughty grin, then she leaves too.
She turns me on, then she sends me to take a pee… Medicoins really know how the male body works … uhh … And how to prank it. I’d like to see her trying to pee with an erect dick. Sitting on the toilet, leaning forward, bending down the tool … although it’s softening fast for a fact.
I put on my overalls. I check if there is a telltale knob down there. Not too flashy. I’m okay. I heading out. But outside there’s no one else, only Susan’s waiting for me.
“Where’re the others?”
“Anton called Charlotte, to discuss today’s work schedules. Until then she trusted me to look after you.” She smiles then digs into my hair. Surprising, but a pleasing gesture.
“And? What’s the plan?”
“I work in the brown department today.”
“The soil enrichment?”
“Bingo!” and a mysterious smile appears on her face.
“It is a cool working place?”
“The smelly?” She laughs “My favorite.”
“Nope… It’s the best, really… I have my shifts there when materials arrive from the mine.”
“So, when the commander is out there… “ I steal the word.
“Smart!” she digs in my hair again. “Believe me, I wasn’t happy when he ordered you to the mines… Logical, from the business perspective, but it’s not good for morale if the boss never leaves the place.”
“Three of you make a really weird family.”
“And how weird four of us will be!” she pinches my face, like some kind of grandma.
The elevator beeps and opens, with father and daughter in it.
“Mr. Taylor!” The commander points at me. “I don’t like to recuse my daughter from her shift because of you. You’ll be on sick-leave while we set your medicine dose.” He points towards my cabin. “Call Charlotte only if you’re not feeling well. Don’t disturb or distract her in her job otherwise.” He points at me again firmly.
“It’s almost eight. Everyone go and get to work!”
Behind her dad, Charlotte mimes silently that she’ll call me, and throws a kiss. The commander turns back by instinct, but he misses the scene … just like on our first meeting in my cabin, when Charlotte blew a kiss to me behind his father’s back… Déja Vu… I laugh in myself. The elevator closes, and again I’m left together with Susan.
“Guess I just wait here for Charlotte, to give me my meds.” I’m about to open my cabin door, but Susan suddenly grabs me on my shoulder.
“Nuh-uhhh! Today, you’re mine, my knight!” I look back at her with wide open eyes, what makes her laugh uncontrollably. “It is amazing how easy it is to prank you.” she continues laughing. “But anyway now you’re coming with me!” She adds, then presses the call panel of the elevator.
“Where are we going?”
“Into the smelly!”
Jeeez! … I almost puked myself after the first breath of this pungent smell. I try to breathe through the mouth, but still no good. This is not air, but vaporized shit what we’re breathing now.
“Oh well. There’s a reason I call this place the smelly.” Susan laughs at my grimaces.
“Bleegh… Sick!... How do you survive this?”
“You’ll get used to it in a few minutes. It’s useless to fight against it.”
“Doesn’t this soak into our clothes? Our skin?”
“A thorough shower is highly recommended after this. And clothes are sometimes easier to burn than to wash them out. Especially if we work with thin muck.”
“And you’re saying this is your favorite place?”
“Oooh yes. I've been hiding my little garden here from Anton for years.”
“Come, take a look!”
She squats, and touches between the floor tiles. She flicks up a plastic slab with her nail, which reveals a trap door. Strong smell of plants comes up.
“Damn Susan! Is this what I think it is?!” I ask in shock.
“A familiar smell?” She asks and winks at me.
“Yep … and what a kind!... Come!”
“Ummmm. I pass. I’ve just got high by this vapor already.” - But of course, it’s not true.
“Hmmm, if you say so.” She’s heading downward on the trap door’s ladder.
“Wait here. I’ll be back in a minute.”
My mobAR notifies me that Charlotte’s calling me. I answer it.
“Hello, Boston! Dad’s just left the airlock. Where are you?”
“Susan brought me down to the smelly.”
“Oh fuck! But you didn’t light it up? Did you?” She asks in a reproachful tone.
“Umm. No?” I reply wonderingly.
“I’m not kidding Boston! Don’t dare to get high today!”
“I wasn’t even thinking about it… I didn’t know what’s down here… None even a minute passed since Susan’s showed me the hidden garden.”
“You two are down in the garden?”
“Nope. She went down the trapdoor alone. I’m waiting for her up here in the corridor.”
“Okay, I’ll be there in a sec. Bye!”
Susan arrives faster, with a packet of marijuana in her hands.
“Well, this gonna make the day.” She says with a grin.
“Charlotte called. She asked us to wait for her here.”
“I heard.” meanwhile she holds the trap door, and softly folds it back to the floor, then she stomps on it. The door clicks, and unites with the floor. Nobody can tell that there is a secret passage here.
“Susan, you’re out of your mind!” I say in honest consternation.
“I take it as a compliment.” she smiles. “But where’s that girl?”
“I’m here.” Charlotte enters from the corner of the corridor. “Wasn’t that better if we come down here after I implant Boston’s medical probes?”
“What’s wrong with this place?” Susan replies with a grin.
“Aside from that this place is full of manure and smells like shit?”
Susan shows Charlotte the packet filled with weed.
“Want some?” and shakes it in front of her eyes.
“Awh god, Susan!” she gives a strict look, then she adds “Of course I do.” and starts laughing.
“Good!” Susan endorses. While I’m just standing, and blinking.
The soil enrichments control room is a one and a half by two meters small, balcony like platform above square shaped tanks filled with brown gunk. The place reminded me of an old TV show, about four jackasses who sneak into an old sewage processing facility, for jumping into tanks like these … just for fun … and for subscribers for sure.
Charlotte sits me down to the only chair in the control room. She pulls up my overalls’ right sleeve, sterilizes my forearm with cotton soaked in alcohol, and with some kind of pistol she shoots a thin, 2 centimeters short capsule under my skin.“That’s it. It’s already in.” She smiles at me proudly. She sprays the wound with some kind of spray, which solidifies to a transparent film.
We three barely fit into the control room. Susan asks for the chair, to roll the funny cigarette on the control panel. Charlotte sits down the floor.
“Go ahead Boston. It’s clean … relatively.” She pats the floor ... So I sit down next to her. She hugs my left arm and gives me a kiss on my face. I’m surprised how much I enjoy this weird family idyll.
“And you really want to smoke that here?” I ask.
“Why?” Susan asks back.
“Isn’t here too much methane to light it?... “ but she just shrugs as an answer.
She pulls a metal lighter from her pocket. She puts the freshly rolled joint into her mouth, lights it up, and takes a deep puff. She coughs, but keeps it down. She passes the cig to Charlotte, who takes a puff with the same routine, as Susan did.
“The meth” coughs “ane” coughs “helps the cig burn” coughs “better” and she exhales the smoke. “This weed is brutal.” she adds.
“Great crop as always.” Susan answers proudly. “But don’t stop the roll. Pass it!
“Boston won’t get some.” Charlotte speaks up definitely.
“I didn’t ask for it.” I answer more definitely.
“You don’t know what you left out of … ” Susan said, and takes the joint back from Charlotte.
“Leave him alone! He gets his drugs too, but not this kind.” while she’s talking, Charlotte’s face sags down, and her olive skin turns pale. Her eyes thin into a line, and she smiles beautifully. She slides down to her back on the floor and enjoys the chill. After two puffs she speaks up again.
“Susan. If you dare to make a move on my sweetheart, I will have Dad thrown you out to space!”
“Dya’ hear this Ben? … She’s jealous … So she loves you.” Susan giggles.
Charlotte pulls me down to the floor, next to herself. Her whole body is heated up.
“Of course I love him, this such a handsome guy.” She pulls me to her mouth and kisses me. “And such an innocent lil’ fool … I love him.” She kisses me multiple times. “Wanna eat him up instantly.” then she bites into my face softly … She’s got damn high is after three humble puffs.
“Don’t devour him … I gotta work with him today!” Susan rebukes. Than Charlotte gets up, and lifts her right forefinger.
“If you even dare to touch him … ” she tries to make a straight face “you’ll be thrown out! Got it?” but she laughs at the end.
“Enough of you stupid slut! Get back to your work already! No more puffs for you!” and snuff the cigarette on the counter with nervous moves.
“Alright, I’m off … If DAN makes French fries, all of them are mine!” She stands up and dusts off her clothes.
She does a few head swings, and straightens out.”If you dare to touch him” she points threateningly at Susan.
“I won’t, obviously. Move along!”
“Kisses, Boston! If you feel anything weird besides the smell of shit, call me instantly. The med-implant is releasing the stuff into you.” Then she heads out with graceful, slow steps on the planks to the exit, like a supermodel.
“Stupid lil’ cunt … “ Susan growls with the cigarette in her mouth, then she lights it again. Takes a deep puff, leans back in the chair, and throws her legs up the panel.
“Does it kick in that hard, or she just can’t take it?” I ask.
“Three puffs like those and you’d jump to dive into one of shit-tanks down there.”
“Whoa! Another Déja Vu.” I stop for a moment.
“Nothing … Just when we were coming here, an old TV show came in my mind about some dumb idiots who dive into thin manure.”
Susan starts to cackle uncontrollably. “Shit Ben. I just visualized it.” she can’t stop laughing. “Imagine, Anton jumps, then he flailing in a tank of shit” she’s shrieking from laughter. “Wheeeee… While the slumps hanging from his afro hair… “ She cackles like she’s about to drown.
I don’t know where to put myself. I’m not in the same dimension with Susan. She’s already jumped into the warp. She takes another big puff, and exhales it slowly. Then some smaller ones. “Shiiiiit sooo gooooood.” For sure, ‘coz she turned pale, and such a relaxed smile got over her face, which is surreal even from her. She flicks the tip of the finished cig from the control room into one of the tanks. “So, breakfast’s done. Let’s get to work!” she takes her legs off the panel, leans forward, taps onto the console, and a quiet roar fills the department.
“Should I know what is your job here?” I ask.
“In the tanks, we enrich different crops’ soil with poop collected from the barn, and minerals from the mines.”
“And what we’re running low on?”
“Almost everything. Nitrogen, carbon, iron. We’re tapping the water from hydroculture for some time. And we’re almost at the point where we have to extract nitrogen from air. And for carbon, we gotta disassemble the neglected structural parts of the station.”
“That’s heavy… How much weight do we lose per day?”
“Nothing on a usual day. But when ships come for goods, we usually load about 2-3 kilotons for cargo.”
“Ohhh… Now I understand why it’s so important to keep the mine going.”
“Still, it’s nothing. Imagine what’s going on on Earth. About 30 million tons of crops are lifted up to space, daily. In 1000 years, they will excavate the whole planet!” She laughs loudly. She has her mind in place, but I can see that she’s really baked.
“Guess you know why I brought you here with me.”
“To not fuck the whole day through with Charlotte?”
“Ohh, that wouldn’t be cool. Not like I envy you or anything, but a zero result shift, could lead to Anton catching you instantly.”
“Talking about the Singularity, then?”
“Bingo. Does the name Karl Livingstone rings any bells for you?”
Boom. Another Déja Vu! But I can’t tell where’s this situation is so familiar.
“Oh, sorry. Had a Déja Vu again.”
“You just froze for like 10 seconds. Are you alright?”
“Felt like a moment to me.”
“Hope that the smoke didn’t hit you… “
“Karl Livingstone, the space-billionaire.” I say it aloud.
“Yes. The space-billionaire.” The smile widens on Susan’s face.
“I got a recording from the last minutes of his life… Pretty bizarre, but I’d like you to hear it.”
“Show it to me...”