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Future Perfect

By Ika
Page 2 of 5

TWODAY

Eleven-thirty.

I lean against the wall of the empty smoke box, dangling my whole body limp from the nape of my neck, chewing gulps and gobs of smoke. Blake comes in, says "Hello, Della." I suspect I am supposed to be impressed.

"Hello, Blake."

He falls silent, smokes in quick grabs, shuffling the cigarette from fore/ middle fingers to thumb/forefinger as he raises it to his mouth. He looks pissed off. I warm to him slightly.

"Bad day?" I say.

He shakes his head, meaning yes. "The petty bureaucracy in this corp... I filled a form in incorrectly and the whole metals requisition has to be redone from the beginning." His voice scalds. He sighs. "I've heard that in Morsa - have you ever worked for Morsa?"

"Um." I think for a minute before I remember. "Yes. Last week."

"How is it there?"

"I don't remember... They have a smoke room in the building. And better coffee."

"Well," he says. "That's something, I suppose."

"Oh, wait," I say. "It's a mess."

"Really? No better than here?"

I take a drag on my cigarette. "I was there because there was a tech fuck-up," I say. "I never found out the details, but what it meant was that the numbers that had to go into the forms were..."

*

Fifteen-nine. The girl beside me pushes the off button on the comm so hard I'm surprised it doesn't break.

"Can you believe it," she says. "If I talked like that about his parents I'd never hear the end of it. My mother's coming to visit on Inday my father's on a week post to Mars and she gets lonely and he says Can't we get out of it. Can you believe it. Honestly I don't know why I put up with him." I haven't said anything. She looks at me. "Have you got anyone then?"

"No," I say.

"Aaah," she says vaguely, "never mind plenty of time." Her eyes have focussed past me now, making her face look slack and distant. She says past my left shoulder: "Tez you won't believe what my Derril just said to me."

*

Twenty-twenty. Barra and Jod and I are in the block bar, Forty-Zed.

"How was your viz?" asks Barra.

"Exciting," I say. "Vinanna's going to be promoted."

I don't know if they think I can't see the look they give each other. But they smile at me, so it's okay.

"Why do you like her so much?" asks Jod, and I answer.

"...I don't know. I suppose she gets all the good story lines. She's such a good actress..."

Jod grins. "I like her tits, myself."

WEDGEDAY

Ten-forty-three. I realize that I did exactly this same job three months ago.

*

Eleven-ten. Blake and I are in the smoke box.

"How long are you going to be with us?"

"A week."

"Is that usual?"

"Yes, unless you're being moved off labour pool to job-for-life."

"Oh? Would you like that?"

"No."

"Yes, I can see that labour pool would give you a lot more freedom."

Idiot. "It's not that. You need intensive retraining to switch."

"Ah," he says, and goes still. "And that wouldn't be pleasant? Stupid question. I've never heard of retraining that was."

*

Twenty-fifty-two.

We are sitting on our pillows in the hallway, drinking tea because everyone is quietly saving their booze rations for the shuffle party tomorrow night. Petra has left her door open and her viz is tuned to a music channel, softening all the voices into harmony, almost drowning the ten-minute lobbyserv announcement (This space is not designated social. Please return to your partments for the convenience of your blockmates. Thank you).

I am talking to Etta.

"Oh, the worst," she is saying. "One of the ones where they say here's your station Vix will show you everything you need to know and walk off."

"They're all the same, lifers," I say.

"Tell me about it. And they treat us like shit. I'd like to see them dropped in a new corp for a week, maybe they'd realize that it's not bloody self-evident that the toilets are on the next floor up and through three sets of doors."

"So wasn't this Vix any help?"

"Oh, Della, worst of the bloody lot. Wouldn't last a minute outside Dascorp. Like it was a law of the universe that req forms are filed by date and in forms are filed by colour. Lucky for her, really, not having to think, cos she only had about a quarter of her brain on the job. She's getting married in a couple of weeks. Fuck, everyone in the bloody section was engaged or married or registering for a kid. So of course I was subhuman cos I'm single."

I screw my face up sympathetically. "What about that man you met at Amcorp?"

She rolls her eyes. "Oh, Della, story of my life. Yet another one who doesn't know the difference between labour pool and consort pool. And he was so handsome, too..." She shakes herself, goes on. "What about you? You keep landing all the mining corps. Must be a few good ones there."

"Ah," I say deprecatingly. "They're all the same, lifers."

"Yeah. Lucky Barra, eh, landing the only man in labour pool."

"Not the only one."

"Feels like it sometimes," she says, looking around. "Oh, well. Maybe next week."

FOURDAY

Eleven-five.

"Our five minutes of freedom," I say to Blake. He smiles at me.

"Five minutes?" he says. "You're lucky."

*

I've done around a thousand jobs. I've hated all of them. But at least I've never hated my job for more than a week.

FIVEDAY

Eleven-fifteen. I'm putting my cigarette out, feeling obscurely as if I've missed out on something, when Blake comes into the smoke box.

"It's your last day today, isn't it?"

I nod.

"Listen. A few of my friends are meeting this weekend, in the Three Arrows. You might find some of them interesting."

"I'm being shuffled tomorrow."

"The day after. Inday."

"I'll be busy," I say.

"Seventeen-thirty," he says as I leave.

OUTADAY

Ten-fifteen. Barra and Jod and I are at the tram station with our trolleys full of cases full of clothes and bits and pieces.

My tram's announced. We hug and say "Miss you." It's just tradition in labour pool, but I might really miss them: I liked them. Without them we wouldn't have had the illegal couch. I'll remember that about Forty-Zed, the two weeks of nightly hallway parties.

I get on the tram, sit on my cases on my trolley, look at the viz, get off the tram. It's only two blocks walk to Seventeen-Q. I thumb the main door, find partment seven, thumb the door, walk in.

Jod was right, it's nice. The bed's firm, the viz is huge, the bookscreen - unscratched, uncracked - is still attached to its chain. The washroom is clean. Even the beakers and plates in the cupboard-washer by the ration machine are clean I wonder if this is the labour-pool version of a promotion.

I finesse my trolley into the space between the bed and the table, stand on the bed to put my clothes into the cupboard above. I put my stone jewellery box on the table, my bits and pieces in the washroom, collapse the trolley, shove it and the cases under the bed, and get myself a cup of tea from the machine.

*

Eighteen-forty.

I'm in the laundry room with Ventner and Rax. They're twentynothing and they make me tired: their tone, their pace, their energy, high high high. They're smart as paint, like the whole block: scrubbed and new and clean. I feel scruffy and clumsy, wedged in between two dry units. They stand against the opposite wall, facing me, three feet away. Rax is dark, Ventner is fair. The light is bright. They look like an ad.

"Where are you working next week?" Rax asks me.

"Vitec," I say.

"That's mining, isn't it?" asks Ventner. "Rax, didn't you work there last month?"

"Ooooh yes, so I did!"

This is very exciting for them.

"What's it like?" I ask, though I know what it's like. It's like Avtec and Admin Sector One and Admin Sector Four and Morsa and all bloody thousand of them, give or take.

"Well," says Rax importantly, brushing a tress of hair out of her eyes and leaning forward. "Oh, but I mustn't say anything bad about them, must I, Vent? Not in the laundry room," and they laugh. Some sort of block joke?

"What?"

"The woman who was here before you," says Ventner.

"Mad," says Rax.

"Completely mad," Ventner corrects her.

"Mensec took her away!" says Rax. Her dark dark eyes are huge, her mouth open with a child's half-guilty, excited shock. "It was Inday. I saw it."

"I didn't," says Ventner regretfully. "I had my door shut. I never heard anything."

"She was screaming all sorts of things. Mad things. She said they had spy cameras in the laundry room and they'd recorded everything she did and they were trying to poison her with the ration machine. Completely mad."

"She used to cook her own food," Ventner took up the story. "She had a little heater and she used to save up and every Outaday she'd buy bits of food on the Alpha levels."

"I always knew there was something funny about her. Didn't I say, Ven?"

"You did. I remember. When I first got here."

They turn their beautiful faces towards me in stereo. It's slightly unnerving. Rax is about to speak again when the dry units chime and she hurries to empty them, passing armfuls of clothes to Ventner and my three tunicsuits to me.

"Thank you," says the dry unit. "Please remember that this space is not designated social. Be courteous and keep it free for other users."

Ventner wrinkles her nose. "Spoil our fun," she says playfully. "Better go. See you soon, Della!"

They scamper off. I lean against the wall of the empty room and light a cigarette, watching their selfconscious little bodies disappear and shaking my head, thinking Was I ever that obedient? Even when I was twenty, before I knew my way around?

I'd like to see Jod and Barra, but there's nothing I can do about that.

I wonder about that woman, the one that was there before me. What sent her mad, had her screaming about routine surveillance and poison? Was it that she was too obedient, or not obedient enough?

I'll never find out from those girls. Too young to realize that mad doesn't cover everything, past present and future. It would be like asking What do you mean, blue? What do you mean, female?

I shiver a little as I stub my tab out and walk back to my clean partment, my scrubbed painted partment; my haunted partment.


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