Albert stood outside the door to his apartment, raised his wrist to the scanner and waited for the door to open. It had been unreliable of late and he really must remember to call the block supervisor to fix it. Shaking his head at the door, he walked into his apartment and headed for the kitchen.
He thought he should stay awake for a little while in case his neighbour needed him. She had arrived home in the early hours of the morning a bit worse for wear and was having trouble opening her own door. The sound proofing in this part of the habitat was old and so Albert had heard her curses and gone out to assist.
Albert was old and hadn’t slept well for years. Not since… he didn’t want to think about it but standing at the kitchen sink his brain refused to be quiet.
Not since his wife had taken the option to self terminate. Cece had been an engineer responsible for maintaining the communications array on the outside of the habitat. Her suit had malfunctioned and she had been temporarily deprived of oxygen and heating. The medics had fixed the freeze burns and broken body parts but regenerating the brain was still beyond medical science. Cece had struggled to control her lower body as a result and in the end the Council had approved her termination request and allowed her to bequeath her remaining thirteen years to her husband.
Albert hadn’t wanted to accept the bequest but if he had refused, the Council might have refused Cece’s termination. Albert knew the pain she was in and in the end could not stand in her way.
His mind moved towards his fiftieth birthday, only a few weeks away now. He should have been preparing for his “of continuing use” appraisal but that would not happen now until his 63rd birthday.
Finishing the cup of tea he had prepared whilst musing on the past, Albert headed back to bed.
The next morning Albert cleaned up his tea things from the early hours and mused over over the luxury of what used to be a routine of millions on old earth. Albert was lucky. His contribution to the building of the “tea plantation” in the Agricultural Co-Op’s greenhouse meant he was gifted with a 50 gram portion each month. That meant he could have around ten cups a month or one every three days.
Albert didn’t particularly like tea but it reminded him of Cece. Cece had loved tea. Cece, the woman who loved him so much she had agreed to give up her right to bear a child. The couple’s genes were considered too close and so the Council demanded sterilisation as a condition of their union. Albert wasn’t interested in children but he knew it had been a hard decision for Cece. Albert still marvelled at the idea that anyone could love him so much that they would sacrifice something so important just to be with him. Yet she had never held it against him or used it as weapon in those times when their relationship hit the inevitable down points. A remarkable human being and he missed her every day.
Yet the memories were the impetus to carry on. The inspiration to continue to live and not just live but to find purpose and meaning, to be useful and to feel alive. It was the only way to honour her and the love they had shared.
Putting on his coat, Albert left his apartment and headed to work at the food production facility. As usual his walk to the shuttle port was uneventful. He chose the spinward route which was quicker but also took him past the apiary. Albert often stopped by the glass viewing platform to watch the hives in action. Honey bees had adapted to life on the habitat remarkably well. The various species had been almost extinct before the old earth’s fall but were now thriving. The honey they produced was the only natural sweetener left to the human colonies and each harvest was eagerly anticipated.
Honey was Albert’s current research project. Like early beekeepers he was experimenting on the different properties and flavours that could be produced depending on the flowers that the bees collected the nectar from. New food tastes were a welcome relief to the limited range of food available in the habitats. Much of the food was based on algae or fungi, both of which needed flavouring to make them palatable. Albert headed a team trying to find natural ways of providing a variety of new tastes to tantalise the population in this unnatural life away from the planet the species evolved on.
Nobody living on the various habitats had ever set foot on old earth. Even if it wasn’t hot and the atmosphere toxic, scientists warned that centuries of adaptation to space would make it difficult to return. Some disputed that and there was the ever present groups arguing for policy changes, demanding that plans be made for a return to the planet’s surface. In their younger years, both Albert and Cece had been a part of a group that wanted to research the possibility. After a particularly vocal set of demonstrations and student strikes, the Council had agreed to investigate the possibility. The protesters were satisfied and went back to their lives. Of course, the investigations had confirmed that old earth was uninhabitable but had offered instead to look at a colony on Mars. That colony was almost about to be realised.
Looking through the glass, Albert saw someone threading their way across the flower meadow behind the hives. Nodding to the head beekeeper, Donald, Albert continued on his way.
At the shuttle port, there was a slight delay as a new shuttle pilot was drafted in. Apparently, the scheduled pilot had called in sick. The delay was not long and Albert arrived at the laboratory hub ready for another day’s work.