The semi-exciting adventures of a low-level employee aboard a corporate research vessel.
As a kid, I was enthralled by the notion of space. There were books, museums, live streams of shuttle launches, and endless commercials where people lived and operated within the comfort of a sterile white colony ship. Everyone wanted to be a captain, a navigator, a scientist, or a engineer; whatever promised adventure, fame, or maybe even both.
Some people worked hard, and they got this. I'm happy for them, I really am, but for as for the rest of us – well, we ended up in the bowels.
Down there, the air-pressure alone could cause a person's eyes to eject from their skull – if god-forbid, their helmets somehow came loose, or their suits somehow got torn. Days were spent scraping god-knows-what from the floors, walls, the piping, wiring, and whatever looked to be dirty. All the while fourteen hundred-foot rods of chemically-strengthened titanium slammed back and forth above, blackened and misshapen from years of transporting super-critical carbon dioxide from one area of the ship to another. If something had ever gone wrong, we were contractually obligated to hit the air-lock, effectively saving the ship and sacrificing ourselves.
While the big guys above were eating steak and salad, the bowel workers got the synthesized slop that shot out of the mess-hall machines during mealtime. We slept two to a bunk, four to a room, and the privacy we got was a bathroom stall.
It wasn't an ideal life, but I'd signed the papers.
* * *
Valiant liked to give its employees titles that made them feel important, special, and sometime the title and the actual job were two very different things. However, when they'd hired me on as a 'custodial technician' there really weren't any questions to be asked about my role - I was to be a janitor. Simple as that, the company had wanted me to clean.
At first I had been a bit apprehensive, of course. Not only would I be cleaning, I'd be doing it a million miles from earth. But, by the time Valiant's representatives had finished showing me all the charts, the money I'd be making, and the benefits I'd be receiving – what I'd be doing didn't seem to matter, only the money had. At 24, the promise of six entire years of no expense living: room and board, meals, and a nine-fight paycheck waiting for me when I got back home, was something I absolutely could not pass up. All I'd had was a measly government check a pay for a dirty little apartment populated by dirtier clothes, and an the internet connection required to use a out-dated budget laptop. My cupboards held little more then dehydrated vacuum sealed food, and I could barely fence the water bill to eat eat the former. And, I suppose that had been exactly the kind of person Valiant was looking for.
It took only a two days for them to call me back. “Can you come into our office and speak to our Contractor?” The woman on the phone had said. “All we need now is your signature.”
I told her woman I'd be there that afternoon, and left as soon as the phone hit the receiver.
"Make sure you're sure," the Contractor had said in a loud booming voice – the closest thing to a military type I'd ever experienced. Looking back, I can barely even remember his name or what he'd looked like. His face is just a blur to me now; a skin-colored smudge below a crew-cut. His uniform though, that I'll never forget. Not a wrinkle or fold-line to be seen, all midnight blue, with six white straps buttoned onto each forearm. A pin rested above his left breast pocket, a silver 'V' with wings. "Fourteen years sleep, six years work. I won't lie, its a paid sentence. Nobodies going to be the same when you get back, if they're still living."
"I'm sure," I told him, even though I was unsure. It's funny, it had been probably the most selfish set of words I had and would ever say – never once had I thought about my parents, my brothers, or my sister.
"Alright, son." The Contractor opened his desk drawer and removed a clear sealed bag along with a few sheets of paper and a pen. He sat them on the desk and I could see that, within the bag, there had been that same midnight blue the Contractor had been wearing, though lacking the white straps. The papers had, obviously, been what I'd come to sign. "These are yours once you sign."
"What do I do after this?" It wasn't the right question. "Does someone contact me? Do I contact the company? Do I have to go somewhere?"
"Don't worry, we'll be giving you some paperwork before you go, as well as a set of employee badges. It'll give you all the details you'll need: a basic overview of the sleeping process, where and when you'll need to go, and what you'll be doing after you wake up." At that he handed me the pen – not a company one, just a plain black pen. “Print your name on the top line, sign below, and date.”
“You got it,” I said. With only a few lines of ink, I became company property.
“Right then,” the Contractor snatched up the papers. "Kevin Long, let me be the first to welcome you to Valiant Incorporated."