It was hard to see any more than a stone's throw away in the thick mist that surrounded them, but the two heavy set men trudged through it all the same. The mist, better described as a gaseous soup, changed colour with the varying levels of light cutting through it, from a thin wispy pink right in front of their faces to a much denser mauve at the limits of their sight. The colour wasn’t what was on their minds though, and the way it shifted with the light was barely recognizable from behind the thick, air sealed facemasks that the pair adorned.

It was easy to get lost in the smog, and regular contact between the men on the ground and the eyes back at communications was the only thing keeping them in a straight line. The floor had no features, no familiar landmarks which months of walking past would burn into your memory banks, just legions of tiny rocks that would rattle and jump as the ground shook with each compression cycle. no matter the size of these stones, any could easily land a man on his back if he were not careful, and dragging feet was a bad habit that usually ended in injury or damaged equipment: injury being the less expensive, and therefore the most preferred. although the direction the jumping stones would travel was a good adlib solution to making your way to the center of the crater if your personal radio wasn’t working and, as long as you didn’t walk into another patrol and get shot, or get too close to the giant extraction units dotted around the building, you would eventually find your way home.

Brandon and Tomos never had these problems, however: their masks, custom straps fitted snugly around their bald heads, illuminated by the blue neon strips that ran down the side narrowed their vision by a few degrees but giving clearer visibility and definition at range and up close. The non-standard communication software never failed, partially because it was military standard, the rest because it didn’t come from a company where they were built to fail; unreliability being the only cure for market saturation. As for their footing, two years’ experience ensured each and every step gave enough clearing to keep going, even with the colossal weight they carried around with them.
Tomos looked down at the dials on his left forearm.

"Think it's time for a quick update from the tower?" his voice came through clean and clear into Brandon's earpiece.

"That's a plan," came his reply, equally sharp and defined "although I don't think it's necessary. You want to do it?"

"Sure."

Tomos flipped the channel onto the SEC-COMM bandwidth; he winced for the few seconds that it took to readjust the gain and volume, the mass-use wavelengths experiencing severe distortion and the occasional bout of white noise. He began to chatter, his voice a distant muffle to Bran, stood barely five meters in front of him. Brandon stayed on the personal channel and waited for Tomos to tune back in, his hands flexing over the grips on his weapon, and his eyes scanning the ground and space in front of him furiously. It was easy to feel lost with only the sound of blood being pumped around your body to keep you company.

His ears suddenly filled up with another person's breathing.

"We’re nearly all good, Bran. Seems we've been listing somewhat since the last checkpoint. Just shift a few degrees to the left, that or grow your right leg an inch."

"I heard that it was something else she said should be an inch longer."

Brandon's ear was flooded with a deep guffaw, and was sure that even if the condensing plant wasn't running at capacity, the ground would still be vibrating from the heavy set man's laughter. Brandon Delloa smiled to himself at the thought of a man moving a world.

"We say that's what she said! Just heed the correction, you fool."

"That's a plan."

Brandon keyed the information into his arm and waited for the beep as his heading lined up with the amended bearing, he held up his hand as the chime sounded, and received a terse response in confirmation from Tomos.

The pair set off into the fog and towards the next checkpoint, joking and laughing as they went.

*****

Edwin Wekr had his own berthing, but he always felt more at home around his work, and thusly had a cot set out at the back of the machine shop. He wasn’t the only tech specialist working at the plant, not the most senior, but he kept the most unusual hours. As opposed to the ten on ten off that all other employees down in the basement took, Wekr preferred to slog out a solid twenty-five (aided by the high calorie foodstuffs he managed to procure and cook without anyone noticing), and slept through the seven hour period it took for the condensing units to empty (again through the aid of mysteriously procured substances).

He woke to the gentle throbbing from the alarm on his watch, something he had to set manually each and every time his head hit the pillow, as this ancient piece of tech ran with gears and cogs as opposed to the “cheating” digital ones which adjusted themselves to the planetary calendar. He clicked the dial on the side and slipped it over his bony hand with its elongated fingers and fastened the straps around his wrist, rubbing his eyes he shuffled to the edge of the mattress that occupied the far corner of the room he kept all the broken equipment brought to him by all the other faculties and departments in the gigantic building that was Condenser XIV. Wekr was somewhat of a prodigy when it came to repairs, and whilst there were a number of technicians that were just as capable of doing the job right and perhaps quicker, with Wekr you were sure of astounding craftsmanship (and even a few modifications if you asked, or he liked you).

The water-recyc unit he had made from a few pieces of an old pump, scrap metal and some UV light tubes rattled slightly as it chugged water out of the pipe at the its top into a basin unit perfectly level with Wekr’s chest, and set about scrubbing his face, arms and upper body with a jolly tune whistling from his lips. He shut down the machine and drying himself off he threw a black leather jacket over his head and slipped his arms through the shoulder cut sleeves, ending his happy tune he pressed his pair of earphones into place and synched them with the music player he had clipped to his waist belt, the offbeat tunes from the sector capital charts banged into his head and he stepped up his slow dragging feet into a more enthusiastic trot. He headed over to his pressure cooker and accessed the hidden cache of dehydrated carbstuff he guarded so zealously.

Wolfing down the last of the stringy noodles and pieces of meat, he ditched the bowl and headed into the machine shop proper, filled with rows upon rows of junk, spare parts, and a few well hidden special items. Nodding his head to a more uplifting tune he grabbed a piece or two down off the first row and placed them in a crate he was hefting around, and checking with the list he placed in the box he headed down to the end of the row, nodding to a few dirt and oil ridden, weary eyed colleagues and sat down at his desk back in the room he slept in.

The room began to vibrate and loose fittings rattled in their sockets, equipment shuffled around in boxes on the floor and shelves as a nullifying hum reverberated through the walls and the music in his ears was quickly drowned out, he shut the tiny units down and put them back into his top pocket. Wekr’s seven hours of R&R were over and he leant down to his tool box and began to tinker with the work on his desk, a smile crossed his face and, despite the din began to whistle.

*****

The south-wing refectory in the building was rarely empty, much alike the other three wings, with at least a third of the entire buildings cookeries and licensed premises being open around the clock, what with all the conflicting shift hours that its workers keep. the massive halls were empty and devoid of any character, each housing the cooking vats monotonously manned by hard faced and sweating drones, the room separated only by the distribution lines that ran from these broiling areas to the opposite wall, and filled in between by rows of benches and tables. Overseers with no actual authority would hurry people along, guiding and pushing them through the lines of service, and occasionally forcing lingerers and slow eating patrons to leave. One table was avoided by them, perhaps from the lasting reek still lingering about the diners, but more likely because of the diners themselves.

A gaunt faced man leant back casually in his chair, playing with the scraps of food on his plate with the steel fork he'd kept around in his kit for the past two years; he sipped a cooling caffeine drink he'd openly laced with liquor. His companion sat across from him, leant over his steaming food and gingerly picking at it, his hard round face contrasting the gaunt man's perfectly.
The gaunt man finished his brew and set down the container, his eyes scanning the room and focusing on people who walked by with deadly purpose, a sinister smile adorning his face. The round faced man continued to pick at his food, his eyes filled with a quiet malice at his partners actions.

"Watch you with them eyes, man."

The gaunt man snorted and chuckled to himself, he sat back further with his hands behind his head, his elbows stretched high.

"My eyes, good friend, will wander wherever they wish." he turned to his left and eyed a woman at an adjacent table, he make a kissing noise through his teeth. She returned his stare with disgust and made her way out towards the door. The hard eyed man swallowed his last bite.

"See, man. Trouble them eyes will get you. Trouble not the plan, man."

The hard eyed man's last remark ushered a belly laugh from the gaunt man, sitting forward for the first time and resting his arms on the table.

"Don’t you worry about the plan, my friend," he looked over towards the door, as the woman left she turned and extending her middle finger towards him before she left, "everything’s under control."

*****

The klaxon in the elevator sang out in its tinny and flat, monotone voice.

"Level Four. Communications."

The carriage rattled and ached as its brakes screeched, slowing down the two by two meter lift that someone from a more advanced region of space may call a death-trap.

The porter on the communications floor lifted the security bar from its resting trough and latched it to its housing on the opposite wall, he dragged his feet as he hauled the door shutter open, his eyes looked dead and his face was frozen in permanent emptiness.

Much alike the travellers in the lift.

The twenty-something personnel crammed into the car flooded out and began to disperse down the mass of corridors that branched out from the elevator, the only hindrance to the flow of people getting off were the ones who were trying to get on, only one person in the entire mix looked like they didn’t belong.

Palace Munrow stood an entire foot above the next tallest woman in the atrium and put the male clerks to shame in terms of build and when it came to it, strength. her hair, which would naturally hang down way past her shoulders was pinned up in accordance with the mandates and guidelines, something she endured and didn’t hate as much as the clothing regulations: used to the baggy fatigues and boots that she would typically adorn off-world, they were now confined to her off time, and she stood now in her dull grey suit with shoes to match: her trademark long stride being replaced with the trademark long and thin skirt of the communications department, that kept her quick stride to a slower, much more "feminine" catwalk. One which she had barely gotten used to over the last two years.

exiting the atrium she headed on down a corridor with SEC-COMM-WEST stenciled on the wall in giant red letters, a few others from the elevator ride were also heading down in her wake, as the presence she possessed ensured a clear straight walk as opposed to the zigzags and weaving that everyone else had to do to avoid oncoming traffic.

The communications floor was the first floor above the gas-cloud, or the last to see sky if you were looking down, was broken up into four divisions; the smallest was Internal/External: responsible for the chatter in-between departments and the other refineries that dotted the moon; Air-Traffic and its sister division Space-Traffic: directing the actions of crafts ingoing and outgoing at an atmospheric and orbital level respectively; and finally Sector-Command: in charge of the ground forces in the area and the biggest division of communications by far.

Sector-Command was manned by over five-hundred personnel at any one time: its duties involved the course correction of patrols, the management of response teams such as repair and interception, and the monitoring of every radio frequency beneath the stars in search of anyone operating outside the employ of the LMC.

Once she received her duties from the contract booth, Palace Munrow headed into the communications room proper. Rows upon rows of vestibules and desks filled the room and behind each one sat a chattering body, relaying information and data to a thousand different places. Palace found her row and set off down the aisle that she would be confined to during her eight hour shift, exchanging smiles with the faces she had got to know, and fake smiles with ones she knew too well. Settling down at her desk she started her usual routine: adjusting the seat to her liking, unloading a few personal trinkets onto the desk to distract her from any boredom, and fitting her own headset into the computing unit. She sighed as she fitted it over her ear and extended the microphone piece over the corner of her lips, a red blip appeared on the display in front of her and she selected it with the cursor unit. More information about the blip rolled down the screen.

"Sec-Comm to unit one-oh-seven-seven, standby and be advised for course correction."


Joe Curry

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