“It is twelve thirty-seven. It has been twenty-five days since you have had Ancient Chicago’s style pizza from the third deck,” a voice pinged from inside his ear. “Usually you have Ancient Chicago’s pizza every eleven days. Would you like me to order your favorite meal?”
“Yes, please, that actually sounds great,” Weyne replied without breaking focus. He walked down an isle of crates neatly stored in their rows: metal crates the size of refrigerators stacked to the ceiling. The room looked like a morgue for giants. Weyne wished it was that exciting, but it was the same inventory room in the same New World Orbits Space Station he had been working in since he arrived four cycles ago.
“Question for you, I.D.A.,” Weyne said to his Individual Decision Assistant. He found crate S-9982 and slid it open.
“Listening, Mr. Collander,” the voice replied. “Is inventory specialist the worst job on this stupid space station?” He began counting shoes in the crate.
“Calculating,” the voice said. After a short pause, the electronic voice said, “Assistants to the shipment handlers reported lowest on a recent satisfaction survey. Their major complaint is a combination of operating dangerous machinery with low wages. Since the last cycle, three people from the shipment department confined themselves to the airlock and opened the space-side door, or ‘locked out’ as people usually say.”
Weyne looked around the inventory room. “I guess it’s not that bad here. I do miss Earth though, sometimes.”
“On Earth, they don’t have I.D.A. Not to mention, the last time you talked about Earth you broke your tablet in anger and went to bed crying.”
“Did not. That was a long time ago anyway. And you have no idea what it’s like down there. What they did to me.”
“By ‘they,’ do you mean your biological family?” “That’s how I used to think of them. Just my biological family. Not a real family, like the families in the stories before The Priming.”
“Those old stories are regarded by scholars as works of fiction,” the voice interrupted. “Would you like a definition of fiction?”
“I’m not stupid. I’m just saying something’s missing. I’ve been thinking about Earth a lot lately and—”
“Your pizza is here. Would you like me to charge it to your Bank of the Orbits Space Station account?”
“Yeah, why not. Why have the B.O.S.S. account if you can’t indulge,” Weyne replied. He could see a delivery- drone flying toward him down the long hallway. The low hum of the propellers echoing off the metal crates. His mouth began to salivate.
“Would you like to know your outstanding balance, Mr. Collander?” the voice said as Weyne took the pizza box from the drone.
“The only thing I want to know is why I didn’t get this delivered an hour ago,” he replied.
“I’ll make a note of your preferred lunch time, sir. You usually watch the show ‘The Spacewalkers’ while you eat lunch. Would you like me to play the next episode in your queue?”
“You bet I would,” Weyne replied. He sat on the ground with his back to the crates and the pizza in his lap. He placed his tablet on the floor next to him and his show started immediately. He finished his meal with six minutes remaining on his lunch break, so he decided to start another episode. Once his shift ended, he went to his apartment and finished season five before going to bed.
“Sir, it is one thirty-seven in the morning. The readings of your body language, lack of recent laughter, and uncommon awake hours suggest you are sad. Would you like me to assemble an outfit with your lucky shoes for work tomorrow? Seven out of the last eleven days you have worn those shoes, you laughed over thirty-two times per day.”
Weyne was sitting up in bed looking out his porthole window. The only light in his deep freeze apartment came from this glass hole. His bed filled the width of the apartment, and he guessed two beds end to end would barely fit length-wise. He didn’t mind the confined space though. It made him feel safe. He remembered how his cat Hickory, from Earth, would always hide in a shoebox.
Earth. He could see the blue planet through the window. “I think I need a new job. Something exciting. Something fun. Show the results of job openings starting tomorrow.”
“One moment, sir.” Weyne’s gaze had not left the place of his first home. “Ro MaMuido is running for Governor of the space station. There is an opening to junior budget manager for his campaign.”
“Budget manager?” Weyne asked. “After the thirty-day introduction period, you will receive a bonus and your weekly pay would be two point three times your current salary.”
“Well, then. That changes things. Show me the job description,” Weyne said. He grabbed his tablet and put his head back on his pillow. The screen lit up with the job description. After thirty seconds of reading, I.D.A. spoke.
“Would you like me to put in your notice at the warehouse and put in your application for the junior budget manager position?”
“Yeah, do it. I’ll get the job. I need something new.” “Done. You should know by morning if you are accepted for the position. One of the expectations is business professional attire. You currently have one business professional outfit.’’
“Barely. It’s my dad’s old suit that I stole when I came up here. Wanted everyone to take me seriously, but the fashion up here’s different. I stuck out like an open inventory crate,” Weyne said. A smile shone as he recalled the memory.
“If you are accepted for the position, would you like me to order a new outfit for your first day,” I.D.A. interrupted.
“That’s good idea. Just charge it to the B.O.S.S. I’m going to be making all kinds of money soon enough.”
“Very well, sir. Consider it done.” “Thanks, I.D.A. G’night.”
When Weyne woke the next morning, he had forgotten about applying for the new job until I.D.A. let him know his new suit had arrived. He put on the new suit and posed in the mirror. He felt light on his feet as he walked, chin up and shoulders wide, to his new job.
“It has been fifteen days since you started working for Mr. MaMuido. Would you like to celebrate by ordering two scoops of black walnut ice cream on a waffle cone from The Ice House?”
“Make it a single scoop,” Weyne replied. He threw his bag on his bed as he closed the door to his apartment. He began loosening his tie. “We’ll do a double-scoop once I’m finally out of this stupid training period.” “Noted and ordered,” said I.D.A. “It’s like, I obviously know what I’m doing,” Weyne continued out of nowhere. His suit was now on his bed. He pulled on his lightweight sleeping pants and matching shirt. “I could be the head budget manager. Gary doesn’t even know what he’s doing. He asks me for help every day. He didn’t even know how to convert our spreadsheet into a 3-D projection.”
“Would you like me to see if there are any budget manager positions available?”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll try to stick with this for now. I’m halfway to getting a huge payday anyway. And I’ve already got the suits.” Weyne pointed to his closet. There was one suit not like the others. The color was dull and muted, like a photo left in a porthole window.
“Is there a problem with the suits I ordered for you, sir?” I.D.A. asked.
“No, not at all. They fit great. Look great. They’re great,” Weyne replied. “I’m just looking at my dad’s old suit.”
“Would you like me to have it recycled?” “It’s probably time, huh.” Weyne pulled the suit from his closet and held it up like some kind of poor yorick. He slipped it off the hanger.
“I can have someone recycle it while you are at work tomorrow, so you don’t have to bother with it,” I.D.A. said as Weyne began to fold up the suit’s pants.
“It’s okay. I should probably do this myself.” He placed the folded pants on the edge of his bed and pulled the suit jacket off the hanger. A small piece of paper fell to the floor. When he saw the glossy paper with the white boarder, his eyes filled with water.
“Your eyes are full of tears, sir. Would you like me to play the next episode of ‘The Spacewalkers’ from your queue?” I.D.A. said.
“What? No. I’m not sad,” Weyne held the photo in his hand. “I’m not sad. It’s just, this is my family I.D.A. This is our cabin in New Colorado.”
“I am confused, sir. When you talk about your family, ninety-three percent of the time you end up yelling expletives or breaking something. Yet, you are currently not showing any emotions associated with those actions.”
“I don’t know what it is. Something about seeing this old suit on my father, even though I think he won it betting. Seeing my mother hold me in her arms. My sister holding Hickory. Look how simple it is. Look how happy it all is.” Weyne closed his eyes. “I think Hickory jumped out of my sister’s arms after this picture was taken. Tore a hole in her dress.”
A deep breath filled his lungs as a smile stretched across his face. “I.D.A., when is the next cycle to Earth?”
“Eleven days from now, sir. Would you like to have this suit sent back to your father?”
“No, I.D.A.,” Weyne said, still looking at the photo. “It’s time for me to go home. Order me a ticket to Earth.”
“I must remind you that Individual Decision Assistants are not available on Earth. The reconstruction after The Priming is still incomplete.”
“I know.” “Very well,” I.D.A. said. “It looks like tickets to Earth are at their peak price at this time. My calculations suggest the best time to buy a ticket is the day before the cycle. People will have changed their minds and will be trying to get rid of their tickets at a fraction of the cost.”
“That’s great. Whatever. We’ll buy them then,” “I will remind you in ten days.” “Thanks, I.D.A..” Weyne said. He stood and placed the photo in the porthole. He spoke to the people in the photo. “I’m coming home.”
“The cycle is tomorrow, sir, would you like me to order anything special for your last day on the station?” I.D.A. asked.
Weyne was packing his suitcase. His dad would love the new suits. His sister would love the tablet (even if it had limited capabilities on Earth). And his mom would just love having him back. “I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s anything else here I really need,” Weyne said. He zipped up his suitcase and placed it next to the door. “Were you able to find a ticket for tomorrow?”
“There are three tickets available. They are each below the original price. But, I believe they will continue to drop.”
“Only three left? It’s too risky. Go ahead and purchase whichever one is the cheapest. I don’t want to miss the cycle.”
“Understood. You ticket is now purchased and charged to your account.”
“Thanks, I.D.A. When does boarding open?” “Boarding opens twenty-four hours in advance.” “So, people are already boarding?” “Correct, sir.” “Well, I better get going then. I want to make sure my body has time to adjust to the pressure change.” Weyne pushed a button on his suitcase and a green light came on. The wheels came to life and the small grey box followed him out of his apartment. He walked down the hallway, toward the center of the station.
“I have also sent a letter to Gary to let him know you will no longer be working on the campaign,” I.D.A. said.
“Oh yeah, thanks for that,” Weyne replied. “Shame too, only five days from the end of training and getting that big bonus check.”
“That is correct, sir.” “Oh well.” Weyne walked in silence as he made his way to the terminal. His suitcase one step behind him. After a few minutes, white noise filled the hallway leading up to the flight deck. He thought I.D.A. was malfunctioning, but when he entered the open room, he saw that the noise was the sound of hundreds of conversations happening simultaneously as people boarded the ship. He saw an older couple hugging. People were taking off their I.D.A.’s and handing them to the collection agent. Weyne recognized the large metal crates being stacked in the back of the ship. He saw a check-in sign suspended from the ceiling and made his way there.
“Hi, I’m Weyne Collander.” “Can I help you?” the woman under the check-in sign said.
“What do you mean? I’m here to check-in. You know, board the ship.”
“Name?” “Weyne Collander,” he said with a dead stare.
“Identification number 00129384?”
“Bank of the Orbits Space Station account number 2232-44332-2928WC?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so. I.D.A., is that it?”
“That is correct, sir,” I.D.A. replied.
“Thanks. Yeah, that’s me.” Weyne said. The check-in agent did not acknowledge Weyne’s confirmation. She turned to her screen and began typing. After narrowing her eyebrows a few times and saying “hmm” she replied.
“You are not cleared to leave the New World Orbits Space Station,” she said with no emotion. “Who’s next?”
“Wait, what do you mean? How? I’ve got my ticket right here.” Weyne held up his tablet and showed the check- in agent.
“You have an outstanding credit balance on your Bank of the Orbits Space Station account.” The agent pointed to a sign below her desk and recited it by memory. “No citizen can leave the station while in debt to the station.”
“This can’t be right,” Weyne said. “I have to go. I need to see my family.”
“Who’s next?” the agent asked. “I.D.A., is this true? How is this possible? Am I in debt?” Weyne asked.
“Your average weekly income since the last cycle has been ninety-seven units. Your average weekly expense since the last cycle has been one hundred and thirty-three units. You owe the station one thousand eight-hundred and seventy-two units.”
“Mr. Collander,” the agent said, “if you do not exit this line immediately, I will have to call security.”
“Okay, okay. I just...” Weyne couldn’t believe it. “I’m going.”
He found his way to the observation deck. He sat on a bench and watched the ship through thick glass.
“How could I be so careless? I didn’t need all that stuff,” Weyne said, head in hands. “I should have known better. Why did I not know better?”
“If you were not taught, it’s hard to know,” I.D.A. said.
“The only thing my old man ever taught me was how to bet on the fastest horse.” He closed his eyes and thought back to his childhood. He wiped tears and lifted his head. “I don’t need his lessons anyway. I’m making my own way here. He got to do whatever he wanted, whatever pleased him. Why should I give up what I want for him? I like it here. I like the stuff here.” Weyne stood and turned his back to the ship. “Let’s celebrate,” he said.
“It has been twenty-five days since you have had Ancient Chicago’s style pizza from the third deck,” a voice pinged from inside his ear. “Would you like me to order your favorite meal?”
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