Ring. Ring. Ring. No answer? Ring. Ring. Something must be wrong. Ring. Ring. Sheila never takes that long. Ring. Ring. She usually answers before Aslan even has a chance… Ring … to think about how she manages to be on the line so fast.
Ring. Ring. Ring. Time to give up and activate the please-get-in-touch.
Staring at the rolling waves, Aslan feels the adrenaline tide. He can‘t help but assume it’s one of those days. Entertaining to narrate, if and once all ended well. Dreadful to live.
First thing in the morning, the elevator from habitat shaft three breaks down and half the early shift of algae harvesters fails to show up. No way up, staff not in. Shit happens.
Next, delayed harvesting clogs the pipes of tank F. The few staff are not to blame. They did their best. But with the current weather, perfect growing conditions, for once, today, of all days, they stood zero chance to keep up. Lots in, little out. Can‘t work.
Next, Horatio, a most diligent operator, dives into tank F, to rid it of the mess. He succeeds too fast too well. Horatio’s arm gets sucked into the harvester pipe. Wrist most probably broken, according to the on-site medic. A month of sick leave, at least.
Once things have started going wrong, there‘s no stopping.
Up to that moment, Aslan had taken the glitches with barely a crumple of his on-duty smile.
His job is as good as work gets. His pay is solid. Not disproportionate, considering all the efforts and risks involved. To spend five hours up here, outside, five days a week, that’s tough.
The floating platforms are safe enough, but the constant rolling sucks. The protective gear will keep the operators fine in ninety-nine point seven percent of weather conditions, and for the rest there‘s health care, but the coverall is so heavy even an athlete like Aslan struggles.
Lots of effort, and some risk, but the reward is solid. The good, steady kind of solid.
They’ve got so many energy credits to spare Sheila is envisaging a trip to one of the shaded islands. Just to have gone and stayed someplace else. Like the holidays Aslan‘s late grandad used to recall, from his early years. Back in those dark ages, even kids far too young to appreciate got flown around. Weird. Must have been religious. The dark ages were awash.
A trip would be nice. If ever Aslan manages to free himself for long enough, they’ll do it.
They won’t have to rely on their savings alone. Sheila can keep working throughout their minimum six months stay. That‘s the advantage, of her two-a-penny profession. Content supervisors don‘t make much, but they can work from anywhere. Without protective gear.
The waves keep rolling, at a leisurely six meter amplitude, and Aslan keeps staring. Nothing else for him to do, nowhere useful for his adrenaline to go.
He resumes recalling what is nice, about this job.
They eat well. „Just like the elites of old“, as Sheila puts it.
That’s one more blatant exaggeration. Same as when she calls their 1K cubic meters of private space down shaft two a castle. But they’re certainly neither starving nor lacking food variety. You can’t beat access to quality control samples, for a rich and diverse diet.
Taking home what is left after testing is no longer stealing. No company caring for its brand will risk being caught at wasting edibles. That‘s a universally despised crime, punishable by banishment to the tankers. Practically a death sentence.
Nowadays, staff are encouraged to take home leftovers.
They have come a long way. Aslan smiles a gloat at the memory of his first manager.
The old boy was very 21st century, always rambling on about company property. Even licking sugars from a plate before putting it into the dishwasher would get you scolded. Dare taste one of the translucent slices of protein instead of binning it after testing, and off you walked, never to work as a bioengineer again.
Aslan argued with his nemesis, only to get his due promotion refused in return. He felt dead end, started looking for alternatives. Until it was suddenly the old boy who had to go. Early retirement, they called it. As sack as it gets, in a sophisticated job environment.
Ever since, Aslan has been doing well.
Sheila‘s chime interrupts his attempt to cheer himself up.
She‘s her usual hot-tempered talkative, showering him with the kind of news not worth telling. How there was a power spike. Couple of those per day, no big deal, even for Sheila. But this one coincided with her plugging in the charger. Her device, cleverly designed to shut itself down before frying, took a while to reboot. She missed his call, and is sorry. But even more angry. Why can’t they have proper engineers, like her darling Aslan, in charge of power?…
Aslan listens. It‘s important not to interrupt Sheila. Interfering will only prolong the update.
His wife is like his fully automated polymer analyzer. Let it run it’s course, and it will reliably deliver one hundred results in less than three minutes. Try to go for a selection of five especially toxic compounds, and three runs, two aborted, one completed, will take half an hour. Aslan spends his days telling his team not to do this. He won’t fail his own rule with his wife.
Sheila is done accusing the power provider of corruption, incompetence and lack of manners. Aslan’s moment has come, and he takes the plunge:
“Darling, we’ve got the police here. All over the platform. Something about tax records not matching the actual output. Whole operation shut down, can’t even access my own computer. Won’t be leaving any time soon, all managers are under kind of arrest. No need to worry, not the serious kind of arrest, like for criminals. Just need to stay available, for questions. With a little luck, they’ll soon decide to transfer this whole circus to someplace more steady, where you don’t need to wear coveralls. But this feels like it’ll take a while. Please don’t count on me for lunch.”
Sheila takes the news without panicking. She wishes him luck and hangs up. She’s used to him doing overtime, has stopped arguing against years ago.
Aslan wonders if this was the last time he got to hear his wife’s voice.
And how long he will last, on a tanker, amidst the antisocial elements fighting their ferocious gang wars, over the little food, drinking water and protective gear they are assigned. Average life expectancy of thirty seven, they say. He turned forty two last month.
Aslan never did no wrong. Not he himself as such. He’s clean.
But there’s this nagging feeling, that others might see things differently.
He should have alerted upper management, concerning the speedboat he occasionally gets to see with his eyes, suspiciously close to the platform. It never shows up on his screen. Switching off the transponder is a serious offense, even before committing any other crimes.
Such sightings had become more frequent, recently. Someone must have been getting greedy.
Henry, the other senior manager on the early shift, he lives in habitat shaft three. He’s missing the action. What a coincidence.
Aslan would love to be able to kick his own ass. What he had been aware of as lazy loyalty until 10:23, the time still displayed on his frozen computer screen, might be about to ruin his life.