“I don’t understand why you would consider this to be a good idea,” Zenith stated.
“I don’t understand why you consider it to be a bad one.”
“The thought of young soldiers dying unnecessary deaths tends to make me a bit of pessimist I’m afraid,” she answered.
The boy next to her was at the top of his class, the smartest that the Pithani station had to offer. He was also an immense disappointment. He was too ambitious, thought too much about theory and not nearly about the practicality of his inventions. Weapons he came up were too heavy for field use, or too inclined to misfire. She was tired of his eagerness.
“Give it a rest, Killian,” she said. When they gave her the job they had told her that teaching had the potential to be very fulfilling. So far she found nothing but exhaustion. The workload was more than for the usual researchers. She had to make sure that her over-confident students didn’t blow up the station, and when they messed up she was the scapegoat for the blame. Taking one last look at the blueprints of the gigantic oxygen tank in front of her, she threw it into the nearest trash chute.
“Go home, come up with something that we could actually use. You know that Commander Zhao is expecting you to be the first final year apprentice to come up with a usable device.”
“Like you did?”
She hated how he idolized her. He was full of pride, treated everyone and everything with the condescension of a person that had been brainwashed into thinking he was the most special person in the universe by the people around him. But he looked up to her. He probably considered himself to be her protégé, or the one that would distance her from the fame that she had earned in Nykler. He could have the fame if she could have some peace.
“I was given orders to do something useful and I did. You are not doing anything. Go home and get some rest if you’re not going to be useful.”
“Perhaps we could walk to the residential blocks together?”
“No, I’ve got work to attend to. But even if I was free you should know better Killian. It will never happen.”
“I’m sorry Ms. Mishra.”
It felt wrong for her to be so mechanical with other people. But it was the only way to keep them away. People started caring if one was kind to them. They started to poke and prod and try to fix things, and she really did not want that. They would ask why she was so successful in Nykler, when she was a foreigner to them. She would have all the answers and none of the desire to voice them. People were unnecessary for her at the moment. As soon as Killian left she ordered for the daily lockdown and settled down at her desk. It was a little known fact that she chose not to live at the residential blocks. The sounds of people through the walls irritated her. The occasional scurrying around of the lab rats in their cages was much more bearable.
She took off her lab coat and gloves after another couple of hours and walked over to the small room that was her living quarter. It was tiny, but she didn’t need much. Settling down on the small bed, she curled up beneath her comforter and slept as the lights auto-dimmed in response to her mind command. The mind command device had been one of her first inventions, something that shouldn’t have existed for several more decades. No one trusted it yet, but she knew it would cause no harm. A chip implanted in the cerebrum, and it was easy to become one with the technology in one’s immediate environment.
Sleep vaporized the second that the siren sounded. They were rare, and special. But every single time so far they had been nothing but a disappointment. But Zenith knew the code. When they found a new prospect, every able body had to report for duty. She wasn’t willing and she wasn’t interested, but the rules of Ship 31 weren’t up for argument.
“Researcher Zenith Mishra, reporting for duty, sir,” she said. Most of the others stood straight, said their part with sharpness and a sense of duty. She just wanted to be dismissed. It was only another false alarm, another wild goose chase.
“Ms. Mishra, Commander Bellard is waiting for you. It seems you are needed today,” the soldier answered. Zenith had been called in before. She had been the one to deliver the bad news that yet another planet was uninhabitable. But it felt different. It felt like the end of their lives as lost travelers, the end of the beginning of the recovery.
* * *