There was a palpable sense of elation in the musty, recycled air. The flying aces of Fox Squadron had just returned to the capital ship ESS Sanchez after a highly successful bombing raid against another of General No-Leege’s doomsday weapons and the entire ship was joined in welcoming them home. Well, almost the entire ship. For Dave 27 of Z-Division, the work never stopped. Space Toilets don’t clean themselves after all, not since the great and terrible waste droid uprising claimed so many lives. Cloned humans were so much more expendable and cost effective. When one died or moved on, another one was just printed.
From the small viewing window of the bathroom he saw their sleek fighters heading into the landing bay, looked again at his holo-mop & bucket and despaired. This wasn’t what he’d signed up for when he signed up to work on colony ships. So far all he’d experienced was the poop of 50 different species, not exactly his idea of experiencing alien cultures. But no clone would ever be a fighter pilot or officer, it just wasn’t in the system.
Hours passed as Dave scrubbed and mopped his latrine quota with earphones almost glued in to try to drown out the triumphant anthems and speeches flooding the public address system. All he could think about was the end of his shift and being able to shut himself in his cabin and away from all the festivities.
Feet aching and limbs heavy, Dave trudged his way home unnoticed through the winding service corridors of the ship known to the clone staff as “The Grey”. Finally he reached his cabin, his own little slice of home out here in the void. The brilliant white of the halls gave way to the dull, utilitarian low-order quarters. Dave’s cabin was little bigger than the closet his cleaning supplies were kept in. Hanging his uniform up, Dave hopped into his hammock and hoped to drift off to sleep watching Vids and get today over and done with.
The parties and hand-clapping carried on until shift change. The automated alarm woke Dave with a jarring wail and a cup of what the label insisted was coffee. As he checked his messages, another depressing list of clones lost in the course of hazardous duty, he donned his garish purple uniform and stepped out. Another day in paradise had begun. On his way out he caught sight of himself in the mirror. Dave’s were the budget line of clones and they looked it. They weren’t fortunate to have such as real hair follicles, not blue fuzz, a good build or skin pigment. They were ugly, so pale they were almost translucent and very thin. The serial number tattooed on his cheek completed the “look”. Dave sighed and headed out.
The Z-Division office was the usual palace of whimsy and joviality it always was. Dave’s fellow clones who also worked on the underside of the bottom rung had a wonderful camaraderie despite being a glorified slave class. Grown in test tubes en-mass and distinguishable only by their number. They were individually disposable but collectively essential to the mega-corporations and governments throughout the galaxy.
“Did you read about Bill 6 this morning?” asked Johann 19, one of Dave’s closest friends. Johannes were a luxury line, handsome, blonde, tall, tanned. Johannes were the envy of all clone lines.
Dave sighed and answered, “Yeah, poor guy. No one deserves space aardvarks. Shame that there’s so little Bills left, they’re nice guys.”
Johann nodded solumnly and took his seat for the daily briefing. “Yep, I think there’s just Bill 5 left after the recall. You going to the funeral?”
Dave shook his head, “Nah, no shore leave left, I used the last on Janet 36’s wedding to that Farnian.”
“Oh yeah…. I read about that. Shame the groom turned out to be a Polymorph. Remind me to check my future wife isn’t a shape shifting serial killer.”
Dave and Johann shared some gallows humour as the head of Z-Division, Donald 3, took his place at the holo-whiteboard to hand out the day’s work. Being only a 3rd generation clone meant Donald was old in clone years and very irracable. He addressed his subordinates in his usual graceless manner:
“Alright drones, heads up! The Surnames spent last night partying it up after one of their wars so it’s up to us to clean up their mess. Again.”
The boss then doled the day’s cleaning tasks in a completely arbitrary manner.
“Fran 12, Kevin 159 & Pete 76, you’re in the science block, and no teasing the lab mice in the neuronics lab. Just because you technically out-rank them does not mean you can order them to salute when you walk past, alright? I’ve had complaints.”
Dutifully, the 3 traipsed off to their tasks as Donald ran through the list until he reached Dave.
“Dave 27, Mess Hall.”
Johann gave Dave a shove. “Ouch, tough break”, he snickered. Donald was quick to interject, however.
“Hold on there, 19. It’s a big job this time, he’s gonna need some help, and you’re it.”
Johann’s face dropped at that. He was used to serving officers on the bridge and earning tips for sucking up. Scrubbing and mopping was far beneath him in his mind. Dave’s smugness spiked and he struggled to stifle a laugh. The sarcasm in the air was so thick it cut be cut with a knife.
“Ouch, tough break.”
The boss wasn’t kidding. It looked like a herd of Gargarian Hippopotamice had run amok in the Mess Hall. Sighing at the mountain of work ahead of them, Dave & Johann set about their task. For hours they toiled as members of the crew buzzed about them, not once engaging with them or generally acknowledging their presence. Some of Z-Division preferred this distance but Dave would often wish to talk to one of the “Surnames” and know more about them but he was merely a Dave and was treated like an appliance rather than a person, not like a Johann. As the end of their shift drew near, Johann offered something:
“After we’re done here, I could get us into the officer’s bar for a drink, Zebes owes me a favour for not ratting on her having that stash of Canthal Seeds. Whaddya say, wanna feel like a Surname?” He said with a nudge of his elbow.
Dave pondered the invitation, maybe this was his chance at having a conversation with someone with a last name as well as the chance to drink real alcohol.
“Y’know what, maybe I will.” He answered. Suddenly he had an extra bounce in his step, Johann 19 was pretentious but he had his uses.
The officer’s bar was a world away from the grey rat runs Dave was used to. Real plants were scattered around and images of Earth adorned the walls. The low blue lighting was streaked with pink and purple neon strip lights to create atmosphere and smooth jazz filled the air with a pretence of class. The entire room turned to Dave and Johann as they began to cross the floor to the bar. It wasn’t illegal, but clones in a human establishment was highly irregular.
“Get a load of the two numbers.” The pair overhead from a table they passed. Clearly they were strangers in a strange land. Johann tried to reassure Dave by whispering to him:
“Don’t mind them, just keep your mouth shut and your head down. The novelty wears off for them soon.”
This wasn’t what Dave was expecting. On the space ports he’d been working prior to signing up to the Sanchez were much more welcoming to clones but as crossroads of travel and commerce, they were much more diversely populated with alien species from all corners of the galaxy (yes, space has corners.) To them, one Terran looked much like another.
The two clones reached the bar and sat down, savouring the opportunity to enjoy new surroundings. The bar was run by Kate Zebes, who was very surprised to see the pair in her establishment.
“What brings you two jokers up here? Z-div must pay better than I’ve been hearing.” She scoffed.
“Hello to you too, Kate. If you must know…” Johann replied with a huge dose of sarcasm as he slapped Dave on the back “Me & Dave here just spent 13 hours cleaning the crew’s mess hall and want to relax and see how real people live and spend some of the pittance this job pays on real booze instead of the piss we get down in the Grey.”
Kate scoffed once more, “okay but no trouble, this isn’t like on the outposts, there’s a pecking order here and numbers like you get pecked!”
The Dalurian Brandy was sweet, smooth and worth the 3 days worth of pay it was costing. The two spent ages setting the universe to rights until with real alcohol in his system, Johann offered up a toast:
“To the Surnames! who it’s an honour to slave and toil to the death for so they don’t have to clean up their own SHIT!”
His drunken outburst caught the ears of a gang of burly security officers who took exception at being slighted by a mere “number.” Dave could feel their stares burning into them and decided that him and Johann would be smart to leave before they were beaten so hard their birthing pods would get bruises.
“Come on, I think we’ve outstayed our welcome.” He said as he put an arm around his friend and started to make a quick exit. As he turned to leave Dave didn’t notice someone standing behind him and bumped into a woman, spilling her drink over her. In an awkward fumble Dave tried to apologise and usher Johann out of the bar but he found himself stunned staring into the woman’s eyes.
“I…..I….. I’m so sorry….I…”
Dave had been struck by Cupid’s arrow and found himself smitten at the cute brunette. She had seen the gang of security officers rise from their table and not wanting to see Dave hurt and moved into the path of the security to block them.
“Go! Go on, now” she mouthed, shooing them out of the door.
Dave kept glancing back at her as they made their escape towards the nearest elevator. Reaching safety Dave tried to grab one last glance at his saviour as the doors closed.
Dave and Johann sank to the floor and struggled to catch their breath.
“Well, you know how to spend your money and time.” Dave panted.
“Oh shut up!” Johann snapped. “You loved it, you got to pretend to be a Surname for a bit, didn’t you?”
Dave smiled, picturing the woman who saved him from a beating again.
“Yeah, it was pretty fun.”
The two shared a laugh as the elevator descended down into the Grey.
Martin S Dixon (@BunnySuicida)