Science Fiction

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.