Spheroid dreams, head rumbles. Wake up. Peels of yellow and red paint stare from the ceiling, threatening to fall over Gaspar’s face. I am still here. A short sigh. Back in my room. Again. Dead and not anymore.
His room was a narrow corridor of grey metal, barely wide enough for a grown man to walk through, with a ceiling that, for some reason, was twice as tall as him. He only had the one window, twice the size of his head, to look outside, in front of the niche where his single-person bed was. A smaller niche on the wall next to the bed held Gaspar’s only possessions: an old holograph of a smiling boy with curly black hair and a thick, small, soft titanium sketchbook filled with detailed engravings of pairs of eyes, and the laser pen he used on it.
Eyes, eyes. The image still burned inside. With care, Gaspar reached for the sketchbook and laser pen. Flipping over the thin metallic pages covered in eyes he had drawn before, he settled for a blank corner in a page that had nearly half a dozen pairs of eyes. He set the pen over the page and began to trace across it. A a small reddish glow was emitted from the tip. Soon he had engraved a pair of eyes that looked sad. Not sad. Tired. They were tired. Like him. He still had long before his contract expired.
“Heeeeeey all you carbon-based cuties! It’s zero, eight hundred standard pan dimensional time. Rise and shine, spit and shave, twist and fade! You know the drill. We got some juicy bits and pieces this morning on the news! Stay tuuuuned.”
Hazy morning in Tube Three. Channel Void News in the background, Jonny Light’s falsetto cheerfully talking about another warp drive implosion incident, a hundred dead or so. Third one this month.
Globular-shaped neutron stars of purest black slowly drift pass the Ratmaze. Home, work, prison. A sprawling maze of interlocking tubes of all shapes and lengths that twist and bend over each other, snakes trying to strangle each other, slowly drifting along the void of dark space. The Ratmaze’s warp drives keep it drifting in perfect static orbit between the neutron giants. One slight hiccup in the system and they’d be all crushed into a micron in less than a millisecond. Gaspar looks outside from his shift glass window at the drifting neutron stars. He can’t but wonder for the millionth time, why are they still alive?
Crackling sounds begin to echo inside his head. Sense radio feed is starting to pick up from his frontal lobe. Right on time.
“Attention, c-personnel: skirmish begins in fifteen. Slackers get docked half a cycle’s pay. Absentees don’t get rez. Gear up and meet your CO. Work for it, meat.”, a gruff, tired voice spoke inside his head. Jullos was shift manager today, making sure everyone was on point. Gaspar wasn’t fond of him, but work was work. With an almost deliberate slow pace, he shuffles naked towards the far end of the room.
A wall of swirling colors stood in front of him. Violent reds circled around the length and width of the wall formed as Gaspar approached. The Mold was alrready hungry. Time to kill, time to die, time to dance. Deep breaths. He raises his hands. A heart beat. Gaspar plunges into it. The Mold wraps his body in color, soft and hard, filling him inside, covering his outside. Gaspar feels a thousand fingers touching his every orifice possible, every pore. Gagging. Violated beyond disgust, beyond shame. Before he can pass out from the sensation he is out. Into the void of space, wrapped up in the Mold’s protection. Ready for war. He glowed in a myriad of colors, a sliver of light in the gaping darkness. Ready to kill, die, fuck, anything. On with it. Gaspar turned his head to his left and right. Other colorful lights in the distance. Comrades.
“Attention recycled! This is Culva, I’ll be your CO today. Report!”, her voice wraps around his head like coils, tightening painfully. He’s heard of her. Suicidal; often leads squadrons to their deaths. The day might turn out to be interesting just yet. Gaspar only laments that like all commanding officers, she is stationed back on Earth, reporting via sense radio.
More names report. The Ratmaze provides. Some are absent, their contract fulfilled or they were not rez. Gaspar doesn’t linger too much on the idea, but instead watches ahead. A formation of what appear to be a great swarm of green lights grows larger as it approaches the Ratmaze, soon it will be upon them.
“Men, they are coming in force. Estimated numbers are around thirty thousand. We are not going to sit on our asses. We’re taking the fight to them. Vector Z formation. Gaspar and Ashbral, take point and hit them hard. Open the sides after initial impact. Then engage at will. I will reassess as needed. GO!”
Colors flew across the void. Gaspar and Ashbral flew in perfect sync, side by side, looking straight at the growing swarm. This war was old, very old. He didn’t remember the reason, but a contract was a contract. He still had a long way to go.
“How long?”, Gaspar found himself asking over his private sense channel directly to Ashbral. She glowed in hues of green and yellow, leaving a trail of violet. She remained silent.
“Two more years.”
And then she could return to Earth, or wherever the Hell she pleased. Two more years. They would be gone in an instant. The swarm started to occupy most of their vision, they started making out their slender, sylver oval shapes covered with compound eyes that glowed green and long metallic tentacles that whipped back and forth.
More silence. No more talking then. Good. One minute for impact.
“How about you?”
A wave of green energy interrupts Gaspar as it cuts between him and Ashbral. They hit the first enemy troops, colors clash and lights begin to go dark in the void of space. The fight lasts thirty minutes, ending when the enemy is routed: twenty thousand, four hundred and thirty two loses on their side versus four hundred and five. Ashbral was killed after the battle. A tentacle was too quick and decapitated her. Gaspar saw the surprised expression on her eyes as her head floated across the battlefield. He wasn’t worried, after the battle she’d be rez in another body.
“Well done, troops. Another victory for our company! Point people Gaspar and Ashbral get bonus pay. I’ll contact the Meat Shop to start squeezing a new Ashbral along with the rest of our casualties. In the meantime, those who are still alive, get back to your stations. You’ve earned some r&r.”
Back in bed, laser pen in hand, engraving. Gaspar finished sketching a pair of surprised eyes. He stared at them for the longest time with some envy. Five hundred years to go. Outside, black neutron stars drifted slowly close to them, always threatening them with oblivion, but not today. Not today. If only.