Thursday, February 25, 2016

2/25/16

Boundaries
By Peter McMillan


I'd been on station for two months and didn't have a good feeling about it. It's very different from Earth and even the ship that brought me here. My tour with Space Corps is for two years and I'm not liking my chances of settling in. I'm here, under the radar, so to speak, to investigate longstanding allegations of abuse and mistreatment.

We sleep in pods arranged like the long, flat safety deposit boxes you find in old-fashioned Earth banks. Just large enough to flex your muscles but not enough to turn over. It doesn't matter though because we all take meds to help us sleep, and there is next to no waking time in the pods.

We eat all our meals in the canteen, which is standing room only. Along the walls, the canteen is outfitted with dozens of tubes. We connect these to our upper abdominal ports. The feeding takes 15 minutes. There is no variety, just a uniform mixture of basic nutrients. Here too it doesn't matter since we bypass taste, smell, and texture. I learned this after trying several different tubes.

Sometimes when you get a tube it will still be dripping and you have to drain it and sterilize it. That's happened to me several times. Some people are so careless and what little bit of personal space there is they violate. It's not so much that there is the danger of infection—so we're told. It's the very idea of ingesting someone else's backflow, which is thoroughly disgusting!

The other bodily functions are managed through the lower abdominal port, which requires the same attention to personal space and sanitariness. The facilities are adjacent to the canteen and are equipped with larger plastic hoses that are supposed to be sterilized after each use. Just to be on the safe side, I sterilize the hose before and after use, no matter how long the lineup.

Physical contact is prohibited and every effort is made to ensure that it won't happen accidentally or intentionally. At our workstations, we're suited up and strapped in for 15 hours. You can't even tap your neighbour on the shoulder to ask a question. The range of motion won't permit it. Nonverbal communication is not allowed. You have to go through the chat line to communicate, and it's constantly monitored.

Chats are public, so sometimes people use code, but this is risky. The penalty for being caught is one month solitary detention in the Space Chamber where there is no light, no sounds or smells, and perpetual weightlessness. People are never the same when they return. I got to know the guy from pod 11471-AF before they sent him away. He was a vegetable when he got back, but he didn't stay long before they packed him off to Terra Chamber, a dead end for nonconformists.

One night I couldn't sleep. I hadn't deliberately refused the meds but I think they must have given me something else. I kept having paranoid thoughts that 11471-AF had informed on me. It also felt like bugs were crawling on me, and I couldn't reach them to scratch. I worried that the ingestion and excretion tubes were contaminated and that all sorts of nasty germs were affecting my body and my brain.

Without warning and with no explanation, I was pulled out of my pod and rushed to the Magistrate's Chamber.

“Mr. 14319-ZB, you know this is a Stage 5 classified station and everything that goes on here is top secret and that conspiring against the station's authority is a criminal offense?” asked the magistrate.

“Yes sir,” I answered.

“Mr. 14319-ZB, where are your notes?”

It was my notes they were after, not realizing that I possess an eidetic memory—a prerequisite for my line of work—which I meticulously layer with unrelated and misdirecting memories.

“I haven't taken any notes. I don't have access—“

“You've been observed meeting with 11471-AF and others in the tube stations. What do you have to say about that?”

“I befriended 11471-AF because we're from the same Earth city, Providence.”

“Now sir, no doubt you've heard what has happened to 11471-AF. Unless you cooperate—”

“I am … I'm trying—“

“Then what did you do with your notes? Your cooperation may be taken into consideration during sentencing, but—“

“OK, I used the chat line, but the reason your experts haven't been able to find my notes is that I encrypted them with an auto-delete feature.”

“Your saying, then, that the chats, er, the notes have been deleted? But we have real-time backups.”

“And each time you access my chats from a backup, the auto-delete feature activates.”

“So you're saying there's no way to access your notes?”

“That's right. Even I can't get to them because of the encrypted fail-safe that triggers the delete function.”

“Well, we'll see about that. Let's help you try to remember.”

That's when they severed my head and stuck my brain in a vat of chemicals.

I hadn't seen that coming.

“Now Mr. 14319-ZB, how did you encrypt your chats? What algorithm did you use?

The magistrate turned the questioning over to a cryptographer. Each time I was evasive I received a multi-sensory shock. Several hours into the interrogation, they switched to a different strategy. After making a number of recalibrations, they directly probed my memory center. All they learned was that my memories were inaccessible and interwoven with vivid recollections of urine- and feces-contaminated hoses and vomit-filled feeding tubes.

Now disembodied, it was clear I'd never return to Earth, and it didn't appear likely that any of my findings would ever make it back either. Essentially, my mission was a failure. However, if my record is discovered one day, it will be a damning indictment of the station's human rights violations. But from here in the vat, it seems that discovery will never be made.


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