Ox was running late again. To get to work, he had to cut through thick cold darkness from his cluster of lights to the next. The walk was long. The freezing air would pierce the flesh deeply like teeth of a carnivore.
Just two days ago the boss warned him sternly that coming in late was not tolerated. Ox dreaded, expected, and wished to just be terminated already. Was it the nature of the job, or the complete disregard for tact and competence that his boss displayed on a regular basis that made him feel this way? Either way, Ox had enough of travelling to work before dawn and coming back after sunset. I was not because he had much else to do with his day, but because the dark parts of the day were too cold and too dangerous around here.
Also, the company was saving no lives or doing nothing remotely useful.
Today wasn’t so bad. Five in the morning darkness was less dense and Ox lifted his head up to look at countless stars spilled across the sky. “Pretty”, he smiled at the endless, ever expanding, pulsating sky. The twin moons smiled back with their lazy reassuring crescents.
Suddenly, a quick rustling next to Ox’s feet turned into a sensation of a warm, sticky sheet wrap itself tightly around his entire body. Ox stood still, squinting and holding in a giggle – the animal was harmless, though it was scouting the tasty prey for dead skin cells, and, inconveniently, for all exposed body hair which it promptly dissolved and suctioned off. Satiated, the sheet hurried away, making tiny squeaks and leaving a slippery trail. Freshly smooth-skulled Ox kept on walking, wondering about more encounters with harmless wildlife today – those tended to be more active on milder nights.
Most of the planet’s lifeforms, including the three species we were able to communicate with (and manage to avoid conflict with), were nocturnal. Apparently direct harsh sunlight happened to be unbearable for them, and the polar nights were not fun for us. So it was settled and we were settled with little compromise.
The local cities tended to be semi or fully subterranean; ours were on or above ground. We wouldn’t dig tunnels or disturb local wildlife or resources. Their wildlife mostly was asleep during the day and at night mostly didn’t go out of its way to attack alien life forms (we smell weird), save for some notable and gruesome exceptions. Both us and local used this sun for energy. The locals were more efficient but we also eventually caught on.
Now Ox felt familiarly bitter. It was this dumb contrast between the alleged wonder of exploration and the execution. When our planet went to shit we set out to explore new places, make a new home, work on past mistakes:
- Dead world after dead world
- Repopulating Earth plant and wildlife from scratch in six systems (Earth 2-7)
- Managing to establish little outposts on already living planets
- Contacting local lifeforms
- Accidentally wiping out a whole planet with Earth microorganisms
- Contacting and building relationships with more lifeforms
So much has been done! And yet, what happens next, on a day to day basis – that’s when the tale ends and the crushing lack of imagination begins. Somehow, most of us fall into being some sort of middlemen working for other middlemen working for other middlemen with dubious goals. Self-organizing to do nothing and yet appear so busy and important while doing it.
The company that Ox worked for provided services to other companies that provided services to other companies that provided services to the local population. What services? Does it matter? Are they useful? Not at all. Does the company pay for your labour? Yes. Do you mostly pretend to do something with your time? Absolutely, but don’t tell anyone.
“Hello”, said the manager.
“Hi, this is Ox”
“You’re late to our daily meeting”
“I am not coming in. I am calling to say that I am quitting and this is my two week notice. I would also like to take the next two weeks as vacation”, said Ox.
“Very well, I will forward this to Human Resources. Good luck on your future endeavors”.
The whole thing was anticlimactic but Ox was refreshed and excited. “I’m going to start my own business! Not gonna work for no man! I’ll start my own company and offer better services to companies that offer services to the local population. It’s going to be great”.
Jenya is an engineer who likes to tinker with technology and with words. This is her seventh Vending Machine Press appearance. Her poems are available on Amazon and have also been featured in Clementine Poetry Journal, and her paper on algorithms for safe irradiation of brain tumours is available in an operations research journal somewhere.