Chapter 2: Every Breath You Take, Every Drop You Make
You are reading " Tales of the Algorithm". A compendium of near-future sci-fi stories. Each chapter is a stand-alone adventure set a few days from now .
Everything you read is possible – there’s no magic, just sufficiently advanced technology. Think of them as technological campfire horror stories.
Your feedback on each story is very much appreciated.
And so, let’s crack on with…
I remember every single drop of water I wasted when I was still on Earth. I know that may surprise you, but I can picture each one vividly. I can hear the glug of water as I let the tap run while brushing my teeth. That ice-cube I just threw into the rose bushes. I can feel the dregs of my beer spilling onto my t-shirt. I resent every tear I ever cried. I know that’s ridiculous, but that’s what thirst does to you.
Water isn’t just rationed up here. It is a sacrament. Doled out to the faithful and withheld from the transgressors. And we are all sinners in His eyes. It is only through His blessing that we are on this sacred journey. So we can’t get too het up about the lack of water. We’re going to be part of history – and our constant thirst is a small sacrifice.
A few monthsin and we’ve already developed our own little rituals around the scant water we are offered. I place a drop on my cheek, in His memory. Half of us do this, and the other half kiss that symbolic teardrop away. It doesn’t feel silly when we do it. It feels profound and beautiful. Next week will be my turn to kiss the teardrop and I’m already desperate for it.
Twoof the crew were reprimanded last week . They were caught – and I know this sounds disgusting – licking each others’ sweat. There are strict rules about this. We sponge ourselves off and put those sponges in the recycler. It syphons off all the liquid and purifies it. It is returned to all of us so we can all benefit. Yes, of course, He takes a small tithe. But that’s no more than what He is due.
And yet. Let he who is without sin, throw the firststone. Last week I was floating near the computer terminals when a glimmer caught my eye. Evidently there had been a small coolant leak. Nothing major; the autonomous systems had repaired it quickly. But the sudden shock of cold had caused a dozen droplets of condensation to form on the window. Each one of them was more radiant than the stars they obscured. They glistened. They tempted me with their voluptuous beauty. I was enraptured. I drifted closer to them. Water. Pure liquid. Hanging there.
Was this a test? Surely not. He trusts us. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t His most loyal followers. "There’s no one else", He’d once said, "No one else I’d trust to keep me safe. You, who have paid to be my loyal followers."
I should have reported it. I know that. But in an instant my tongue was pressed against the window. I felt no shame. The desire for water was so overwhelming that it short circuited all my other thoughts. I felt whole and at peace. Later that evening I cried. I took a pipette from the science lab, sucked up each tear, and deposited them back into the recycler. Perhaps a meaningless act of penance; but one I felt compelled to perform.
There will be freedom in the Martiancolonies. We all truly believe that. If we keep our faith, we’ll live free under the eyes of Phobos and Demos . And I have faith. He has promised that His robots will have constructed habitats for us. His estimates can be a little off – He’s not infallible!!! – but I have no doubts in my mind that we will have shelter. And, if not exactly on the delivery date, then soon after.
I think the others make fun of me sometimes. They’re all rationalist and seem to distrust the idea of having an Official Astrologer on board. But as I keep explaining, it is vitally important that someone on board is looking out for their Astral Welfare. All Zodiacs are predicated on the idea that the chart is being read for someone on Earth . But we’re no longer on Earth ! We’re hurtling forwards. Every single degree we drift further out of the bounds of accepted wisdom when it comes to star charts. Is Mercury in retrograde if your frame of reference is accelerating towards a rising Mars ? Wouldn’t you like to know!
And so, every morning, I calculate a new horoscope for Him. This helps Him understand His place in the universe and how best to guide us. Of course, now He has taken a new bride (having cast out the old one) I also have to draw up a chart for her! The hope is that this one becomes pregnant at an auspicious time.
I draw up charts for whoever wants them – but sadly few among us see the predictive value. So I spend my days drawing up a new Zodiacfor Mars . If I please Him, I will go down in history as the first Astronomer Royal of Mars ! Can you imagine?
The electrics failed today. Just a few flickers, but enough to set people worrying. A software upgrade that didn’t take, apparently.
Todaywas a blessed day .
A few weeks ago, our Oxygen generators failed. The CO2 scrubbers gave up shortly afterwards. As He says, there is still enough air. We just need to be careful with it. We spend our days in our bunks, keeping as still as possible. Shallow breaths. The CDB levels in our rations have been increased, which is nice. Everything’s nice. It’s a relaxing way to travel. Gently stoned and basking in his bliss. There’s some talk about jettisoning the non-fertile females (quite why He brought them along I don’t know!) but I doubt it will come to that. I know He will prevail.
But this morning, I received a quadruple water ration! I asked what I had done to deserve such an honour.
It’s true. Most of the crew are on the younger side – but I’m the youngest. I was basking in the feeling of a belly full of water. The itch had gone from my eyes. My tongue felt lithe and supple. Perhaps it was the lack of oxygen, but I wanted to kiss everyone!
In the evening, just after singing the company song, I was doubly blessed. I was hauled out of my bunk and taken to medical. The nurse wore a smear of lipstick. I knew it was His favourite shade, but we were usually forbidden from gazing upon it. I’ll be honest, it had been so long since I’d seen a live woman, I was completely flustered. Whereas all the men wore drab grey baggyjumpsuits, He had designed the nurses’ uniforms to be bright white. Tight. With delicate embroidery to draw your eyes to the breasts. A frill – in emulation of a miniskirt – flapped uselessly around her groin.
When some of the crew selfishly complained about the crude objectification, He graced us with his wisdom.
"C’mon!" He had posted on our internal social network, "It’s just a harmless joke!"
She pushed me on to the medical table, flicked a few switches, and watched placidly as the robotic tendrils strapped me down.
"What in His name are you doing?" I whimpered.
" Blood." She replied monotonously. "He needs young blood. The younger the better."
The needle pierced my skin and I watched as my plasma was pumped into a bag.
And that will be my new routine. In exchange for extra water, I shall willingly donate my blood to the cause.
Todaywas supposed to be glorious. He was all smiles during the quarterly update call. He was telling us how, while we may have missed this specific deadline, He was confident that we would land soon. Sadly, as we were so far behind schedule, he had no choice but to promote some of the crew to acceleration.
The constant blood-lettings had left me tired and withered. My mass felt so frail and pathetic compared to His bloated glory but I desperately wanted to believe that this sacrifice was enough. Naturally, He didn’t come down himself to strap me into the tube; he had a functionary do it for him.
I blasted out into the indifferent vacuum of space. My last sight, before the blessed end, was of a gleaming aluminium lump hanging against the starfield. I saw the harsh angular lines, the superfluous spoiler above the engines, the ill-fitting seams holding together my erstwhile home.
And on its side, sprayed in letters a dozen metreshigh, the logo of the Mars Unlimited Space Kompany .
I’d love your feedback on each chapter. Do you like the style of writing? Was the plot interesting? Did you guess the twist? Please stick a note in the comments to motivate me.
You can read the complete set of short stories in order.