I scratch at stubble on my face. Evidence that I’m fraying, that standards are slipping. I still dress each day, so that’s a small mercy. And the stubble isn’t too long yet. Fair in colour, it can barely be seen – and not by anyone who wasn’t in the same room. Which won’t be happening for a long time.
The hab smells of smoke. A bold plan to creatively distract my mind was formed, yet I was incautious. A culinary error was made. Two days later, I still smell the evidence, and burnt residue fills my waste unit. But the plan was, I suppose, successful. My crazed half-thoughts and speculation were actually dulled for a while, even as the hab’s air turned an alarming grey.
In this place, this strange world we find ourselves, we know that little has physically changed. Yet we also know that everything is different despite that. As an insidious virus claws into our society, silent and cruel, we shelter in place. We cannot see it. Yet we see it everywhere. In every half-cough. Every tickle of the throat. Every stranger is an enemy. Our thoughts, unable to be contained, cause our own irrational behaviour. Like trying to cook, perhaps.
Only those who maintain the very fabric of society are still abroad in the world. By necessity they brave the air; waiting and watching and hoping that they avoid the mindless cruelty of fate. For the rest of us, in the shadowed prison of our habs, we view the bright days outside; spring weather mocking us as we yearn to be free. We are allotted our yard time by the government – an allowance of daily exercise in the outside world – but only in limited fashion. It must have a specific purpose. We cannot, wherever possible, venture out in groups larger then two. Enforcers watch on.
Life is paused. We drift. We are in the void. No power.
We don’t know how long we will live like this. Tech lets us talk, even more so now than before. The voices we hear are those cast through speaker. The faces we see are flat images on screen. We scroll through the endless news feeds, desperately seeking answers and clues, wanting to know where this is going. We search fruitlessly, each one of us now a data-sleuth, looking for an answer that no one knows.
The work blocks of central-Citadel are empty, it is a zone that starkly reveals the mandatory restrictions in force on our lives. I am able to continue my work-function though, my terminal connected to the remote network, and I know the distraction helps. I coordinate the efforts of the company, still processing and filing, still writing and responding. I hold virtual meetings, and explain the tech to those that have survived so far without it.
My hab is feeling cluttered. I now spend twenty-three hours a day in here, so I notice the spread of mess. Equipment cables lie loose, notes are cast around my desk. Clothes hang in doorways, across chairs, and on the heating pads. Dust and grime are seen in every corner. Even the air… when I return each day from a too-brief break, I notice the air is more dense.
But all is not lost. I have promised that I will clean one part of this place each day, keeping the utilitarian areas functional, keeping the clutter at bay. I will beat back the evidence of my own presence, and ensure that my creaking sanity is not visible to those on the terminal screen, viewing me through the hab’s cameras as we hold our virtual meetings. The lie I already tell, the clutter swept carefully from line of sight, shall become truth.
I make promises to myself. I must keep them. Work goes on, and I am lucky for that. Many stories cross the data streams – of those who have lost work and livelihoods in this time. At the very least I do not have that worry for the moment. I shall offer sympathies, I shall not be ungrateful.
But still, memories of companionship fade, dispersing as easily as a dream on waking. I vow that I will not this happen to my own sense of self. In my isolated solitude, I recognise the danger of despair in the eyes I see in the mirror. Instead, I will hold the fragments of myself together all the more tightly, in spite of what I feel. I divide each day’s activities in to segments and I build routines.
Work. Eat. Exercise. Clean.