Art Pact 157


On Earth the job would have been nothing but oversight - watching the bots popping rivets onto the inside of the warehouse. But there was no room for dead weight on the colony, so I was one of the machines I was supervising. It was hot work, the suit's cooling system was designed to take account of the thin Martian wind and the stagnant air trapped within the enclosure kept the heat of the three robots uncomfortably close.

We'd got to the half-way stage ahead of schedule, so I left the machines to their task while I popped open my suit's bubble-front and made myself comfortable on the stack of shelving parts that were to go up next. Poor food, as always, the dried crap we'd brought with us on the ship mixed with the tasteless mush that the greenfingers were growing in their hydroponic tubes. Still, it's all good with mustard. I was halfway through a sandwich when I got a call on the network. Blue indicator - someone on the orbiting ship, which meant an actual conversation rather than an hour-long stutter of words interspersed with three minute silences.

"Mmm-hmm?" I mumbled through a mouthful.

"Dana, this is Gleeson."

I knew that. It said on the inside of my glasses. It had always said that on the inside of everyone's glasses ever since mission training, but Gleeson still insisted on announcing himself as though my eyes didn't work.

"Mmm-huhum," I tried to tell him. I refused to chew faster just so I could get into some bullshit conversation more quickly. Lack of chewing is what promotes obesity, I'm sure of it, and despite the near-perfect nutritional balance of our food rations, there was no sense getting into bad habits. One day the colony would have sweets, beefburgers, everything - well, maybe not strictly "beef" burgers, but something equivalent - and if I just started wolfing food down now I was going to have trouble fitting into a worksuit shortly after that day came.

"I'm just checking in on progress, as you know the warehouse is vitally important for the expansion into the northern regions of the crate." That little new information barely warranted acknowledgement of any kind, so I just nodded briefly at the screen. "I wanted to make sure that things were going according to plan. I see you're on your break."

I swallowed.

"I'm on a break, yes."

"Is there a problem?"

"No problem. I'm ahead of schedule, so I took a break."

"OK, well just so that you know that it's vital we get that warehouse commissioned by the end of the week, so it would make us up here all feel a lot better if you were able to report that you'd pushed through and got things finished early on your side."

"I don't know what to tell you, Gleeson," I said. "I'm ahead of schedule, so I'm taking a break. If you want to come down here and push some rivets in yourself, you're quite welcome. I'll get one of the bots to give you a gun."

"Haha." He didn't laugh - he actually said the words, mirthless as ever. "But seriously, Dana, you're just kidding, right, you understand how important this work is?"

Of course I understood. I understood that our yields weren't what they should be, that there was no point building a warehouse out here when we had nothing to store in it, that while we were eating the hydroponic food faster than it was growing there was no sense in building anything other than greenhouses. I understood that much, and yet for some reason I was still sitting in this carbon-dioxide soup banging in rivets alongside the three robots would could easily have been retasked for agricultural work. But I also understood that the pictures being taken from the orbiter were the official record of the colony growth, and that no-one back on Earth was going to be looking at the raw figures because the news-sites would only be interested in photos. I didn't say any of that, though.

"I understand," I said. "It'll get done by the deadline. Probably before, but definitely by the deadline. Your plan won't be affected."

"And it has to be done right," he said. I stopped mid-bite, put my sandwich back into its container.

"Right." I said. My tone of voice must have been pitched perfectly, because Gleeson backpedaled like a unicyclist heading onto a freeway.

"I know you'll do a good job, of course, it's just important to the expansion plan."

"How about you don't tell me how to build warehouses and I don't tell you how to-" to pull the wool over people's eyes. "Never mind. I'll do the job right."

I cut the link before my anger got the better of me again. Fucking management, always the same. You can come to a completely new world, but the arseholes who come along with you are the ones you've always known. Just because you're a builder and not one of the scientists they treat you like a brainless drone.

The fact of it was, there was a tiny grain of truth in it all. I was not quite as smart as some of the people on the base. But you come last in the hundred meters at the Olympics, that doesn't make you slow, right? I wasn't just some navvy, for god's sake, I was a fucking astronaut!

I finished my meal deliberately slowly, chewing each mouthful a good fifty times so that I spent at least quarter of an hour just shuffling tasteless mush from one area of my tongue to another. I let my mind go blank, but when I finally got up I discovered that I'd made a decision. This was a new world - a red world, I told myself, smiling smugly at my own pun - and it was time that I did things a new way. I examined the warehouse carefully. From the outside it could easily keep its looks without affecting how it would work as a greenhouse.

"New plan, boys," I told the bots, bringing up their programmes.

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