Bleary eyed, this morning, I gazed in the mirror of the hab’s bathroom. An aging mechanical tooth brush scrubbed as best it could against my teeth. A line of white, bleaching foam had escaped from the corner of my mouth, now hanging from my chin. Threatening to fall on fresh black trousers if I dared give it the chance.

I ignored the sad lines beneath the grey fresh around my eyes. Rings declaring the lack of sleep for all to see. Rings unnoticed in the Citadel, and in many cities like it. Everyone has them. Everyone ignores them.

Steam still clung to the air – there are not enough vents in my hab – from a shower that I had turned up as hot as I could stand, waking myself up, while a caf cooled in the next room. Waiting for me to chug it down.

The battery lost the last of its charge and the scubber wound down to a sluggish mumble, before fully giving out. It used to last a week, but now it only holds a charge for a day. Maybe two. I’d say it’s been worth the credits, although it is dying. I spit a frothy mess into the sink, washing it down with a blast of chill water.  Must remember to put it on the charge stand before I need it again. It’s 50/50 that I’ll remember to do so. Sometimes I go days of forgetting, having to scrub manually with the too-small head of the machine, until I remember to charge it.

My mind is elsewhere. I don’t know why, but I’m thinking back to someone I tried dating a month or so ago. Why she’s in my thoughts; it beats me. Something must have triggered the flashback. The unresolved ending.

She was pretty. Prettier in her bulletin pictures, for sure, but close enough in person. People are getting good at their digital self-promotion, presenting their best side to the world. Better than me, anyway. I’ll give her praise where it is due. She was pretty.

Smart too, but proud about it, determined to show it off. Too interested in ensuring you knew she was reading multiple books, voraciously devouring content, and working on a side project to set up a company alongside – and hopefully one day in replacement of – her career. It was a successful image. On one of her dates I heard her negotiate a new role for herself: a nine month contract earning 500 credits a day. That’s a hell of a lot of credits.

Thing is, I’m not sure I rated her as all that smart. The book titles she rattled off… well, they reeked of pop-sci, and pop-management. Business books for the entrepreneur, written by the entrepreneur. Books on the mind written for someone who didn’t want to read the studies behind catchy chapter titles. I don’t know, maybe I’m just jaded as it didn’t end clean. She was damn good at marketing herself, and made a lot of credits doing it.

But I never got a sense of substance out of her, over the few dates we had. Never was able to tease a real conversation out of her, one that wasn’t her talking about herself. Her favourite topic, it seemed.

It was jarring, noticing that. She was happy to meet up, but unwilling to ask questions back or really talk about anything. Her business plan sounded good – modern VR tech used to help those in need of emotional support. I hope she succeeds, as we need it. As we rule out and eliminate other debilitating conditions, mental health is becoming more obviously a driver of life’s problems. The brain is powerful, its command over the body is equally so.

We had a few dates. But she was never great at public affection. She lit up when talking about her past lovers, but didn’t seem to find joy in seeing me. And she clearly avoided talking about her current romantic situation. That she had two tooth brushes in her one-bed hab… well, something wasn’t as black and white in her life as she wanted to pretend.

That must be it. The toothbrush. That’s why she’s on my mind. My gaze met my own gaze back in the mirror, and I mentally shrugged.

She had suggested a meet up. A time, date, and a place. She never finalised the plans, though; she never replied. When I sent her a final message, it sat in the outbox of my comm. two blue ticks: received, read. But not replied.

I think she was lonely. I think she wanted some kind of romantic human contact beyond whatever her situation was, but wasn’t able to admit that she wasn’t feeling it with me. But she also didn’t want to abandon the chance to spend time with someone, until she found someone better.

When she did, she vanished.

I saw her profile back on the dating bulletins last week, and I ignored it. Whatever else she found, well maybe that didn’t last, either. She’s gone, a dull end to a fruitless interval of my life. I wonder how many other guys out there have realised she’s gone, informed by those two blue ticks.

I put my toothbrush on the charge stand and go get my caf.

I remembered.


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