“Bri, you just received an email from Preston at the United Space Federation. The subject line is: ‘In regards to your application at the Lunar Space Colony.’ Would you like me to read the message?” asked Toto, Bri’s custom built android.
“No, Toto. I’ve got it.”
Bri tapped her armband and brought up the email:
I am so pleased to share this news with you. Your references checked out, and we want to offer you the job on the Lunar Space Colony. Here are the details:
Title: Senior Mechanical Engineer
Salary: 20,000 credits, annual
You’ll be reporting directly to me. As soon as you get here, we’ll begin the onboarding process for the position. Until then, take it easy and rest up.
The next shuttle for the LSC leaves in two weeks, on Monday, January 21. You’ve been given clearance to board that flight. All you need to do is show up at the spaceport.
Due to the limited space inside the colony, you will only be permitted to bring two pieces of luggage and a carry-on bag. Everything you need for day-to-day life will be provided by the USF. We strongly encourage selling your Earthly possessions or putting them in storage.
Let me know your decision, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions.
Chief Engineer, Lunar Space Colony
United Space Federation
Bri smiled and paced around her small apartment. “Toto, can you believe it? I got the job.”
“Congratulations. I didn’t doubt your chances at all.”
Bri continued to pace around the room as she rattled off everything she needed to do before she left Earth—give notice to her landlord, sell all of her furniture, say goodbye to her friends and family, and pack.
“Task list created. Will you be taking me with you, or will the USF be providing you with a new android when you arrive?”
“Are you kidding me, Toto? Of course you’re coming with me. I already got it cleared with Preston.”
Bri checked in with the spaceport security and was given clearance to board the craft. She handed her suitcase over to the woman behind the check-in counter and then knelt down in front of Toto.
“I’m going to need to shut you down for a bit while we travel, okay?”
“Understood. See you on the colony,” Toto said. Bri reached around to the back of Toto’s head and held in the power button. Toto’s limbs folded up to close to its body, and its head bent forward. The spaceport staff member walked over, picked up Toto, and set it on the conveyor belt with the rest of Bri’s luggage. Bri thanked the woman and made her way to the terminal.
Eternally early, Bri had four hours until boarding began. There wasn’t another soul in the terminal yet. She found a seat by the window and watched the maintenance crew prepare the shuttle. She took a deep breath and shut her eyes.
Bri couldn’t look away as the shuttle began to approach the colony orbiting the Moon. The colony was cylindrical with half of the lateral region covered with alternating rows of dark tinted glass and solar panels and the other half covered in a solid white metal. The moon looked massive hovering behind the colony with its faint gray glow.
The shuttle flew to the top of the colony, and two large mechanical arms reached out and pulled it into the bay. She saw a person in a spacesuit float by the window, leading a large hose toward the shuttle. Bri’s eyes got dry from not blinking—she didn’t want to miss an instant. Once the shuttle docked, Bri shuffled off with the rest of the passengers into the terminal.
A man stood waiting. Small circular glasses sat on his dark nose. He was frail and bent over like an old man, although he looked no older than forty. When he saw Bri, he smiled, lifted up his left hand, and walked up to meet her.
“Hello, Bri. It’s nice to finally meet you in person,” he said. He talked in a slow, monotone voice.
“It’s nice to finally meet you too, Preston,” Bri said as she shook his hand.
“How was your flight? I’m glad you made it on time. Sometimes the shuttle is a few days early, other times a few days late.”
“It was incredible.” Bri moved her hands in the air as she described the joy of seeing Earth for the first time with her own eyes.
“Shall we?” Preston asked as he extended his arm down the hallway. He walked as slow as he talked, but Bri didn’t mind. She was still soaking in the sights and sounds of being on the colony she had spent so much time admiring from Earth. Preston led the way through the spaceport as they continued to converse.
To the left of the exit was the luggage claim area. Sitting side-by-side was Bri’s luggage and Toto. She walked up to Toto and held down its power button until it beeped three times. Toto’s arms and legs unfolded, and it rotated its back and forth to survey the room.
“You must be Toto,” Preston said. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Bri during her interviews.”
“You are correct. I am Toto. Based on 200 points of photographic matching data, you are Preston.”
Preston nodded and said, “You’re a sharp one, Toto.”
Preston drove Bri to her new apartment, about 15 minutes from the spaceport. Bri’s eyes were glued to the colony. It looked like the Earth she had only seen in photos—green, vibrant, full of life. She wiped away tears from her eyes when she saw the Moon, Earth, and Sun through the colony’s ceiling.
The apartment was one of fifty units in the five-story tall building, which was pragmatic and without ego. Bri’s new home was exactly what she expected based on the building—a simple and clean single bedroom apartment. It had the basic furniture one would need for day-to-day life, but no character.
“The fridge gets stocked with food weekly, courtesy of the USF. You’ll find your work uniform in the dresser.” Preston scratched his head and said softly to himself, “Is there anything else? I should really write this all down.” He cleared his throat. “Ah, yes. Your first day, how could I forget? Take the next two days to rest and adjust. We start at 0700 UTC, so I’ll see you then.”
“Great, thank you. I appreciate you picking me up at the spaceport and showing me around. I can’t wait to start.”
“On behalf of everyone at the United Space Federation, welcome to the Lunar Space Colony. We’re happy to have you.”
The two days before starting her new job were filled with lots of sleep and exploring the neighborhood. Every person she walked by waved at her. Bri waved back. They all walked slowly, like Preston. The LSC was filled with an eerie contentment that clashed with the dire circumstances of Earth’s degradation.
Bri showed up for her first day on the job at 0645 UTC and was directed to wait in the lobby for Preston. She took a seat and flicked through the news on her armband. Bri decided to leave Toto at home for her first day. She stood up as she saw Preston approaching and greeted him.
“I trust your accommodations have been sufficient?”
“Yup, all settled in,” Bri said. Preston led the way as they walked through the USF Engineering building. Preston introduced Bri to the fellow staff. Bri noticed they all seemed to move a bit slower than people did on Earth. They continued to make their way through the building.
“As I mentioned during your interview, below the floor of the colony is where all of the machinery lives that powers it.” The door to a freight elevator opened, and the two of them stepped inside. “We refer to this section of the colony as the Basement.”
“Original,” Bri said with a chuckle.
“It’ll take a few weeks to fully understand how the Basement works. It’s responsible for nearly every critical function of the colony, from artificial gravity to maintaining our orbit around the Moon.”
Bri couldn’t tell if the elevator was in motion or at a standstill. Soon enough, the doors opened. The Basement was a series of well-lit metallic hallways with no windows. Preston led the way through the Basement, which was chillier than the residential division the colony. Bri recognized most of the machinery, but some of the space-specific equipment was new to her.
“There’s a lot going on down here,” Bri said.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be learning it all soon enough. The Basement is where we engineers spend most of our time,” Preston said. “Something to always keep in mind is the purpose of this colony, which I tried to make clear in your interview. We are here to prove that space colonization is not only possible but is the future. Nothing can go wrong here. We cannot introduce any more doubt than what already exists.”
“That makes complete sense. I totally agree,” Bri said.
“The LSC is the most significant achievement of humankind this century. This is the future of the human race.”
Bri nodded her head in silence.
A month had passed, and Bri was learning the ropes quickly. Nearly all of her work was preventative maintenance, which was where all new engineers started on the colony. In her off hours, she spent her time drafting up plans for how to build her own parts to replace those already in use. Bri’s specialty was improving the efficiency of machines.
“Something about this place seems off,” Bri said to Toto. She was lying in bed, flicking through her email on her armband.
“How so?” asked Toto.
“Well, I noticed it the day we arrived. Everyone here talks slowly. And I’m not exaggerating. It’s everyone. They also don’t have any emotional highs or lows. They’re like a bunch of robots, no offense.”
Bri laughed. “The strangest thing is that I’ve started to notice it happening to myself. It feels like my emotions are disappearing.”
“I am afraid you never programmed me to analyze your emotions, so I can’t help you with that,” Toto said.
“Bri, you look malnourished. Have you been eating and drinking?” Preston asked.
“Why didn’t you tell me about what was being introduced to the food and water supply?” Bri asked. “You must have known I’d figure it out. Do the other colonists know?”
“Some of them, yes.”
“And they’re okay with it?” Bri asked.
“They don’t have much of a choice. It’s either eat and drink the food we have or die. There are no other options. They’re happy to be here and not on Earth. We can’t have any wildcards here, Bri. It’s too risky. You must see what the stakes are.”
Preston’s monotone voice wasn’t convincing at all. Hungry and tired, Bri could barely stand, but she wouldn’t let herself sit down.
“You are taking away these people’s ability to feel! I don’t want your food or your water or your drugs. I’d rather be my full self on Earth than a fraction of myself up here.”
Collected in Fleeting