“Hey Cap?” Marten pokes his head into my cubbie, his face a mixture of elation and deep sorrow.
“Ay?” I answer him. I know he can sense my nervous tension. We’ve all been on edge these long hours as they’ve stretched into days that feel like months.
“He’s gone. He pushed the…” I interrupt him, throwing up my hand. “I don’t care to know Sgt. Just the time for the station log.”
“Ah, it was 21:35. Should I call the officers?” He grabs for the door frame just as I hook my foot into cloth floor loop even before the klaxons signal for microG.
I know I’m twirling the gold key on my necklace and I know it’s a bad habit for a commander to show indecisiveness. I know I do these things, and still do them because it’s simply a natural thing for a real flesh-and-blood human. “No, there’s no need, it can wait. Let the dead have their time. Add it to the morning brief. Am I correct that he left no one back on…?”
Marten jumps in quickly, “Ma’am he left with no family here or ah, there.”
“What about, I thought he had a daughter?” I was sure he had one child.
“No, ma’am. Well, he did. She was killed in the strike two years back.”
I should have known that. “Who received life from her death?”
“Sarah McIntosh, ma’am.”
“Ah, same sex, was that?”
“No, just chance. We lost quite a few, there was no reason to, you know. I’ll make sure her and her sponsors are in attendance.”
“Thank you Sgt. Marten.” I look back down at my desk, at all the work I still need to do before my day ends. “That will be all.”
With a slight nod, he pushes off from the door frame. I slide the panel closed and I’m left alone with the silence of the station hum and the rich glow of Jupiter and the death of James Woodson and the birth of someone yet unknown all of them heavy on my mind, a physical presence with me in the room. I relax my foot, let it slip from the floor loop and bring my knees up to my chest into a fetal position and I drift. My eyes close reflexively and I can feel the tension stretch and release from my neck. I float for several minutes before my head bumps against something and I reach out with one arm, slowly and carefully. Once re-oriented, I slip my slate from its dock and decide to get some tea in the galley where there will be others like me, tired but restless, busy but idle.
I find a two seat table in the back and dock my slate. There are a few third shifters starting their day here, most all of them recognize me with a salute or a nod and I try to return something in acknowledgement. While I’m waiting for the water to boil a few of them come up to me so they can assert that James had passed and offer condolences to survivors I have to tell them don’t exist. I quickly retreat with my tea.
I finish my Earl Grey and start work on Woodson’s death record. At 67 he was one of the oldest to have lived on Long Reach. At a larger station or dirt-side he might have lived on past his useful life. Unfortunately, Long Reach is too small and remote to have an unbalanced ledger. Scanning his service records, I’m surprised to find he was the first child sponsored and born on the station. I start, one tear rolls down my cheek. Maybe there was something we could have done, maybe I could have moved some resources around, maybe corp could have sent a shuttle off-schedule. Maybe. Maybe we could invent eternity. Maybe we can re-program our bodies not to atrophy.
No, no I ask for no pity and neither did Woodson. I did what I did, no more and no less. If there was something else I might have done or done differently, it’s too late now. Woodson did what all station rats do when it they’ve tipped the balance, when they start to withdraw more than they deposit. We all have a duty to each-other living on a station, isolated and self-contained.
I grab my cup and slate and move a little too fast. I slam my knee into the table attracting the stares of several others in the galley and I know they can see the salt streaks on my face. I don’t care. I can show them how to mourn, how to feel pain, how to miss someone you never really knew.
By the time I make it back to my cubbie, the burning anger has cooled. I know there is more work yet to be done. I know that James Woodson will, in a fashion, live on again. In the next few years or so, his absence will be felt at Long Reach. He was an extremely talented fabricator and tailor. He had started apprenticing a young boy a few years ago, but looking over his service records, I can see he hasn’t shown the craftsmanship or skill of his mentor.
In nine months we will have something to celebrate here at Long Reach. Of course, only if I can find sponsors both willing and able. By willing, I mean a woman that won’t mind carrying a child through to birth and, well some guy to do the deed. By able, I mean they both will have to agree to extra duty around the station for the next eight years before the child can contribute something in return for his life here on station. All that and then Dr. Richards will have to run his tests to see if the willing and able pair should have a child.
So, I rub my sore, burning eyes, maybe a little more than nine months from now.