A computerized voice, soft and masculine, replied a split second later. "Current time is 0659."
I took a deep breath. The air that filled my lungs and caused goose bumps to rise on my bare damp skin was cool, and crisp, and highly filtered. The same air that I had breathed in and out a million times before. The same air that everyone else on the Heaven Down had been breathing for months. Simply filtered over and over again, stripped of everything that could remotely resemble "fresh air".
"Current time is 0659."
If my Dashboard was capable of judgment, I'm pretty sure it would label me as a psychotic freak. I can't think of very many young men who would spend half an hour standing naked, dripping wet, in front of a wall illuminated by the crystal screen of the highly sophisticated built in computer that dictated half of his life repeatedly asking the same thing over and over again for no apparent reason.
"Current time is 0659."
It's not that I'm obsessive with the time. I just literally had nothing better to do. My life was pointless, worthless, empty and hollow... until 0700, when the Dashboard would be updated, and my schedule for the day would be available. Even before... recent events, this had been typical of me. I'm impatient. I need to know what I'm doing with myself. Now more than ever before. There was so much that I had to do. Lost time to make up for. I needed to get to my Comet. I needed to know how the repairs were going. I could ask the Dashboard, but it would only give me the same report it did fifteen minutes ago. Status unavailable. I had to wait until 0700 when all the information that was available to me would be updated. Then I could find out about my ship.
Then I could find out when his ceremony would be held.
A hard lump developed in my throat. Breathing suddenly became a laborious task. My eyes were already shut, but now I squeezed them as tightly as I could. I couldn't cry. I refused to cry. I refused to be weak, to let my broken heart control me. The time for grieving was over. I had spend the last three days doing nothing but that as I laid in the medical ward. I was lucky. Most people didn't get that chance. The fact that I used those three nights to whimper into my pillow for him was selfish and disgusting. He never would have approved of it. I shouldn't pine for him. It wasn't like he was coming back. There was no point in wishing that he would.
"Dashboard! Time!" I shouted, my voice threatening to crack as I choked back my sorrow.
"Current time is 0700."
Finally! My eyes snapped open. The dull glow of the wide screen before me was the only light source in my room. When I reached out my left hand to touch the screen, the light intensified, bathing me and everything else in blue. With a few familiar strokes, my schedule for the day was spread out across the screen. It was bare and empty, as I predicted that it would be. In my condition, I was useless. A Dog without a Pilot was useless.
I had a doctor appointment in an hour. Not surprising. When they allowed me to return to my own room last night, they had informed that I would be back the following morning for further testing and analysis. I considered myself lucky that it wasn't earlier. This way, I could go to the mess hall and have some breakfast first.
The rest of my schedule was clear until 1800. The event entered for that time was marked simple as "memorial service". I had to close my eyes. I had to stop myself from crying. I couldn't afford to be weak anymore. Instead of thinking about him, I concentrated on my right hand slowly curling my fingers into a fist with soft metallic clicks before releasing it. I did this for several seconds until a soft ping from my Dashboard alerted me of a change to my schedule.
Meeting with Commander Sterling and mechanic captain, immediately after my doctor appointment.
My heart sank. The only possible reason I could think of for those two men to call me to a meeting at the same time was to inform me that my Comet was unsalvageable, and that I was being reassigned. That was just adding insult to injury. If that happened, they might as well just send me home. There would be no point in me continuing to be on this ship.
"Dashboard, Comet Echostar repair status."
There was a moment of silence as the computer searched for the information. "Repair status unavailable."
Of course. My ship was probably being dismantled to be used as parts. Whatever was left of it, that is. Not like I would be able to do anything with it, anyway. I didn't have a pilot anymore. And now that I thought about it as I turned way from my Dashboard and to my bed, I didn't deserve one.
My room, like all the rooms for soldiers aboard Heaven Down, was bare and void of personality. Everything was the same pale gray. Dull. Boring. Mind numbing. The Dashboard's blue screen was very welcome in an environment like this. Especially since it gave off enough light for me to be able to move around and not trip over my own two feet. There wasn't anything else to trip over, except, maybe, my uniform.
But it was resting on my bed, neatly folded and not at all threatening. Beside it was a white towel that had seen better days. I grabbed that first, using it to wipe away any lingering moisture from my shower some time ago. When it was no longer useful, it was dropped carelessly to the floor. I sighed as I grabbed the slick fabric waiting on the mattress. Like everyone else, my uniform was a jet black jumpsuit made of some light but sturdy material that vaguely reminded me of latex, and clung to my body's every curve like a second skin. At one point, it had been difficult to put on, but those awkward days were long over. Now I could only bitterly think how much easier it was to zip it up in the back with a partner to help, and how difficult it was to avoid using my injured arm.
I missed him so much.
My boots were retrieved from underneath my bed, and from inside the left one, my gloves. I disregarded the right glove, and turned my attention to the helmet sitting on the nightstand between my bed and... and the empty mattress across from it. The black object was shoved quickly down over my head. "Dashboard," my voice sounded filtered in my own ears. "Mirror mode." When I turned to it, I was greeted by my own reflection.
I looked completely unremarkable. Just like everyone else. With the visor of my helmet darkened, no one could see my face. Today, I was grateful for that. Today, the only thing that set me apart from the masses was the white block text printed down my left sleeve.
It was the only thing I was known by on this ship.
In order to exit my room, I touched the small white pad by the door. The panes of metal immediately retracted into the wall with a soft hiss, and I left my small sanctuary of gray in favor of the sterile white corridor. The doors slide closed behind me. I glanced back at them to see my tag printed across it. Right above it was SATURN 017-PA. Maintenance would be by to remove that part within a week. The thought made my stomach turn unpleasantly, and I hurried down the corridor with the sound of my own fleeing footsteps mocking me.
Already I could tell that this was going to be a long, horrible day. My suspicions were only confirmed as I rounded a corner and walked straight into a couple of people heading in the opposite direction. Just my luck. My victim and I both grunted upon impact and stumbled back. While I ended up flat on my ass, the other man was grabbed by his companion, and remained on his feet.
"Watch where you're going, moron!"
That voice. I recognized it. When I looked up, PLUTO 021-HN and his Pilot PLUTO 022-DZ were sneering down at me, helmets tucked beneath their arms.
"Aw!" The larger of the two males cooed. "A puppy with no master. Poor thing must be lost."
The Pilot rolled brown eyes at his partner. "More like a brainless rat. I'm actually surprised you've come out of your room, TJ. If I were you, I'd be way too embarrassed to leave."
Behind the dark panels of my helmet, my cheeks were burning with anger. "I have nothing to be embarrassed about." I carefully pushed myself back up to my feet, using my right arm as little as possible. "I didn't do anything wrong."
"Technically, no," DZ shrugged a shoulder. "But still. I'd be ashamed. That was some fight, huh? Those bastards get smarter and smarter every week. Sad to think that we lost seven guys. Might've only been two if PA hadn't been so determined to save you. Just think... because of you, people are dead. Poor little rat."
My fingers curled into a tight fist. My shoulders were shaking. I had to bite my lip to stop myself from saying something stupid. He was trying to bait me, trying to make me hit him so his Dog would have an excuse to take advantage of my weakness and beat the shit out of me. I couldn't afford that. Especially since that, in a way, he was right. My partner and most of the others would still be alive if it wasn't for my stupid mistake. It was all my fault, and everyone knew it.
PLUTO 021-HN and PLUTO 022-DZ laughed as I shouldered my way past them and stomped down the corridor. Behind my helmet, tears streaked down my face. I was glad no one could see that.