006: Last Day, by Brandon Crilly

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About the Author: An Ottawa teacher by day, Brandon Crilly has been published in On Spec, Encounters, Nonlocal Science Fiction and other markets. He was a Semi-Finalist in the 4th quarter of Writers of the Future 2015. His first SF chapbook, Science is for Real, is now available at brandoncrilly.wordpress.com. You can also follow Brandon on Twitter: @B_Crilly.

Last Day

by Brandon Crilly

Carlisle glanced out each window down Rig Seventeen’s main corridor, taking in the view of the Pacific while he walked.

Everyone asked him about the job on the way to his duty station. He offered them the same shrug and smile, and some offhand comment like, “you know how it is,” or “won’t know until I find out.” Then, as much as he liked them all, he tried to get away as quickly as possible.

Alyx was the hardest to talk to, even though she was the only person who didn’t ask. It was because he got along with her the best; if they hadn’t been decades apart in age, he thought there would have been something more between them. They made their usual small-talk, Carlisle standing in the doorway of her office while she lounged in her desk chair.

Carlisle mentioned off-handedly, “Still haven’t heard anything yet.”

“Did you talk to Kurt?” Alyx leaned around to grab the protein shake from her desk.

“Not yet. He usually comes to me the moment he knows something.”

“Maybe bug him. He should know by now.”

“Yeah.” Carlisle glanced at the clock on her computer. “I’ll try to catch him on the way to my station.”

“Come talk to me after.” She straightened in her desk chair, posture already shifting from casual to work-ready. As he turned to leave, she smiled. “Onward and upward.”

“Here’s hoping.”

Carlisle bumped into Kurt, their rig captain, in the main corridor. Kurt had been coming to find him, red tie swishing in time with his rapid steps. The conversation went exactly how Carlisle expected, and the churning anxiety in his stomach transformed into a heavy mix of disappointment and acceptance as he walked the rest of the way to his station.

The sun seemed brighter than usual through the clear glass globe that surrounded his equipment. It looked like their one-man maintenance chief had removed every scuff and grease mark from inside the station. Carlisle made a note to thank Mac on his way out.

On my way out, he mused.

He started his shift in the same way every day. Thermos of tea in the cup holder next to him, he ran a quick systems check to make sure everything was primed, and then rotated the twin handholds, putting the massive tractor beam into a slow roll to look for kinks.

Once that was done, he leaned forward and stared out at the Pacific, taking in the sparkling waters, the low clouds on the horizon, and the bright blue sky. Even on days when it was raining buckets out there, the sight was no less beautiful. He still couldn’t believe there used to be a mound of garbage churning at the ocean’s heart.

Sometimes, he could spot the massive orbital cities glinting beyond the stratosphere – the vast orbital nation his colleagues called “on high.” Those cities were beautiful too, in their own way, even though the people there didn’t think twice about where their trash ended up.

Carlisle checked the sensors, but there was nothing on its way down yet. A slow start to his shift seemed best. It gave him more time to enjoy the view.

“Tried everything I could,” Kurt had told him in the corridor. The big, gray-haired man paced the width of the corridor while he spoke. “Even spoke to the Director. There’s no way around it. Lily’s got seniority, so she gets the spot.”

Doesn’t matter that I’ve been here over a year? All the work I’ve put in? Carlisle had almost said. He and Kurt had discussed the Collectors’ employment procedures at length, though, so he didn’t bother repeating himself.

“Your time’ll come,” Kurt had said. “The moment something else opens up, you’re a shoe-in. I mean, shit to Christ, not many people want to come work on a trash rig!”

Not many people know how amazing it is, Carlisle thought as he looked out at the Pacific. Hard and thankless sometimes, but he couldn’t imagine doing anything else. He had gotten the Rig Seventeen contract by a fluke, even hated it for a while, but now he didn’t want to leave.

The sensors chirped to signal a massive clump of trash heading their way, jettisoned from On High. The other duty stations confirmed that Carlisle had the best chance of securing it. He smiled as he brought the tractor up to full power and activated the targeting grid. Outside the globe, the tractor started to purr, almost as though it was eager for their first catch of the day.

A message flashed across his com screen from Alyx: Good hunting :-)

Carlisle grinned and gripped the handholds a little tighter. Then he spared one last glance out at the water below, and whispered, “Don’t you worry. I got this.”