1505: a mad flurry of activity following a series of bells which signal the end of what has been a long day.
Within minutes of the grating peels, the plant falls silent and empty; but the very shadows hum with energy and the space seems to retain the memory of the day.
Insufficient instruction has been provided on the expectations of assignment IV, assigned in the early weeks of the year. The already-limited flow of data that has been drip-fed to me is steadily decreasing and my energy reserves are waning; as is my patience for the daily grind at this particular plant. Not to worry, only three weeks until I will move on and the variation afforded by a change of venue will provide the blessed relief which is key to enduring.
The relentless march of time drones on and at 1505 every day I embrace the heady relief that can only be achieved in the deafening silence of one’s thoughts.
Within minutes of my release; signalled by the mandatory self-discharge on the registration terminal and exchange of tokens at the entrance; I trudge towards my waiting speeder and attempt to put the day behind me, almost falling into the mechanical monstrosity that seems to be attempting to single-handedly obliterate my meagre credits. Rain lashes outside, pelting the ground in a relentless howl, seeming a natural companion to the end of day routine. I have come to savour the instant relief, found upon escape from the bitter and unrelenting winds.
Fumbling with the speeder’s controls I flood the interior with warmth, flexing and straightening my fingers to shake off the numbing cold outside.
Finally, I escape the long shadows cast by the plant and slink off into the distance matching my breathing to the swish of the wipers clearing the screen, watching the landscape blur and come back in focus in time with my heartbeat.
But my day is not yet over.
Before returning to the sanctity of the hab, there are things I need to do. I no longer enjoy the privileges afforded the youth and essential maintenance now includes ongoing body work – slowing the erosion expected from wear and tear. Most parts can be replaced now, the med bay is furnished with all manor of clever tricks and fixes to seemingly delay the ageing process, but prevention is better than cure and it is prudent to be proactive as new parts are in high demand.
The health-complex is accessible to all and, depending on the number of credits you are willing to part with, includes a range of options to cater to the tastes of all service users. I favour the embrace of the tepid water rather than the bow to the demands of the steel sentinels that leave users blood-red and misty after use. While methods may differ, though, you are still subject to the cruel mistress of the flash and beep of progress.
I hate the synthetic fibres encasing my curves. Simultaneously exposing and smothering my femininity. Shaming the natural processes that sculpt and alter our form over time and seeming to mock attributes that once enjoyed the unabashed gaze of many an admirer. But needs must, so I wriggle and squirm into the unflattering shackles that will bind me for the next 40 ticks and suck in my stomach, gritting my teeth.
The embrace of the water in those first precious moments imbues an instant calm and envelops me as the day falls away, the same manner in which the liquid will later form beads and run from my body in rivulets. Despite my efforts to surge through the water, as a bullet might shatter glass, I work against the pressures forcing my limbs to take on a type of grace, scooping handfuls of water aside, to clear the way as I glide, following the navy line on the tiled well of the pool, below, that guides me. The line shifts and shimmers, seeming to appear and reappear like my thoughts; themselves drifting in the endless abyss of imagination and possibility.
But if the mindful expanse of one’s own thoughts is the carrot, then the flash and beep is the embodiment of the stick.
FLASH, BEEP: One length.
BEEP FLASH BEEP: Further.
The fight is not against an assailant that can be beaten face to face, but against the last version of yourself to sully the waters with your pitiful efforts. This is not a game you can win. The success criteria are not fixed, but ever shifting further and further out of reach.
Does this make us victims of our own success, or slaves to it?
In a moment of mindfulness, I check myself. Allowing my mind to focus on my breathing first, finding my center, then observing my movements closely, taking heed of every ache and pain. This focuses my attention on pinching in my shoulder blades and lower neck, a weakness in my left knee, lack of coordination in my hips as they kick and flick, willing me onwards. No pain as such, but a weariness creeping in, alerting me to the fact that I am nearing my limit.
BEEP: Keep going.
Engaged in a war against the water that presses against me, slowing progress and signalling an end.
How long has it been? How far have I come? Can I continue?
BEEP: Done; I’m done.
Emerging, my body is a dead weight. A cruel reminder of the excess pounds and stretched skin bearing down. A weariness settles as new aches and pains announce themselves. But I made it. Done for the time being. My comms unit will process the data and I can track my progress on a series of graphs and charts should I so wish.
I crave a multitude of the ill-advised pre-rendered protein rations that will be available on my route back to the hab, but I am oppressing such desires and sticking to sustenance that will better serve me.