The shift change buzzer sounded, loud and harsh, bouncing round the grimy walls of the sleep pod. Lights flickered on, first in the ceiling then, flashing, around the door. 10 minutes to wake and dress then you had to be in the mess hall or you would miss your meal. Twenty minutes to eat, then report to the terminal to get your shift assignment. You didn't want to be late to the terminal, that give you black marks. Black marks were bad, too many black marks and a worker was punished, or worse just disappeared.

Cort rolled out of the sleeper, scrubbing tired eyes, then reached for the Alabaster station work suit crumpled on the floor. Orange, the higher ups didn't want anybody mistaking the workers for administration staff. The colours gave a sense of order, of direction. Orange for the Workers, Green for the Administrators, Blue for the Professionals and White for the Scientist. That's the way the power flowed too, from Orange to White, any time a Scientist said jump you did, and fast too.

Shrugging into the work suit Cort wiped his hand over his face, slapped the panel on the door open it and stepped out of the sleep pod into the corridor. The lights in the pod died behind him as the door slid closed, jerkily. “Crap” the thought jumped into his head, the servos were failing, or maybe there was some grit in the runners. Whatever the problem was it was bound to be up to him to fix things. To few maintenance staff to keep up with the repairs on the station, especially with all the changes the Whites had been asking for lately. The new woman in charge of them was plain spooky, eyes that seemed to look right through you. Wanted the quarantine section expanded to five times the size. Good luck there. Even if there were enough workers to handle the task Alabaster station had been changed too often in the past. Walls moved, new pipes and power conduits added and rerouted, air-ducts modified to filter out this pathogen but let that pathogen through, EMP grids used to inactivate stray nanotech moved, redesigned, ripped out then reinstalled. All these changes had left so many scars on the station that expanding the quarantine zone would be nigh on impossible. Even if they did have the workers. Even if the workers did have access to the best tools. Even if they had enough materials to do the job right. Cort was glad he wasn't involved in that, the one plus from being reassigned from the dormitory to the single sleep pod.

He missed the camaraderie of the dormitory, being able to talk to his friends after shift until the lights were put out. Maybe play a few games, maybe have a bit of fun with one of the girls who wasn't serious with anybody. Sometimes even a few drinks, not banned as such but not easy to get for the workers, or if one of the traders had been in a taste of Vegembite which certainly was. Not that it was bad for you, just that one taste tended to lead to another, and if you were looking for a taste you weren't working, that was the only reason it was banned. Bet administration could have a taste without being pulled up by the guards.

The mess hall was deserted, ranks of scuffed plastic tables and benches swept clean, no queues at the dispenser along the walls. Lights around one of the dispensers were flashing, indicating this was where Cort could grab his fore-shift food. Watervit to drink and resik to eat, same as always. Not too bad, not fancy but it tasted OK. Resik had come a long way since the early days of the station when it really has been made of the recycled organic waste of the crew. Now it was quicker and cheaper to bring in grain and other organics as a feedstock for the manufacturing process. Meant you didn't need to worry about heavy metal build up, or viruses, and the olders swore it tasted better now too.

After eating Cort dumped his trash back into the dispenser and checked in on the terminal in the centre of the mess hall. Assignment: skincrawl, just like last month and probably the one after this too. In fact most frequent assignment he got since he'd been plucked from the dormitories and retrained on the THIs. At first he'd been so proud, not every body got to use those suits, it took brains. Not so much that it was tricky, but if you got things wrong you could do real damage. Screw up and hit somebody with a clasp and that was them done. Screw up with the welder or cutter and you could easily start a fire, or it could be a whole heap worse if you were on skincrawl. Decompress a whole section, it had been done before, hundreds dead, not just workers. The pilot of that suit just disappeared. So did the workers responsible for door maintenance that cycle. If the doors had been airtight like they should have been just the one room would have been affected. Not that Cort blamed the rest of the workers, none of the doors in this place worked right, too little maintenance and cut price parts.

Leaving the dining hall Cort made his way to the hanger using the back ways. No point getting seen by anybody else higher up, they might ask him to do something, then he'd be stuck with that too, and late for the skincrawl and shift wouldn't be over until that was finished.

by Orlando_the_Technicoloured