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.