fiction

Off Site

Written by scrEaMing mAngo

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[Eman Robale Paelmo]

He woke up from an uneventful sleep. The floor is cold, he searched for the rubber flip flops using his right foot under the bunk bed without looking. The alarm was still emitting an annoying buzz. He nearly shouted “ I’m awake.” And stood up, open the air lock on, and stumbled sleepily on the control deck, squinting his eyes from the displays. Crunching his knuckles, he started keying his login details…

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>Cosmo Logistics Ops, Inc.

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>ccagent name?

>GREN020369

>password?

>XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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>authenticated. welcome, gren… initiating call logs… clo central connection optimal … bandwidth clarity 97% … minimal debris on sector 12… line of sight contingency on standby… drone couriers on call-75 units… large parcel teleport status-disabled under further notice… starting comms… please wait…

>05.27.2115 . . .

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>03:43:31 SGT . . .

>all systems on standby… You have 120minutes for prep… shall I start the coffee machine?

“Switch to voice mode, krstn. It’s too quiet out here with just bleeps and pings.” Yawned Gren as he pulls on thermal shorts, urgently suppressing a hard on as krstn, his companion AI switched to a familiar voice Gren chose among the thousands of sound bytes, settling on that Italian-tinged vocal replication of Monica Bellucci. He even wanted a hologram to go with the voice, but his pay grade cannot allow it. So his AI image is an onscreen adaptation. Which is good enough.

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>music… playlist…

Gren is going through his vast collection of music dicographies, rare albums and special compilations.

>100 Greatest Rock Songs… select… play… volume- -8- - - - -3…

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“Do you plan to take a bath today, Gren?” krstn inquired.

Hah. Almost as if he could see Monica Bellucci uttering these words and waiting to be asked to join him on that cramped shower cubicle. Even if he liked the solitude, it could get really lonely out here.

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Gren remembered Eric’s reaction when he decided to take this job.

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“What the hell are you doing with a dead end job like that, man?” Eric said over the phone, feigning disappointment. Gren grew up with Eric, getting in all sorts of mischief and hooliganism back in the day. They were talking on the secure dedicated comms the company provides for off-site ccagents.

Pare, no job is a dead end job. A deadend is a no job status. Besides, even if I really passed the tests and got hired because of my communication skills, and my rough good looks for that matter,” Gren laughed as Eric grunted a giggle with this remark “I owe Em for this job. I have very few friends like you Eric.” Gren said this in almost dramatic tone.

Tangina, pare, you’re an artist! You designed and did my first shop sign. Hell, you drew every drawing we needed in high school. You’ve worked for TV news, for crhissakes! What the hell are you doing out there?” Obviously, Eric thinks working as a contact center agent is a step down.

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“Pare, it’s something I have never done. Remember the last time we had this conversation? I said I’m a fraud to have faked my way into every chunky employment in the past. Well, that may be true, since this is something I’m totally out of my elements, and doing something alien to my own motivation is a challenge in itself. Besides, what could a 46-year-old find down on earth now? I’d hate to go back on news tv, I’m through with graphics and shit. At least out here, I have time to write my stories and illustrate them. But thanks for the words of encouragement.” Said Gren mockingly.

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“Ha ha! You prick, you owe me a bottle and then some.” Eric chided. Eric is the only person whom Gren can openly say anything, finish a bottle, heck, two bottles of brandy and still sound coherent and sane. “Thanks for the call, man. Stay safe out there. I heard some space storms can be really harsh. Say hi to the wife and kids for me. Call you when I can.” The click and tone afterwards sounded very loud.

The wife and kids.

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Gren felt empty.

Lisa and their two daughters, Ana, 14 and Ami, 9 are down there on Earth. He can only see them after 14 months of active duty. Even off site, the ccagent point system is in effect, so he can only go on vto and leave for short periods, he opted for a 14-month stay and go down for 40 days with this family. His thoughst were momentarily clouded with images of their small house in the mountain, what was the last of the green part of the country. The dogs frolicking about, real birds still fly and sing all around among other creatures of the forest, water you get from clean springs about a kilometer trek down and up.

Shit.

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I miss them, Gren cringed. Lisa’s image getting distorted as he tried to pull up memories of him and her all sweaty and satisfied after a furious round of lovemaking, her black curly hair, all spread out and wet, his hands still cupping a breast as they fall asleep on the bed. But all Gren could remember now is Lisa getting weaker and thinner, as her bones slowly diminish, taking her down with every painful attack. Worse, her gall bladder went with the trend and this really sapped Lisa of her usual fiery self, leaving her withering and almost feeble, if not for her good old country lass resolve.

And her faith.

If only his was as strong as hers. Gren’s faith lie there somewhere, among the regrets, the serial episodes of unfaithful wanderings, the lies and the deceit, bad blood with brothers who can’t seem to accept that Gren is different, earnings lost on some wrongly dealt contracts, and every bad decision he ever made. Maybe that’s why he took this job. To get away from his past discretions. Starting anew with his family by being away from his family. Remembering these transgressions, Gren felt dirty . . .he suddenly felt the need for a . . .

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“Do you plan to take a bath today, Gren?” krstn repeated the question.

“Okay, okay! What are you, my mother?” as Gren started for the shower cubicle, he keyed in some commands on his station and instructed krstn to get weather rss and monitor traffic. “ And see if any new episodes of NCIS: Alpha Centauri is available online.” As he chose some clothes to wear and went in the shower. The smell of coffee seemed to cheer him up as he opened up the recycled water tank and he relished the feeling of cleansing . He heard krstn say “ be sure to scrub”.

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>16:00:04 CGT …

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>inbound system protocols running optimal… last call dispo at 15:40:02…

>no sale…

>waiting for calls…

Gren sat on his unbelievably comfortable chair, as he look at the HUDs. One screen showing krstin handling generic queries and transactions, orders for audio and ebooks from CLOs own library store, tracking

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codes for orders en route, etc. Another HUD screen just signed off after briefly talking to CEO Mark, and another flashed on with Em, looking like a 30-something with eyebags and curly hair. Em is a friend of Gren’s from their college days, a sort of big sister when he was still so very much a promdi back in the university. Gren regarded her as one of his friends who made a mark on his being that he would do anything for. But today, Em is the Boss . She referred him for this job, and Gren would like to think he got the assignment because he is capable.

“Oh, hey Boss Em.” Smiled Gren as he keyed in enhancements with clarity and audio.

> krstn, I’m on coa, take over for a while…

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>affirmative…

“Drop the Boss crap.” Em scowled. Not really angry, but looking a little worried. “ How are you out there?” she asked in a tone very much like a sister would, half annoyed, half affectionate. “ You look thin friend! Have you been eating instant ramen again? How many times have I told you, get those protein drinks and carbo packs.”

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“Gren has been scrimping on instant ramen so he can send the foodstuff back down to Terra.” Krstn reported in the background.

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“ Shut up krstn.” Gren felt embarrassed. Though sending down food rations is not really against company policy. “ I eat. But at 70% G, eating heartily can be bothersome, there is really not much to do here. I do laps on my stationary bike, while watching videos. I even do my laundry by hand so I can feel some strain on these muscles.” He reasoned almost defensibly.

“ Off site duty, my friend, is one lonely job. But you got to eat some heavy food or else you’ll shrink! How’re the sales coming along?” Em was also multi-tasking as they converse, fingers fast on her keyboard, Gren could see the other ccagents on the floor busy with Terran calls and transactions. Down on Earth, CLO Inc snatched a steady client handling their networking products of alternative, overpriced products, with a stockist status so that with each sale and delivery, CLO Inc gets a piece of the revenue without even having to buy the damned products, strictly terran logistics only. You cannot expect creatures in Brahman Prime to purchase order soaps and lotions since their constitutions and hygiene consists mainly of laying out under the harsh solar rays and staying there until their tentacles burn a bit slightly under crisp. Networking is still very much an obsession with humans. All wanting to be millionaires by selling stuff they hardly use. Still a good contract for any small companies like CLO. And Em is on top of the ops.

“Boss, err, Em, wait one, got a call coming.” Gren muted the line as he switched to another HUD screen.

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>inbound call… Venusian iStellar telco…

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>caller : Thistlean Merchant… initiating crossrace translator… customer details on HUD 2.3… credit and payment history on HUD 2.4… you may take the call…

“Thanks, krstn.”

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“May the light shine on you,” Gren using the accepted interstellar greeting for crossrace transactions. Weird using a phrase that suspiciously resembles religious dogma. “ And what can I do for you this wonderful Venusian Holiday of Pro Creation and Inter Species Union “ Gren was reading on the current holidays and special events posted on another HUD. And the transaction went from greetings to a more business like tone.

After several minutes, Gren disposed the call and closed the transaction display, marking the conversation SALE/STOCK6657A3GHC-VEN-CRED DUE 56K/DP 20K/BAL ON DEL 26K/SALE…

“Emie, still there?” Gren pulled up the HUD labeled Boss Em.

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“Oy, sales, quick. I got a meeting in 10minutes and I have to get all records down to ISO and flimsies before I go to the BIR.

“ Including the one I just closed, 7 sales, 2 pending, and one return.” Gren ticked them off bracing himself for the inevitable

“WHAT? Only seven!? How long you’ve been there Gren? Eight months? We can’t afford to lose customers to big scale BPOs, heavens, not with the new regulation on off world stations and interplanetary deliveries! Gren, that’s way below our quota? What’s wrong?” Emie’s eyebrows were so close together, it looked like it’s tying itself into a knot.

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“ I know, I know. Been restructuring our catalogues and newsletters. I even modified our newsletter headings to multi-cross-race auto translate mode. With the teleport down, I can’t send out orders for fear of customers complaining of multiprocessors with missing components or automated companions lacking body parts. Sorry, Em, I’m doing the best I can. Really.” Gren said sheepishly.

“ Gren does work off hours Boss. I have to set alarms just to get him to stop and administer sleep meds.” Krstn butted in.

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“Gren, we’re barely keeping afloat. We need those sale numbers to rise, just to be on an even keel.” Em was disappointed, but not really angry. “We dropped the energy client a month ago, remember? Come on Gren, you could do better than that. Em seemed incomplete without a cigarette , but Gren remembered she gave it up for health reasons. And his friend was somehow distraught over reports and flimsies spread out in front of her.

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CLO Inc is one of those small scale BPOs who acquired permits to operate off world and handle logistics and courier services with interplanetary routes, granted by the Inter-Planetary Consortium, or what could be construed as the new government. Earth got rid of presidents and kings and emperors after that big upheaval. No more politicians, just businesses, corporations that ensure conuity of commerce and trade between worlds. Among other things, CLO Inc still employs humans as ccagents, operating on the premise that humans still make things work. Very few BPOs nowadays have employees. The bigger ones bought AI and automation rivaling SKYNET as seen from a movie long ago, where an indestructible robot was sent back in time to protect a revolutionary leader or something, and operates almost without human intercession. Gren liked CLO Inc, not because his friend Em nudged him to try it out and make the grade, but because they seem to be good guys, and they are. CLO Inc had clients on energy and online stores before switching to off site level. On site meant on Terra. Off site is, well, where Gren is now. But even now contact centers are somewhat specialized since very few like Gren choose to work thousands of kilometers away from Earth and into an infinity of blackness in every direction.

“Sorry, Boss. Lemme make it up somehow.” Gren said apologetically.

Em was silent for a minute. “ Gren, I know you do your job. But we have got to step up, or we lose our stake at off site status and we’ll be back to handling B grade merch and escort services here on Earth.”

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“ Well, the secort services line ain’t so bad.” Gren joked.

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“Ha ha, you wish!” Em grinned. “ I’m off, got the transmission. Gren? Sales? Please? Can you handle it?” She started gathering holograph displays and directing them to her tablet. “ Gren? “

“Yes, Boss.”

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“ Boss , my butt. And leave some food for yourself. I didn’t get those food reprocessors so you can leave them as ornaments on that dreary place. See you .” Em signed off.

Krstn was still hard at collating, processing and refilling transactions. “ No incoming calls yet, ksrtn?”

“The probability of another call is estimated at 18:00:00 given that it is a Holiday on Venus and the closest traffic is with Rama sector in Andromeda. All the calls I took and taking are labeled generic. You might want to check the couriers. “

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“ Maybe later.” Walking around the cargo bay area is not a thing to look forward to. It’s a place for drones and robot warehouse protocol. You can’t even talk to them. Gren remembered playing The Jerks loudly streaming on the makeshift speakers he rigged into the PA system and the damned automatons were down for 3 hours, their sensors got confused with the hard rocking sound of Chicoy’s voice and the incendiary guitars. Gren wondered, if I had played Wolfgang then ,or Razorback, for that matter, but no, off site is where you get to play music all throughout your shift and no TLs would complain, although playing Metallica or Satriani at level3 volume is so wrong, it’s sacrilegious, still it beats hearing just hums and pings and bleeps . . . .and the utter silence outside…

“krstn, put the ansmach on for me. Channel all comms to my headset, maybe I will take a look around the station. I’m putting on my kinetic system on my body console so you won’t have to worry of batteries dying. A good walk around the place might do me some good. Turn the lights on the hallways.” Gren sounded off as he put on body tech units conveniently designed as standard coveralls.

“ Say please.” Ksrtn replied.

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Oh for crying out loud, Gren smiled inwardly. If it weren’t for the metallic tone, a digital version of a pixelated image, he swears ksrtn is developing a real human persona. “ Please, krstn?” He added.

“ Affirmative. “ it sounded like krstn was happy.

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>migrating controls to Gren body unit… headset at full capacity… mobile HUDS deployed…

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>ansmach enabled.

Compared to most off world stations, CLO Inc OSTS03 is small, just a little over the size of Araneta Coliseum, with the flight and control deck located on the top, four maintenance droids the size of compact cars clinging on its hull on 24-hour program, clearing debris and sealing tears and dents on the hull. The cargo dispatch located at the lowest part with 2,230 ton capacity, old but reliable ion-fusion powered tri-kinetic engines , three for each quadrant, and a fleet of drones and robots handling the stocks and deliveries, each departure and arrival completely handled by nuts and bolts and electronics, as Gren would put it. The couriers run on rechargeable high density batteries that could run and do multi-location deliveries and retrievals in 24 hours without losing power along the way. The solar panel construction does that. No shortage of sunlight out here, but how come everything is black, not that he doesn’t like the color, but everywhere? Gren mused as he walked with several pounds of weight added to his suit to add a bit of gravity on his movements. And interplanetary flights, as it turned out does not use much of energy compared to space shuttle blast offs. A continuous burst from the thrusters would send a courier with a 25 kilogram parcel almost at lightyear speed without causing burnout on their build. Some of the other stuff Gren cannot understand, maybe because he’s just a sci-fi nut but a real techno-idiot, and fails to really know what it means to transfer one object to another by teleportation, or the relative weight that causes couriers to go off course during a cosmic storm. Gren is almost down the station, with the hallways almost in flawless spiral route, an occasional pressure lock breaking the monotony, or krstn’s reports, or the calls that went through. And unlike space stations on movies or tv, this one has no recreational facility. Most BPOs who have OS stations have no need for space wasting swimming pools or basketball courts, but located well within the center of this station is a 300x400meter open space with a 30meter ceiling, pretty standard, and can be used by the occupant for whatever purpose deemed allowable, provided it does no tinterfere with the stations core, which is precisely located in this open space, right in the middle of it. Gren had krstn decorate the place with big pore canvas reproductions of his illustrations, and his music and video collection on multimedia player. And his 12 string guitar.The lair, as Gren calls it, is soundproofed, and reinforced with a layer of internal metal mesh construction to protect it from any form of unpleasantries space may want to throw this way. Most of the time, Gren goes back and forth from living quarters to the lair by chute. Before, right after accepting the assignment, Gren wondered about waste disposal. Where does the shit go? Turns out these old rigs have something like a waste recycling and converter pretty much what Doc Emmet did in Back To The Future – a machine that converts waste into energy, hence the reliability of having a secondary power source for all other non station functions. Even with all of these it can be lonely out here. It even gets to a point when you know it is a weekend down on Earth, and you have nowhere else to go, and you’ve done another LOTR and The Hobbit movie marathon that all you are left to do to break the monotony was masturbate. And even that is risky, since krstn may be listening in or checking the cctv network for updates, you never know. So you jack off in the shower, which is what you have been doing since high school, and, for a fleeting moment, it feels like home.

Gren reached the cargo dispatch area. After all, OSTS03 is really a warehouse in space, storing standard auto and trans-planetary vehicular parts and components, collectibles from vinly and cd music, audiobooks and ebooks, work and professional garments in outerspace grade and specs, toolsets, kitchen utensils for all race and species, portables of anything from hologram kits to miniature resorts, all the conveniences produced on Earth and elsewhere that needed a marketing arm, which is why we are here to do the job, Gren re asserted the piece of information to himself. It’s how CLO inc and other BPOs earn,business solutions, handling logistics, and communications, after sales support and both inbound and outbound contact center services. Some decades ago, you need to be an astronaut to get to space. Now we’ve got Gren! Your average middle-aged, has-been artist and sometime guitar player, without a degree on anything susbstantial, just lucky enough to have a friend like Em, and here we are, looking at drones optimizing and allocating packets and packages, checking for seal integrity for each product, whirring and buzzing in the dark. The only places where lights are prerequisite were the control deck, living quarters and the service hallways. Everywhere else its just UV LED just so there’s something to alert krstn of movement that’s not registered on her databanks. Now Gren need some illumination.

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“krstn, could you open up some lights at the dispatch area?”He stopped for a second .”Please?” he added, and instantly four aerial drones used their built in lights to illuminate the way.

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“Thank you.”

“Welcome.” Krstn replied. “ time check, Gren, you should be back on deck by 21:00:00. It’s now 6pm Terra, you should consume the food pack I sent on a drone. There’s coffee in the thermos.”

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Gren checked the status of every log on every drone and cross referenced them to his remote terminal. Good thing we don’t carry perishables, Gren thought. Foodstuff get spoiled, even canned and processed food need temp control. Almost instantly, all things were accounted for. He sat down on one crate, probably one of those miniature resorts the size of a sofa when stored. And ate his protein and carbo pack disguised as pesto bread, cold cuts and what looked like vegetables if not for the bland color. At least the coffee taste good.

>meteor debris tracked 200 clicks…

>passing this quadrant at 22:00:00…

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>trajectory plotted, sent coordinates to other OSs

“40% ice, 30% dust and the 30% I’ll let you guess” krstn reported.

“Floating refuse” Gren groaned.

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“I rest my case” krstn sounded like she was bowing out when she said this.

“Send the info to the GIGO crew. They’ll have a fun time sorting out the resuables.”

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Gren lit a cigarette. Not a vape. Not one of those ecigs that are currently being pandered across the planets. A cigarette. The sweet smoke takes him back to earth as he sat and let the time pass a bit before he shoots back on deck. Space storms are for the most part just a mass of debris and rocks and ice and dust from other planets that got thrown out in space for some reason or another and somehow grouped together in some form of static magnetism. Tourism further added to this floating garbage not unlike the trash you see while walking along Manila Bay, by throwing wrappers and empty containers as their shuttles pass. Earth’s Moon, once a bustle of tourism and vacation destination went belly up when travel to Mars or real estate on Pluto became more profitable, and to far off planets. He can actually see the moon from his spot since the station is almost in the same grid, the Earth still resplendent blue even though almost everywhere on the surface it’s grays and browns, flecked with metal and plastic satellites almost obscuring the view. Always, at times like this one, Gren felt the urge to open a bottlem drink up and just take it all in, the blackness, the silence, the vastness of space and the solitude (krstn and the drones do not count for real companions, Gren tells himself). He stubbed the butt on the floor, and as soon as he turned around, a cleaner drone has cleaned the flooring, sanitized the air and skittered elsewhere.

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Gren began keying on his arm console.

> OTW up… prep the HUDs… inventory logs updated…

>Noticed some packages with frayed edges on the way up… put some repackers on it, row 14, garment section.…

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Krstn replied affirmatives with every command as Gren shot up the chute, always a novelty for him to rise up or shoot down the chute, something like using the pole on a firehouse two ways.

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On deck, Gren resumed accepting calls on his lazy boy-inspired work chair. Him and krstn are good at working the calls and the emails that come in like deluge during peak hours. Gren has gotten the knack of answering calls coming from as far as the Nebula range, and from the fringes of the Milky Way, both from humans and non-humans (the term alien does not apply anymore since we are all just consumers by now) with orders , prayer requests, rare vinyl or cassette tapes from classic acts like The Dawn or Bodjie Dazig, or The Beatles Anthology. One long convo was from a female Grecianite who was insistent on finding her true loves by ordering the complete astrological charts from the year 2000 to 2118, because she needed to plot the course and map her path and find her ideal husbands (Grecians could only marry three male Grecians, no more no less) and Gren grudgingly obliged but adding a surcharge for research and the additional transport of the copied archives from the Delta sector way past Alpha Centauri.

At 11pm Terran, Gren is already closing shop. After setting all email correspondences on auto and scheduled mode, deliveries well underway and the drones return ETAs confirmed, Gren walked the short way to living quarters. Working as a contact center agent is pretty much sitting on your butt for hours on end, talking, typing and mostly bullshitting customers for a sale, or re-orders for that matter, but the feeling after a 16 hour shift felt like going through intense MMA training, Gren felt like he just finished a UFC bout – worn, frayed at the edges, and already wondering about the next fight. There’s an old fashioned couch by the storage rack, took the half finished potato chip canister and he sat down, looking at the drab grey and metal colored interiors, his playlist already restarted in the loop with Kitchie Nadal now playing in the background. Space is cold, so no need for fridges and cold storage, and everything is hermetically sealed. Even the laundry get their own recyclable plastic bags. At times like this one, which is very much after every shift, Gren felt like the last vegetable on the entrée that nobody wants. Virtually alone in space, Gren will sit, eat if he feels like it, watch old favorites on video, or read. But after 8 months, the singleness has begun its insistence like redness on skin after continuous rubbing, you could ignore it, but you won’t forget it’s there.

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It’s not being alone in space that makes Gren sulk and ponder his situation, but it does amplify it. Gren shifted trying to find a more comfortable spot.

Low sale stats…

Even with the last sale he made a while before ending his shift, it would not do. The potato chips taste old but crispy.

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Low sale stats…

Could aggravate the company’s stake at securing new contracts for interplanetary campaigns. He raise his left leg on the couch.

The kids could use some new shoes. Gren felt useless whenever their daughtesr wear hand-me-downs from their cousins. School stars in two weeks. Gren scratched his head.

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Low sale stats…

Could cause him the job. He wouldn’t want Em to keep him just because they are friends. Gren still had some decency left, if there ever was. He wouldn’t use their friendship if his stats and performance are below par. Working for bigger corporations and even bigger pay, he knows about these things. Most of his employment got him huge paydays and painful professional heartaches, he was the one who quit. This may be the fisrt time that he’ll be fired. There’s always a first time for everything, Gren thought bitterly.

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Lisa, her body stable but there’s always that looming cloud of threat over her fragile body. Another attack from her gall bladder might do her in. He fought the urge to call, knowing that he’s be waking her up, and she needs all the rest she can get. His long suffering wife, brought low and still believes this is God’s test. For whatever reasons The Almighty might have.

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Gren has been staring at stars and the blackness all around. He hasn’t had a glimpse of God passing by on his gleaming white chariot pulled by winged horses, with angels singing choruses at His wake. Shooting stars thrice a day. But no God.

Low sale stats…

Four more days till the next payday. He is safe up here, nothing to spend on, and nothing to spend with. His earnings go directly to his wife and daughters. Good. But not good enough. He leaned back. The potato chips all gone. Gren licked the salt off his fingers and stood up, threw the canister in the recycle bin.

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He plopped on the bunk bed. It’s comfortable.Technology has it’s high points. His bed came with a thermostat, to tweak the warmth for sleeping on low gravity, low temperature environments. It even comes with settings that mimic sleeping with a companion.

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Real comfortable.

So how come he has a a hard time falling asleep? It’s quiet enough.

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“Sleep meds, Gren?” krstn in a whispering volume.

“No.”

“Affirmative.”

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“Goodnight, Krstn.”

“It’s always night out here.” Krstn replied.

“I know.”

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“Goodnight, Gren.”

>setting wake up alarm… turning lights off in living quarters…

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It was two hours before Gren finally fell asleep.

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[END]