Part 6 - Celia: Part 2

Before we get started...If you've read the previous five episodes you should be getting a mental picture of what the Battle Base is like. I've tried to introduce aspects and information about the base without loading you down with information dumps. Would you please leave a comment after this episode and tell me what you think the Battle Base looks like? What is it shaped like? Does it look old or new? Well kept up or run down? How many people live on the base? And what is it's function? Thanks for helping me make the story better for when it will be released as a book.


Celia – Part 2


Celia walked up to her cube and waved the door open. She stood on the threshold, listening. After a minute, the door closed and opened again. Twice more the door closed and opened before she actually entered, and stopped just into the room, listening.

Her mother was not home.

If she was, Celia would have heard music from her mother's room or the entertainment screen, unless she was in the hot tub.

Though, the tub's filter and the air jets were loud enough to hear from the sitting room, as well. She took three silent steps down the hallway and stopped short of her mother's room. She listened again. As quietly as possible, she drew in a long, deep breath, and stepped forward, peeking into her parent's room from the corner of her eye.

No one, she thought and ran the last few meters to her room, closed the door behind her and locked it.

She slipped out of her baggy, gray jumpsuit and pulled on a pair of cube-shorts. She stared at the awful jumpsuit lying on the floor like a dead creature and her chest tightened, like someone had shoved a screw between her ribs and turned it. She breathed deeply imagining the screw turned back the opposite direction and rising from her skin. She pictured the sudden trail of blood running from the hole left by the screw and trickling down across her breast. The pressure in her chest eased.

Celia couldn't believe a jumpsuit could be so short that it exposed her ankles and wrists when she walked, and crept up her backside when she sat, yet it was so baggy she could easily fit both her legs and an arm down one leg of the suit. She wished she could ask for a new one. She dropped it into the laundry shoot, added a few other items and pressed the send button. The items would be returned to her before bedtime.

She sat cross-legged on the floor with her back to her bunk and ran her fingers across the raised, hash-mark scars on the inside of her right thigh. Some still tingled with pain like tiny electric shocks, though most were old and well healed. The most recent cuts, those which were scabbed over or still bled, were on her left arm, high up, close to her arm pit. She didn't look at these. The sight of the dark, red crust or where they had pulled apart and oozed brightly often triggered her to cut again.

At times her life became too threatening to avoid by hiding behind the veil of hair concealing her eyes and her anxieties mounted in her chest. They pounded in step with her heart and filled her body with pressure until her skin felt taught and stretched like the head of a drum. Then, the need could only be relieved through the fine slice of a razor through her skin.

Today Celia didn't look.

She didn't feel the need to cut, didn't want it.

Today her heart pounded with a new rhythm.

Along with the resonating fear of exposure—the fear that someone may discover her shameful self-abuse—something new pounded inside her, something thrilling. The simmering excitement overshadowed, even eclipsed her fear.

She didn't want to lose this new sensation brought on by such a simple thing—something which she had only observed in the past, something which caused the other girls in her class to giggle and smile—a boy wanted her attention.

He may have been in class before. She wasn't sure. Normally she tried ignore most of what was going on around her, isolate herself from it. It wasn’t hard to do, as most everyone in the class was ignoring her. Hiding behind her frizzy fringe of mousy brown hair, she studied. Class time went much faster if she kept her mind occupied. The faster class time passed, the sooner she could get back to her room—her corner of the family cube where even her mother would leave her alone.

Today, when he spoke, Celia couldn't focus on what she was reading, though she stared at the words and images on her data sheet. His voice filled her mind, crowded her thoughts. At times it was friendly and confident. At others an undercurrent of rebellious humor flowed along with his words.

A chill ran through her as she remembered him smiling at her and she had to rub away the goose flesh which rose among the parallel scars. He had a beautiful, wide smile that reached to his dark brown eyes and the confident tilt of his chin. And still there was something about the way he carried himself that seemed gentle or vulnerable, like he would understand her and what she might need from him.

But he wouldn't care for her. Who was she? Just an ugly, hateful, hate-able, stupid, girl.


He said he was going to make her smile. Why would he want to make her smile if he didn’t care about her? Celia wanted him to care. She tucked her hands beneath her arms and squeezed, hugging herself, imagining what it must be like to have his arms holding her.

She walked a razor's edge of possibilities between potential happiness and despair. The desire for someone who would understand her, someone who would hold her like couples do on the entertainment screen, pushed her toward the edge of a precipice. Anxiety threatened to unbalance her and send her plummeting into the bubbling, smoking magma of sadness.

Celia froze, listening for a sound that was not there. Was her mother home? No. It was only her imagination. She looked at the chronometer: 06:85.

Like most civilian workers on the battle base, Celia's mother worked the second shift from 03:01 to 07:00. This was an advantage because the shift overlapped the last hour of the first shift and the first hour of the third shift.

Celia almost laughed. She couldn’t picture her mother doing any actual work anymore. Maybe she did when she first started at the shipping company. Now, she was in charge. Something her mother found great satisfaction in reminding Celia about almost every day.

Amanda Perchant managed a division of Galactic Shipping and Transportation.

With fifty floors on the base and each level averaging 1.2 trillion cubic meters of space, there was plenty of extra capacity for family members of the enlisted and commissioned staff to use creatively. Amanda oversaw contracting and delivery of containers and passengers from one jump station to another around the battle base's twenty year galactic circuit.

Because of Amanda's high level position she chose her own hours and where she worked them. Though school began at 04:00 and ran until 06:50, Celia's mother might or might not be in the cube when she left for school or arrived home.

Celia slid her door open a centimeter and listened. She had heard the front door and now her mother was in the sitting room or kitchen, sighing and muttering. She closed the door and locked it, slipped out of her shorts and undershirt and pulled on her sleep suit. Though made from softer and thinner materials than daytime jumps the sleeves and legs of the suit completely hid her scars.

"Come," Celia heard her mother call, though it didn't really sound like her mother. She waited, wondering if she had imagined it.

"Come," her mother called again, sounding more insistent and even less like herself. If her mother was getting angry, Celia didn't want to irritate her more by seeming to ignore her.

Celia walked to the sitting room and stood next to a short couch. Her mother was in the kitchen with her back to Celia, holding a data sheet in one hand and a half full glass of fruit juice in the other. Real fruit juice from the orchard levels of the battle base was slightly more expensive than synthetic drinks, but her mother could afford it, and felt that she more than deserved the luxury. She stood with one knee cocked and the elbow of her juice hand braced against her side.

She sure looks good in a jumpsuit. Why couldn't I have been more like her? Celia thought and waited for her mother to turn and acknowledge her. She waited for the better part of a minute and finally asked, "Mom?"

Startled, her mother jerked and spilled some of her drink. She spun around, the color of her face rapidly approached that of the purple liquid in the glass.

"You stupid child. What would possess you to sneak up and startle me?"

"I'm, I'm, I'm sorry. You called me to come."

"Don't lie to me. You are such a liar. I didn't call you. I don't know why you feel you need to make up stories all the time. And what are you doing in your sleepers already. It's another 75 minutes before you'd need to be in bed."

Celia only stood, her throat dry with fear, blinking at her mother and wondering why she always had to bait her this way.

"Tell me. Aren't you going to answer me? Why are you wearing a sleep clothes? Did you ruin your jump suit again? Where is it? Bring it to me."

"No," she started to tell her mother that she hadn't ruined the jump suit, but fury flashed in the woman's eyes, stifling Celia's response.

"Don't you dare tell me no," her mother said and threw the glass of juice at her, stomping forward.

Celia ducked to avoid the flying juice which spattered against the wall and flared into a long comet's tail over the couch. When she looked back up, her mother slapped her, the palm of her hand smacking against her cheekbone. The force of the hit was enough to spin her around to sprawl face down on the floor stretching toward her bedroom. Celia scrambled on all fours down the hallway and into her room.

She climbed to her knees, locked the door, and crawled to her bed, cowering next to it—listening. Her mother hadn't followed.

Celia stretched her arm beneath the mattress until she found a small plastic tube. She spun back around, sitting on the floor and pulling up the loose leg of her sleeping suit and exposed her right thigh. She slapped the inside of her leg, over and over until the stinging pain faded to numbness. She felt the pressure inside of her swelling, her skin tightening until it felt like it would split open. Taking the knife from its plastic sheath she placed its razor edge against her skin and drew it from back to front in the longest cut she had ever made. Blood welled up along the shallow cut, and with it relief.



Part 5 - Nicholas: part 3

Nicholas - Part 3


Merch was not a man of his word, or maybe he'd stopped by the commissary and bought something to drink. It wouldn't be the first time the old man had finished the alcohol before getting back to the cube and left the door standing open. That or he just didn't want to be woken by Nicholas leaning on the door alert when he couldn't get in.

Nicholas shook his head in amazement, his long blond hair swishing across his shoulder blades, and checked the small sitting room and kitchen to make sure none of the marginally valuable items had been taken. His sector housed mostly non-military, small families of lower ranks and wasn’t policed nearly as well as the sectors of the higher ranks. Drug addicts and other homeless people flopped in unassigned cubes or wandered the halls looking for opportunities such as that left by Merch to rob an unattended cube. Any roving drug addict or even one the undocumented boys in Nicholas’s own gang of opportunists could help himself to the nutrition generator or any of the family’s personal items..

Everything seemed in place so he dropped onto the couch with a nutrisnack bar and rolled out his data sheet.

He synced his personal sheet with the cube's unit and brought his class info up on their entertainment screen. Holoscreens in the classrooms had the added benefit of evaluating objects and data in three dimensions but generating a holographic, three-dimensional image large enough for an entire class to observe required huge amounts of energy. A three dimensional simulation on the flat entertainment screens was more than adequate for the confines of a family’s cube.

Nicholas brought up the classroom schematic. He hated to admit it, but the other boy's addition to his data was a real benefit. Not only did it give him visuals of the girls in the class, it gave him the girls' names as well. Too bad it didn't give me the rest of their bodies.

A shiver ran up his spine when he considered how many really good looking girls there were in the glass and how many of them had responded so favorably. Nicholas had probably missed as many days of class as he had attended. What could he accomplish with these girls if he was there every day? Then his eyes fell upon the girl who sat in front of him.

"Celia Perchant," Nicholas said, bringing her face forward to fill a larger portion of the screen.

Though her mouth was narrow, her lips were full and turned up slightly at the corners, giving her the appearance of enjoying a secret joke.

"Are you smiling, or did someone tweak this picture?"

In the image her reddish brown hair parted down the middle and fought to escape where she'd tucked it behind her small roundish ears. Though her oval face tended toward the shape of an egg with a small, rounded chin, her bulging hair made her head look much larger than it should be on the narrow stick of a neck. She appeared to have brushed her hair in preparation for the image, though enough strands flew free to give her the appearance of wearing a halo.

"What would you look like with a real hairstyle?"

Nicholas liked the color of her hair. It reminded him of the trees in the redwood park.

The trees on the base couldn't grow as tall as their ancestors did on Earth, but the park reached twenty full levels in height, giving the trees 100 meters of vertical space to grow. Designed to remind the base's inhabitants of their connection to their home planet, the park was one of the few places a person could observe the curve of the base. Two kilometers in width from fore to aft, the park stretched seven kilometers in length, nearly half the circumference of the base on level 46.

Trees planted when the base was first commissioned had been growing for over 200 years. Climbers who had scaled the simulated granite walls on the fore and aft borders of the park told Nicholas some of the trees were as tall as 60 meters.

He imagined taking Celine to the redwood park to show her how the bark matched the beautiful color of her hair. But it wasn't really her hair that attracted him. Partly it was how she isolated herself from the other kids. Nicholas didn't picture himself as a part of the class or of any group of young people on the battle base. Consequently, he felt kinship to a girl who kept herself apart from others.

Her small, round nose gave her a childlike look, matching her ears.

What shocked him was her eyes; emerald green and glowing as if they were backlit to stand out especially bright, like warning lights on a panel on the bridge. What made those eyes burn? Was there an emotion suppressed behind them fighting to escape?

A noise through the wall behind him alerted Nicholas that Merch was stirring. If Nicholas was within reach when the old man came out the consequences could be painful. He scrambled to shut down the viewer, grab another nutri bar, and roll his data sheet at the same time. He dashed to the corner of the sitting room opposite the kitchen. Doors to his bedroom, the bathroom, and theone to his mother's bedroom formed a small alcove just big enough to accommodate a single person. If Merch filled the space before he did, it would cost him.

He pushed into his room and flipped the latch down in one fluid motion in time to hear Merch open his door and shout, "You in there, boy?"

"Yeah. Don't worry about me. I'm just going to bed," Nicholas called from where he had leapt onto his bunk.

"Worry?" Merch sounded aghast and continued speaking, though most of what he said was lost to the insulation in the walls.

A single child room associated with a low status, marriage contract cube could not be described as spacious. This cube was assigned to his mother and birth father after six weeks of marriage preparation classes and filing the requisite paperwork. By the time the contract was signed it was apparent Nicholas was already on his way.

A married couple may contract for one or two children and are obligated under the contract to remain together with complete fidelity until both children have reached the age of twenty. At that point they may dissolve the contract if they decide they are incompatible. Violation of the contract would result in monetary fines and possible incarceration.

A couple may choose when a child will be born, the gender of the child, and who will carry the child. If a couple is unable to carry a child to term and aren’t able to find an appropriate surrogate on their own, a newborn child would be provided.

For couples who weren't interested in raising children, cohabitation contracts were available and were much more flexible. The contracting couple could specify contract length, platonic or conjugal relationships, and varying degrees of fidelity.

Nicholas's actual father found out in the first year after his son's birth that he wasn't interested in fatherhood and purchased falsified papers and payments to take a shuttle off the base. He boarded the station for a jump gate to distant systems before anyone realized he had skipped out. His mother filed charges against her estranged husband, but without enough cred to continue an investigation across several light years she turned to a man who promised to provide emotional support for her and her son. A man who would only sign a cohab contract and not one for marriage.



Part 4 - Nicholas: part 2

The school day was more than half way through when Nicholas marched into the room like he was the Base Commander. He slouched down into his seat and wiped sweat from his forehead, though it wasn't hot. His anger at Merch still pounded in his veins. Few students looked up from their data sheets to acknowledge his entrance, and those for only a millisecond before they turned back to their work.

A girl sat in the chair ahead of him but never raised her head from crouching over her data sheet. Her brown kinky hair stuck out in odd directions like she'd just gotten out of bed. He ran his fingers through his own long light brown hair and wondered how a girl could be so out in space that she didn't even run a brush through her hair. He could only see her shoulders and above. Her neck was skinny, with each vertebra of her spine poking out like knuckles on a fist. The collar on her jump suit was too wide and looked like she had borrowed it from someone twice her size.

Nicholas unrolled his data sheet and pressed the power point.

A message flashed across the top of the display, "Ten days, six hours, 81 minutes delinquent." A list of past due assignments scrolled below the warning and then the question, "What would you like to work on first?"

Students in their first year of high school were given a reprieve from the strictly regimented course work of the lower grades. They were allowed to choose from a broad range of subjects and studied independently. From these studies they would choose the concentration for the following four to five years of course work. Between the ages of twenty and twenty-two they should be prepared to enter university or matriculate into one of the technical training programs with available personnel slots on the battle base. All military personnel must graduate with a university degree in astrogation or military science. Nicholas was interested in none of that.

He looked around the classroom.

Most students sat or reclined in their cushioned lounge chairs, deeply engaged in their studies.

One girl a few rows over taking a breather from her studies looked up and around the room. Nicholas caught her eye, smiled and winked. She smiled back, blushed and returned to her data sheet.

Nicholas realized there were a lot of pretty girls in the classroom. He went back to his data sheet and pulled up an array program, dividing it into the number of spaces to match the arrangement of students in the class. He blacked out the spots belonging to the boys.

He turned back to scanning the classroom. When a girl took a break and looked up from her work, Nicholas coughed, or sniffed, or something conspicuous enough to get the girl's attention, then smiled and winked at her. On his data sheet he entered a rating of her response and of her appearance into the student's block in his array.

The school day was almost over, which helped Nicholas fill in the last few blocks as students became more restless and ready to leave.

He also caught the teacher's attention.

"Mr. Morris," the teacher said, loud enough to still the entire class. "Welcome back to school. We've missed you."

He smiled and nodded, but said nothing.

"You've been studiously working on … something. And since it looked to me like it involved the entire class, would you please stand and explain?"

Nicholas stood and said, "Ms. Callista, I have been doing a study of the pretty girls in this classroom."

"That's an awfully sexist remark, Mr. Morris." She eyed him with a frown.

"Oh. I'm sorry. I've been studying the ugly ones, too."

A repressed murmur of laughter rumbled around the room.

"Anyway," Ms. Callista said, her frown deepening. "Please explain your theory and results."

"Um. I didn't really have a theory. Well, I guess my thesis question was, 'Would a girl return my smile, and was there a greater chance of her returning my smile if she was pretty."

"And, then?" The teacher asked.

Nicholas tapped about on his data sheet. The holoscreen at the front of the class came to life and displayed a smattering of dots on a two dimensional grid.

"I was able to smile and wink at all but two girls in the room and these are their responses. With, let me say, 'relative' beauty across the bottom, since I am deciding what I consider beautiful, the horizontal represents ugly on the left and gorgeous on the right. The vertical is how strongly I gauged their response. You can see there are girls at both ends of the spectrum who found me offensive, though most gave me a favorable response to some degree."

Nicholas tapped his data sheet again and said, "Here is a layout of the classroom. You can see from the position of the girl in the room relative to my seat over here on the side, the farther away the girl the lower the response."

The image on the holoscreen shimmered and the schematic of seat positions was replaced with an image of the girl sitting in that seat.

"Who did … " Nicholas started to say, but the teacher cut him off.

"Any final conclusions, Mr. Morris?"

"Hmmm. Well. You can see from the horizontal placement, we have a lot of pretty girls in the class." He looked at the screen again with the girls' actual faces present, saved a copy to his data sheet, and said, "Other than that, the data is inconclusive."

Nicholas sat back down.

"Thank you, Mr. Morris. I hope this means that you will find a greater desire to be in class, where you can put that analytical mind of yours to a more productive use. I'll look forward to seeing all of you tomorrow. You are dismissed."

Nicholas waited in his seat until the teacher looked at him once more. He winked and smiled. When she blushed, shaking her head but smiling as well, he made a show of making a note on his data sheet.

The girl with the messy hair sat hunched over her work table as the teacher gathered her things to leave. If he wanted to keep his data accurate, he still needed her reaction. If she never stood and forced him to walk around in front of her, he would look too obvious. So he left the room and stood in the hallway.

As the girl walked out of the room, her eyes were on the floor. Frizzy hair obscured her face. The sleeves and legs of her jumpsuit exposed her wrists and bare shins above her base boots. The uniform hung on her like a sack, with a belt around her waist to keep it from sliding off her shoulders.

He cleared his throat.

She stopped without looking up and smoothed the sleeves of her jump suit, pulling at the cuffs as if trying to increase their length.

"Class is over. Now I can say, 'Hello', as well as wink," Nicholas said, trying to get the girl to look up.

Her lips moved but he heard no sound. She might have said, “Hello”, as well.

"You don't want to look at me?"

She shook her head.

Nicholas laughed and said, "Or is it you don't want me to look at you?"

An almost indiscernible nod.

"Ok. I'll leave you alone. I know. I don't like people bothering me, either. But someday I'm going to catch you off your guard and you're going to smile at me. I'll see you tomorrow."

Nicholas watched her walk away.

He wanted to give her a minute and then follow her. One thing the school's data base wouldn't give him was her cube location, but as he started after her another boy cut him off.

"Hey. Can you share that data with me?" A boy asked. He seemed to have a skin condition, but as he got closer Nicholas wondered if the boy ever bathed. His greasy hair hung in strings and though he was a good five centimeters taller than Nicholas, he had a round, babyish face, and short, stubby fingers.

"No. I don't think so," Nicholas said and started after the girl.

"Come on, crew. I added the pictures to the schematic. Share some cred."

"I'm not your crew and I don't owe you any cred. I didn't ask you to put the pictures up, so give way."

The boy didn't step aside quickly enough and Nicholas pushed past him. He brushed off the shoulder of his jumpsuit hoping the boy hadn't left any sludge on him. The girl wasn't anywhere in sight. He thought about going back to slug the slimy boy in the stomach for interfering, but reconsidered. That would only give Merch more fuel for his afterburner, and Nicholas was hoping to stay off his stepfather's scanners for a while.

"Might as well head home and see if I can get in the cube," Nicholas grumbled, heading out of the school's matrix.


Part 3 - Nicholas

See note below about trigger warnings if this is your first visit to this page.




The shuttle, recently arrived from the jump gate, docked just long enough to disembark its passengers, do a quick clean, restock the pantry and board the passengers leaving the battle base. Every second that passed meant 66,000 kilometers more they would have to travel to get back to their gate.

Nicholas worked his way up the aisle, keeping his head down, studying the display on his wrist comm while looking for the best seat for his purpose. He found it and crawled across three sets of knees to reach one next to the bulkhead. He hunched down, turned his back on the aisle and acted as if he was asleep.

A voice came over the open comm. "Welcome passengers. I'm Commander Alicia Cordant and will be overseeing your trip to the jump gate. Please have your ID and datasync ready for the flight techs coming down the aisle. If we can get underway in the next five minutes our trip will be less than four days, eight hours, seventy-three minutes and sixty-five seconds. We'll pass out nutrition packs once we are free of the base's magnetic field and you will have two hours to consume them before we go into induced sleep. Of course, we'll wake you..."

Nicholas ignored the briefing and listened for the techs as they moved forward, checking ID's and syncs.

"Would you wake him, please?" Nicholas heard before the person next to him nudged him in the ribs. He rolled over, sat up, blinked his eyes, yawned and gave his best surly-teenager-scowl.

"I need your ID and your sync," the steward said to him.

"Why?" Nicholas asked, rubbing his nose.

"So I can be sure you belong on this ship," the steward said.

He held up his ID and said, "My mom’s got the sync. She's on the back row. You should have it already."

He turned back to the bulkhead.

"Which is your mother?" The man asked with an air of impatience.

"Oh. Sorry. She's on the back row, in the black and silver jump suit," he said doing his best to sound accommodating, and turned his back on the steward again.

"Let's go, Mick. We've got half the shuttle still to check," another man said.

"Sorry. This kid here says his mother's in the back, wearing a black and silver jump suit. Did you see anyone like that?"

"Yeah. Half the women on the shuttle."

"Get out here kid, now. I think you're trying to do a circuit on me," the steward growled at Nicholas. "You need to come show me your mother, or..."

"Save your threats. I'm coming. When my dad hears about this, you're the one who's going to be in deep space," Nicholas grumbled. When he got to the aisle, the steward grabbed him by the collar of his jump suit and dragged him to the doorway.

The man pressed a plate next to his name badge and said, "Security. I think I've got our stowaway."

Three security officers met Nicholas and the tech at the aft hatchway. As he was handed off to the three, Nicholas waved vaguely at the shuttle bay and said, "Wait. What about my mother?"

"If she shows up before we undock, I'll send her your way," the steward said and gave Nicholas a solid push toward the officers.

Seventy-five minutes later, Nicholas sat in a small, stuffy room at a dingy plastisteel table, blocked from escape by a juvenile representative of the base's civilian judicial system, sitting between him and the door. It hissed open and a man stepped in, filling the little remaining space which wasn't table or bench. The door closed and the man sat opposite Nicholas and the representative.

"Merch. What are you doing here?" Nicholas asked. "I told them to get Mom."

"Now, Nick," the representative started, but the other man interrupted him.

"Don't be stupid," Merch said. "You know your mother's on duty. Is that why you chose to act up now? To waste my time?"

"Mr. Morris, that's not," the representative began.

Merch's face turned deep red. "I'm Frailer. He's not mine. His real father didn't want him either. Can we get this over with? I've got things to do."

"Like sit on your fat butt," Nicholas said. "You don't work for two more days."

Merch made to stand up. As he did, the representative did as well and held out his hand to Nicholas's stepfather. "Mr. Frailer. I'm Lieutenant Posker."

"Sub-Lieutenant," Frailer said with a sneer at the man's collar insignia, and sat without taking the other's hand.

"Right then," the lieutenant said and sat back down. "Mr. Frailer, Nicholas stole flight documentation and boarded a gate bound shuttle. Theft and fraud; those are serious crimes on the base. The case is being forwarded to the juvenile division of Judicial because Nick's still fifteen. Another couple months and he’d be treated as an adult."

"Don't call me Nick," Nicholas grumbled, slouching as much as the confined space would let him and scowling at his stepfather.

"Alright, Nicholas. Mr. Frailer. I've been assigned as your stepson's council."

"Is he going to jail, or do I have to take him home with me?" Merch asked.

"This is his first offense, so he will be released into your custody. It will be your responsibility to make sure he stays out of trouble until Judicial can review his case. My office will be keeping a close eye on where he goes and what he does until then."

Merch squeezed into the open space between the table and the door and stood. "That's more responsibility that I want. You can keep him."

"Mr. Frailer. I'm sure you don't mean that," Posker said, standing as well.

Frailer's sneer widened into a grimace as he leaned over Posker. "You don't think so?"

Nicholas thought the lieutenant looked small next to his stepfather. Posker was a few centimeters shorter and at least ten kilos lighter, though it was obviously because the officer was fit and healthy. Nick was used to seeing his stepfather bully others around and waited to see how the lieutenant would react. His heart raced with hope as he imagined Posker slugging the old man in his gut.

Posker waved the door open, indicated for Merch to exit first, and said, "Come, Nicholas. It's time for you to go home. My contact is on your data sync at the front desk. You can pick it up on your way out."

Nicholas sighed and slid off the bench. As he passed the lieutenant outside the door, Posker said to him under his voice, "Buzz me if you need to. Any time."

His stepfather had already synced for his items and stood in the exit to the outer passage. Nicholas glanced toward Posker and said, "Sure."

He caught up to Merch in the passage. The man handed him his ID card and data sheet without a word.

"What about my data sync?" Nicholas asked.

"I'll hold onto that until I believe you're going to behave. This way, you can't go anywhere you shouldn't."

"How am I supposed to buy my lunch?"

"I don't know. You're the criminal. Why don't you just steal it?" He must have thought that was funny and his stomach shook as he laughed to himself.

"I can't get back into the cube without it. You know you hate it when I wake you up."

"You'll just have to sit in the passage until I wake up and look for you."

"I hate you," Nicholas said and charged ahead, but before he'd gotten out of reach, Merch grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around, his other arm cocked back, his fist alongside his ear.

"Go ahead and hit me, Merch. Right here in the passage for the whole base to see."

Merch looked up at the scanner above the closest link and lowered his fist.

"You're not as smart as you think you are. You're an irritating rash. One I can get relieved and not have to worry about anymore. You've rubbed me the wrong way for the last time."

Merch shoved him backwards. Spinning, Nicholas stumbled down the passage toward the link and, eventually regaining his balance, he jogged on through, trying to ignore his stepfather's laughter.


Part 2 - Silver Perchant, A Monster, and A Drug Addict, "Who".

Claimer: (Not a disclaimer. I’m not trying to protect myself. I just want you to know something.)


A ‘Trigger Warning’ is a psychological term warning to a reader, listener, or viewer of content that something in the following information may set off (trigger) a severe emotional reaction in some people who have experienced trauma in the past or who suffer from a variety of mental illnesses.


The story, “Trigger Warnings” is about several people who have suffered mental, physical or sexual abuse, or are suffering from other mental illnesses.


If you are triggered by non-suicidal self-injury, emotional abuse, sexual assault, or child sexual abuse you may want to proceed with caution, if at all. While sexual abuse and child abuse are not presented graphically, they are addressed.


If you find you are triggered by these stories—have a desire to self-harm, become depressed, have suicidal thoughts, etc—please contact your physician, a school counselor, a trustworthy family member, or the suicide hotline. I am presenting these stories to raise awareness of mental illness and create support for those in need, not to cause harm. You have value, you are loved and there is help if you can bring yourself to look for it.






Silver Perchant


Silver waited in the link aft from his cube and watched his daughter trudge off to school. Once she had passed through the distant link he hurried to his former residence.

"Amanda?" he called from the sitting room. There was no reply.

At the doorway to the master bedroom he barked, startling his estranged wife, "Amanda. Wake up. Don't you go into your office anymore?"

Slowly, she rose on one elbow, blinking her eyes. "Don't you ever ask a question in a reasonable tone of voice?"

He walked a few steps into the room and said, "I watched Celia leave. She looked like she’d flown through an electrical array without a magnetic dampener. You need to spend some time with her, teach her about grooming, try to help her fit in. It’s hard enough being a teenager without the other kids thinking you lie in a recycling bin."

"If a single word of what I told her stayed in her vacant head it might be worth my time. But it doesn't, so it's not. She's an embarrassment. If I take her anywhere, or if a friend comes to our cube and sees her, it reflects poorly on me."

Amanda sat up, throwing off the covering and shook out her mane of deep red hair. Thick strands cascaded past her shoulders and formed small, half-circle curls just short of her bare breasts.

Still groggy from sleep, her hair in disarray, she was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever known. Fire burned in him as it had years ago. He fought the desire to cross to the bed, throw off the sheets and take her in his arms. He'd learned the last time lust superimposed itself over his memories of love; it would do little to restore their corroded relationship. He pushed back his natural urges.

"Surely you didn't come here to talk about your daughter's hair and stare at my breasts."

Her sarcasm brought him out of his trance.

She’s only my daughter now? He thought.

He cleared his throat and said, "Anyway. I'll be away for the better part of the next seven days to a week. We've got some long routines to run on the..."

"You don't need to bore me with the details. I know it must be important to someone. Just go take care of your routines and give me a heads up when you think you might be coming by for more than a quarter hour. You made your decision to stay away and you know how I hate surprises."

Another kind of fire burned in him from her casual dismissal and he fought back the urge to wring her neck.

"Tell Celia I love her," he said turning back to the door. A sparkle on his wife's dressing stand caught his eye. He picked up a jeweled stick pin and twisted it between his fingers. Light glittered off a tiny replica of a rare alien flower with diamonds set among the delicate blown glass petals.

"You make good wages for a middle manager at that shipping company," Silver commented dryly.

"I do. Many of my customers recognize my value. Their compliments get paid forward and my bosses are pleased. Unlike someone I know who fails to advance in his admirable career. If it wasn't for my connections we would be living in a cube a fourth the size of this one."

Silver laughed, "Your connections? I could have you living in a closet by mid-second, today.”

His ridicule touched a nerve and she stood, the thermal sheet dropping to the floor. Clearly her most valuable business asset stood before him--every cubic centimeter of her body was finely tuned and toned. Ugly rage etched her face and contrasted the elegance of her frame.

Unwanted feral heat returned to his loins. He laughed, though. "There is much more supporting this expansive cube than your hard work and your family name. Maybe ten years at the university earning my degree has something to do with it. But then, that's nothing you can take credit for, so it's naturally of no account."

He growled and threw the pin back to the table. He raised his fist into the air, then shook his head and bit on his knuckle. He turned away again. "I don't know why I always let you draw me in to this same old argument."

"I think you draw yourself pretty well." Her anger quickly changed to a cutting smirk.

He jerked his hand away from his mouth, teeth marks made a dashed line in his skin. "We made our agreement that I would stay away and you would take care of Celia. If the quartering division learns I've moved out..."

He raised an eyebrow, waiting for a response. When none came he added, "You don't want the inconvenience a cube reassignment would cause you, and I don't want to disrupt my daughter's life any more than I have to. Just take care of her and I'll stay out of your way."

"If you have a problem, you'll need to handle it yourself. I have a meeting to prepare for," Amanda said gliding toward the bathroom.

"Is that all our child is to you, a problem that needs to be handled?"

But the door slid closed and Silver only heard distant, tuneless humming from inside.



The Creature


The creature stretched a pseudopod from its central mass.

If its spore had originally lodged anywhere else on the battle base, its growth would have been limited by the amount of water vapor in its location and may never have gotten large enough to be observed by any of the 1.2 million people aboard. Finding its home on the water treatment floor, its growth was essentially limitless. It was comfortable at its current size of a meter in height and slightly less than that in diameter, but it was hungry.

The tentacle stretched along the expanded plastisteel catwalk. Taking on water from below its perch, the creature could extend the tentacle for hundreds of meters without decreasing the size of its central mass. Fine hair-like projections on the surface of the pseudopod detected brainwaves of a potential meal and oozed toward it.

Hundreds of years old, yet only recently self-aware, it felt a loss. The creature couldn't register this emotion. It had dined on sewer rats for the last century and knew only the reasoning of such animals; hunger, satiation, fear, and security. Though the rat was big and had numerous tumors throughout its system to give it flavor, the creature wanted something larger and more complex.




The drug addict, ‘Who’.


In a passage five meters from the closest link, a man leaned against the wall for support. His tattered jumpsuit, which may have once been tan, showed bare calves above worn base-boots. His cheeks hung hollow below equally baggy eyelids and his thinning hair hung like grey spider-webs over yellow, thickened skin.

He had disabled three of the illumination panels above the passage to prevent the simulated sunlight from hurting his sensitive eyes. He hovered on the edge of the resulting semi-circular shadow on the floor.

A young man in a clean technical uniform entered the passage from the opposite, intersecting link 100 meters away and walked with purpose as he fiddled with the portable communicator on the back of his sleeve, just above his left wrist.

When the technician was close enough to hear, the man leaning against the wall took a single step forward, flashed a credit strip in the palm of his cupped hand, and asked in a hoarse whisper, "Hey, Chief. Can you sync me some cred?"

The technician, many years away from the rank of Chief, barely acknowledged the other and shook his head negatively, walking past into the link. When the young man was gone, the beggar looked at his generic credit strip, a glowing green bar indicating it held less than two Galactic credits.

A man blending into the darkest part of semicircular shadow laughed. "You know panhandling is illegal on the Battle Bases, don't you?"

"Yeah. And so is doing dust. But in case you haven't noticed, no one’s arresting me. No one wants to waste their time and creds babysitting a bunch of drug addicts. It's easier to just ignore us and hope we disappear."

The dark man walked a few meters toward the distant link and said, "You'll never learn. Will you?"

The beggar tried to turn his head and most of his body turned with it. The muscles of his neck were taught and rigid, an advanced side effect of the hallucinogenic neuro-stimulant known to space travelers as ”Dust”. He swiped greasy tangles of hair from his face and asked the dark man, "What? What am I supposed to learn?"

"Huh, huh, huh," the man laughed, his face in shadow. "One thing, at least. You've never learned to be a very good beggar. You haven't gotten anything in days. How do you expect to get set up if you don't get any cred?"

"Isn't that why you're here? To set me up? You're never here when I'm constant."

"That's right.” The dark man shifted in the shadow. “I'm here for you when you really need me."

The addict leaned forward. "Where is it then? Where's my dust? Come over here, where I can see you. You're always hiding in corners or standing with your back to me."

"It's the dust, friend. It ruins your eyes."

He tried to close his eyes but the muscles of his forehead were tight as well, another effect of the drug, giving him a continuously surprised appearance. Rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands, he blinked at the dark man, but he was gone.

Hunched over, he leaned back against the wall. His body shook and he felt weaker by the minute. From inside the link he heard a chime telling those waiting at the door to the horizontal transport that a car was about to arrive. He heard a woman's voice speaking to someone cheerfully and spun around to approach her. His momentum was too much and he lost his balance, falling to the floor.

"Oh," the woman gasped and ran to kneel at his side. "Kurt. Come help me. This poor man is sick."

The dust addict raised his shaking hand with the credit strip in it and begged, "Please..."

"Get up, Bekindra. He's just a drug addict. You can't help him."

"Yes I can," Bekindra said and took a credit strip from a self-seal pocket. She punched in numbers with her thumb along the flexible magnetic strip and took his from his shaking hand. She placed the two strips end to end. The green border of his strip lengthened as hers decreased.

"There you go," she said, handing the strip to the man on the floor and stood to look at her companion defiantly.

"He's only going to spend it on more drugs. Look at him, he's almost dead from the abuse."

"That may be,” she said, “But at least he'll be happy and comfortable for a little while. Now, come on and buy me dinner. I'm a bit short on creds."

The couple walked away and the dark man returned to lean over the drug addict.

"Look at that. You got enough creds to last you a week or more. Come on. I know a guy down on the water treatment level who can set you up." The dark man walked toward the link. "Get off the floor, dust sucker. I don't know why I try to help you. You're just an addict, just a useless addict."

"You don't need to call me addict. I got a name," he grumbled and used the wall for support as he climbed back to his feet. He stumbled the few meters into the link and passed his hand in front of the sensor calling the vertical lift.

He had a name. He just couldn't remember it.


Part 1 - Celia: An introduction

A ‘Trigger Warning’ is a psychological term warning a reader, listener or viewer of content that something in the following information may set off (trigger) a severe emotional reaction in some people who have experienced trauma in the past or who suffer from a variety of mental illnesses.


The story, “Trigger Warnings” is about several people who have suffered mental, physical or sexual abuse, or are suffering from other mental illnesses.


If you are triggered by non-suicidal self-injury, emotional abuse, sexual assault, or child sexual abuse you may want to proceed with caution, if at all. While sexual abuse and child abuse are not presented graphically, they are addressed.


If you find you are triggered by these stories—have a desire to self-harm, become depressed, have suicidal thoughts—please contact your physician, a school counselor, a trustworthy family member, or the suicide hotline. I am presenting these stories to raise awareness of mental illness and create support for those in need, not to cause harm. You have value, you are loved and there is help if you can bring yourself to look for it.







Celia dragged a brush through snags of thick brown hair. Her mother would have fits if she went to school without controlling her wild mane. Again. Tears rose in her eyes; her hair refused to let the brush pass and she tore at it, gritting her teeth. She pulled with all her strength, tearing a knotted snarl free to hang from the brush like a hairy spider. Her frustration flared into rage and she threw the brush at the floor hoping it would shatter into a thousand pieces.

Her head throbbed where the hair came free from her scalp, but the pain felt good, justified. Her tears were gone, replaced by anger.

The view screen at her dressing table divided into four sections as she stepped back, showing her head and shoulders from all sides. There was no hope for her hair. She couldn't get it to the level her mother required and still make it to school on time.

She pressed the self-seal strip at her neck and looked down the front of her jump suit. It hung on her like a bag; if her head and hands didn't poke out of it, a person might wonder if there was a girl in there at all. Other girls in her class wore tailored jumps of fine materials. They wore the correct shade of grey to identify them as high school students, and still the material clung to their bodies and emphasized their figures. It was clear their parents cared about them and how they looked; they obviously deserved having families who loved them.

Looking at herself in the view screen Celia raised her chin and checked her neck for evidence of the scar across her collarbone. It was stupid to cut so high where someone might see. She had only done that once and was relieved that it didn't show. She tugged at her sleeves, wishing they would cover her narrow wrists and she smoothed the arms of her jumpsuit.

Hoping to save time by working on her hair as she walked to school, she grabbed the brush from the floor and hurried down the passage toward her mother's open bedroom door. She stopped short of the doorway, intending to tiptoe past--her mother was rarely awake when she left for school. Celia's stomach turned over as the brush slipped from her hand and hit the smooth plasteen floor directly in front of the open door, clattered down the short passage, and slid to a stop at a decorative carpet in the sitting room.

Celia held her breath waiting for her mother's blood curdling scream.

No. She wished for such a scream; then she could scream back, justified to loosen some of the anger built up inside her head like layers of plaque lining her skull. But her mother never raised her voice.

When Celia's heart calmed enough that she no longer felt it pounding in her ears, she heard her mother's soft snores and soundlessly edged past the room. A quick glance into the room revealed her mother asleep on the bed. Her mother, the socialite daughter of lifer parents, filled out a jumpsuit nicely. Her physical attributes had clearly been one of her main attractions when she Celia’s father, also the son of lifer parents, originally signed a cohabitation contract.

In the kitchen Celia took two compact nutrition bars and slipped them into a self-seal pocket on the leg of her jumpsuit. She took her data sheet from the table where she had left it the day before and pinched the edges of the thin electroconductive polymer. With a snap and a hiss the data sheet rolled itself into a tube as big around as Celia's thumb. She slipped the tube into a narrow pocket that ran from shoulder to elbow.

Celia rubbed the back of her hand beneath her chin and probed her neck along the edge of the straight collar of her jump suit. She tugged up on the wide collar, trying to make it look like a straight line instead of dipping down into a deep curve. Doing so only pulled the tight jumpsuit uncomfortably into her crotch.

She smoothed the arms of the suit again, patted her breast pocket, checking for her ID card and Info Synch. She waved her hand in front of the door sensor; it swished open and she walked out into the passage.

Few others were in the corridors of her residential section, most of the cubes being inhabited by higher ranking commanders and other important personnel--people who had no time for children. A large number of retired people also lived in the area, having earned retirement in one of the larger cubes and chosen to remain on the Battle Base for the rest of their lives. Besides, it was only 3.75. The second shift had started at 3.00 and the first shift didn't end for another quarter, when classes began at 4.00.

With each intersecting passage the number of people increased.

Her classroom was up two floors and a long walk fore on one of the longitudinal corridors. At an intersecting link of passages she opened a door and entered the stairwell. Each door in the stairwell displayed the link coordinates and a chronometer. Celia saw she had plenty of time to get to class.

Two floors up, she stood at the door to the main corridor, took a deep breath, checked her breast pocket for her ID card and Data Synch. She wouldn't be able to enter the school without them, and once at school there wouldn't be time to go all the way back to her cube to retrieve them.

Celia smoothed the arms of her jump suit and waved open the door. The corridor was packed with people on their way to their duty station and other students going to school. Folding her arms tight across her stomach, she bowed her head and stepped into the flow. She squeezed along the wall and paced herself behind the others going her same direction to avoid touching anyone and drawing their attention.

Following the corridor for several hundred meters she reached the shuttle bay where the solid wall of the passage was replace with transparent plastisteel. Celia moved toward the center of the corridor to work her way past people standing along the window, watching others arriving or departing. She didn't mind this in fact, this 100 meter stretch of corridor was her favorite place on the entire Battle Base. People here were arriving from other Battle Bases or departing to distant systems, places she hoped to visit one day--places far away from her mother.

A shuttle must have recently arrived from a jump-gate the base had passed the day before. Travel weary people, still shaking off induced sedation, entered the waiting lounge from vertical transport doors at the far side. People in military jumps walked through without baggage while others wearing Support Service jumpsuits often carried bags. Then there were families wearing casual jumps--parents dragging irritable children in addition to their belongings. Finally, two men directed a long oval cylinder about the length of an adult. The cylinder lay in a supportive cot and rolled on three sets of wheels.

Celia smoothed her sleeves and kept pace to reach the lounge exit as the men and cylinder drew close, opposite through the window. The leading man stepped into the corridor and held his hand up to stop traffic, right in front of Celia. She pressed her arms tighter against her stomach, tipping her head down, but watching as the cylinder pushed passed. A window in the upper third revealed a man inside the tube, his features slack and his skin as grey as her uniform jumpsuit. Traffic resumed, pushing her forward, alongside the isolation tube.

This kind of tube wasn't an uncommon sight coming from the shuttle bay. Anyone from off the battle base with an unknown or contagious disease would be transported to the base hospital in one. She patted her breast pocket and surreptitiously peeked through the plastisteel window to get a better look at the sleeping man. Data panels on the tube were blank and nothing in the man's appearance revealed where he had come from or why he was in isolation.

Traffic moving both directions came to a stop again as the men turned off the main corridor and pushed the isolation cylinder toward the base's principle hospital. Celia followed a few steps into the side passage and watched the men push the tube away. She patted her breast pocket absently as she considered how similar the man's plight was to her own; sick, maybe dying, unable to communicate with those who could help, and though they each were surrounded by millions of people they were isolated and alone.

Celia turned back to the high school. She had to hurry now to be on time. She pulled at the sleeves of her jumpsuit, the cuffs barely reaching past midway on her forearms, and weaved between others in the passage. Reaching the front double doors to the grid of rooms used by the school she had a moment of panic, afraid she had left her ID card back at her cube. The few students ahead of her flashed their cards at the sensor, barely looking up enough for the retinal scan, and she dug in her breast pocket to fish out a thin, transparent card. She held it flat on her palm and blinked up at the card reader in the ceiling above the doorway and worried the device wouldn't read the card properly if she angled it incorrectly. The sensor recognized crystals imbedded in the card regardless of its angle, confirmed it against her retinal scan, and passed the information to the central computer reporting Celia was in class and on time.

The rest of her class was already seated when she slipped into the room. Celia smoothed her sleeves and folded her arms as she ducked toward her seat. No one looked up from their data sheets or broke off their conversations to greet her. No one even looked her direction to notice she had joined the class. She sat, slid her data sheet from her sleeve, and unrolled it onto her desk, smoothing it flat until it held its shape. Shifting on the seat to find a more comfortable position, the hairbrush fell onto the floor with a clatter and she remembered that she hadn't finished her hair. She knew it must be sticking out at embarrassing angles and if she only had the courage to look around her she would find the rest of the class sneering and laughing.

What is a Trigger Warning?

Claimer: (Not a disclaimer. I’m not trying to protect myself. I just want you to know something.)


A ‘Trigger Warning’ is a psychological term warning a reader, listener, or viewer of content that something in the following information may set off (trigger) a severe emotional reaction in some people who have experienced trauma in the past or who suffer from a variety of mental illnesses.

The story, “Trigger Warnings” is about several people who have suffered mental, physical or sexual abuse, or are suffering from other mental illnesses.

If you are triggered by non-suicidal self-injury, emotional abuse, sexual assault, or child sexual abuse you may want to proceed with caution, if at all. While sexual abuse and child abuse are not presented graphically, they are addressed.

If you find you are triggered by these stories—have a desire to self-harm, become depressed, have suicidal thoughts, etc—please contact your physician, a school counselor, a trustworthy family member,, or the suicide hotline (800) 273-TALK (8455). 

I am presenting these stories to raise awareness of mental illness and create support for those in need, not to cause harm. You have value, you are loved and there is help if you can bring yourself to look for it.