By Robert Ferrick
Cold dominated his thoughts as he woke slowly from a chemical coma. Sleeper pods were a cheap way to be transported but they were definitely not comfortable and the chill of air on his skin as the impact gel flowed out of the tube made McCall shiver and his skin break out in goose-bumps. A droning noise that sounded like someone speaking with a mouth full of marbles gradually resolved into the voice of the drop-ship’s automatic steward program.
“Depress the lever in front of you to exit your pod. Depress the lever in front of you to exit your pod.” It droned away at him senselessly and after a moment he silenced it by doing as it instructed.
He found himself one of a few dozen naked men and women standing in a set of rows next to their pods and the smell of stale air, imperfectly filtered bodily wastes and the metallic background smell of the ship itself overwhelmed him for a moment. Just as he was getting used to the smell he heard the static click of the auto-steward speakers coming on.
“Proceed to quarantine station in an orderly fashion. Follow the yellow arrows. Proceed to quarantine station in an orderly fashion. Follow the yellow arrows.” It kept repeating these words as yellow arrows lit up on the floor and walls pointing to the right.
Those close to that end of the hall began forming a line and the rest of the room followed suit. They all moved with the stumbling, half aware walk of people who had not really used their bodies in a couple of weeks. The arrows guided them out of the drop ship and the underground silo where it had landed beneath the surface of the planet Hathor into a quarantine compound where they were hosed down and issued clothing in the form of undergarments, heavy boots and a bright orange coverall.
McCall knew from the briefing that he had been given that they were to be quarantined here until they could be safely released into their new world’s environment. During the quarantine they would be trained on the various forms of work they had been contracted to as a lot of the off world jobs simply didn’t exist on Earth anymore. He was contracted as a computer technician and he looked forward to the training and skills he would possess even as he knew he would spend five years working as a nearly unpaid employee. Afterwards he could choose a post with any company on the planet.
After eating they were told to wait while they were called for individual orientation sessions. Half a dozen people were called upon at a time and McCall soon found himself sitting across from a man in a grey coverall with a name tag that read “Orientation Officer Gentry”. Gentry was a pasty looking fellow with a few wisps of dark hair clinging to his scalp and the dull expression of man doing work he has done a thousand times. Seated behind a quarantine wall of thick glass with a speaker vox between them reminded McCall of his status as an offworlder.
“Mr. McCall I see here that you have been contracted to the FeSky Mine. What is your level of experience with mining?”
“None, but I believe you have the wrong file, I was contracted with Galactech as a computer engineer.”
“You are Anson C. McCall, citizen # 459-43-9044-E correct?” asked the small man.
“Yes, I am, but I am no miner.”
“Please allow me a moment to review your file.” said Gentry and he began typing away at his console. After a few moments he said “Ah, I see, your contract was sold in transit. Apparently Glactech over-hired on Computer technicians and engineers and sold several contracts to Ferrum Sky under the Reduction Clause KC-22. Your new term of service will be extended by ten years as miners make considerably less than Technicians.”
“There must be a mistake! They can’t do that. I never agreed to any such thing, I want to activate my right to arbitration.” Cried McCall.
“Well of course Mr. McCall, did you contract for expedited arbitration or did you elect the standard representation contract?”
“Standard, I believe.”
“Very well, in the mean time you will need to follow the requirements of your new contract and begin work as a miner, or you will be in breach of contract and subject to severe penalties and possible forfeiture of citizenship.”
“So even though I am contesting the change I have to do it anyway?”
“Well your food and lodgings require payment. Your transport costs, clothing, and minimum contribution to the company credit account all have to be paid for. You must work and the only work available for you at this time is as a miner. I am sure this will all get sorted out in due time; standard arbitration usually only takes about a year or two at most.”
The door opened and Gentry had already begun reviewing another file by the time McCall had turned to go. The chill sensation in his stomach made him feel as if he had been stabbed by a cold blade.