Aurelia’s new job

This is another fictional short story. Science Fiction seems to be popular, so I thought I would try my hand at it. It is just over 1800 words.

She woke up to find someone removing the stickers from her body, and sliding out the various tubes. They were not being too gentle, but she hadn’t come around properly yet, and the plastic guard in her mouth made it impossible to talk. A torrent of water suddenly descended on her, hot and soapy, smelling a little of disinfectant. This was followed by blasts of warm air, powerful enough to make her have to close her eyes. She reached inside her mouth, and pulled out the guard. It was supposed to stop you grinding your teeth, and biting your tongue, but it felt like someone’s hand was in there, and she was immediately thirsty when it slid out.

The flight operatives helped everyone out of the cubicles. They gave Aurelia a micro-fibre smock to put on, and a large beaker of water, which she drained in grateful gulps. Her legs felt surprisingly strong, despite the lack of exercise, and she was able to walk over to the long row of tables without difficulty. Looking around at some of her fellow passengers, she mentally counted, ten tables, eight to a table. They were a mixed bag, mostly young women, with a few hard-looking guys dotted here and there. A bowl was placed in front of her. It looked like porridge, but smelt like cabbage. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Eat it slowly, take lots of time. Don’t bolt it.” The operatives repeated this like a mantra, as they put each bowl down.

She had seen the advertisement for the job on her thigh pad, as she sat reading through some Alliance News. It had popped up, offering jobs on a distant planet, at great rates of pay. Three million Yuan a year was more than twice what she got for supervising machines in the factory that made things that she didn’t even know what they were used for. Watching robots for ten hours a day, pressing buttons to confirm manufacturing targets, and nobody to talk to, except her complaining manager. The high spot of the day might be a breakdown, and having to call in the repair crew. After more than four years of this, Aurelia was wondering what she was going to do with her life, and the bright advertisement came just at the right time. She had never heard of the numbered rock, or the thing mined there, Magnatite, which was apparently used in the latest propulsion systems. Still, she had nothing to lose, so she pressed the button to be contacted by the company.

The interview process was more medical than academic. Scans, tests, and more tests. Access to her doctor’s records had to be allowed, and she was asked interminable questions about her health. It left her wondering how hard it was going to be. She was only twenty-two years old, and fit and well, as far as he was aware. The so-called ‘Space Training’ was nothing like she had expected. When she asked about space suits, they laughed. ” You won’t ever be outside.”, she was told. There was a lot of stuff she did’t really understand. Even with the latest and fastest ships, it still took over a year to get there. Most of that would be spent in a sort of induced coma, watched over by flight operatives from the airline. They were told that once they arrived, over ten years of Earth time would have expired, so that everyone they knew would be ten years older, but they would only have aged one year. Because of this, they wanted people with no emotional attachments, who would not be missing any partners, or family.

After fourteen days, she was told that she had the job, if she wanted it. They gave her twenty-four hours to decide. She would have to give up her apartment, settle her affairs, and prepare to live on the planet, according to the company’s rules and regulations. Food and utilities would be supplied, and the salary could be banked, to be drawn on as required. It seemed alright to Aurelia, so she entered her signature code, and agreed to the contract. Seven days later, she was due to report to the interstellar transport, and her new life. Part of her felt content. She was now employed by Magnatrix International, and they would look after her for the duration of her fifteen year contract. There would be room and board, and all training and uniform would be provided once she arrived. The job options were vague, but most involved service industries, like Hospitality, or Reception. She and her colleagues would make life run smoothly for the hundreds of miners that worked there. At that salary, she couldn’t care less.

Once they had been orbiting for a day or so, Aurelia felt stronger, and more like her old self. Some solid food had made all the difference, and she had been told that the planet shuttle would be there to collect them later that afternoon. Everyone had been given a grey trouser suit, and some toiletries. Before the transport arrived, she was excited to get the first glimpse of her new home, through the observation portal on the departure deck. It was a huge planet, twice the size of Earth, and completely black. No blue skies or water could be seen, as all the natural water was below the surface, and had been purified by years of industry and difficult construction. They had told her that the mining colony was only two square miles, just a tiny percentage of what she could see.

The trip was short, and once through the marginal atmosphere, it was very smooth. At the landing dock, the men and women were separated. The men went off to the mining camp and dormitory, and the women were sent along a mechanical walkway to the reception and welcome area. Her tag was scanned, and she was assigned to a group of ten. They were shown into an elevator that took them many floors below the surface. There was a lot of noise. The rattle of the fans, the excessive hum of the air circulation, and the constant announcements from the unseen public address system. After so long at peace, it felt like being in a busy market, and Aurelia failed to catch most of what was being said. They arrived in a large room, full of tables, and smelling of stale food. The walls were decorated with old posters, historical artifacts from the days when people went to buildings called cinemas, and watched things called films. They showed monsters and spacemen, fantastical aliens and unrealistic space liners. Everyone knew by now that there were no aliens. No monsters lurked in the distant reaches of the galaxy. There were only humans, and their quest for new minerals, and planets to colonise. They were told that this was called the Rest Room, and that they would eat here, on their breaks.

An attractive young woman came to talk to her group. She said that they would all be assigned a room, and that they would be expected to start work immediately. After all, they had been paid to sleep for a year, so they had to catch up on what they already owed the company. Aurelia thought about this, for the first time. Had she not been paid for the trip? Did they count the long journey as part of her contract, or expect her to owe them that time? She raised her hand to ask these questions, but was waved down by the supervisor. The woman slapped her hands together, and told them that the company expected full cooperation with their instructions, and that any refusal to carry out the allotted tasks would result in a return to Earth the following year, with a reduction in pay. Aurelia couldn’t understand why she was being so shitty about things. She looked at the other girls in her group. Heads down, staring at their sandals, they seemed beaten and compliant, and they had only just arrived.

She was taken away with the rest, and shown to a room in a long corridor. It was hardly larger than the double bed on a metal platform that almost filled it. A video screen filled one of the walls, and behind the bed, a partition hid a tiny bathroom, with toilet, sink, and shower. The supervisor told her, “Make sure that you keep the credit slips. They are the only way to prove that you have worked, and the only guarantee that you will be given food and medical support.” She indicated some stuff that lay on the bed, adding, ” Put on your uniform, and then press the green button on the video screen. That tells Central that you are ready to work. Make sure you press it correctly, and on time, or someone will come to check. And you don’t want that to happen.” The rest of them left, followed by the supervisor, and the door slid shut with a whoosh. Aurelia looked at the uniform. It was black, and completely see-through from neck to ankles. It resembled a gauze, floating and insubstantial.

She threw it back on the bed, and sat down, inspecting the small room. The bed was hard and uncomfortable, and too large for the space. It almost touched the door at one end, and was hard against the partition at the other. She checked the bathroom, running water from the sink, and splashing it over her face. There was a noise from next door. The screen had come to life, and the face of the young supervisor was there. “Put on your uniform now.”, she ordered, ” And press the button in the next two minutes, or there is going to be trouble.” Aurelia could tell by her tone that she wasn’t fooling. She removed her clothes, and slipped the flimsy dress over her head. Reaching out, she pressed the large green button at the bottom of the screen.

A few minutes later, her door opened and a man entered. He was huge, ugly, and dirty. He looked to be about forty years old, and his shaved head was covered in black dust. He started to unbuckle his trousers, not even looking at her. “What do you want here?”, said Aurelia, her voice high-pitched and assertive. His accent was strange, probably European. “What I have worked for, and paid for”, he growled, pushing her back onto the bed, and lifting her dress. He showed her the credit slip, then returned it to his pocket. His weight was unexpected, and drove the breath from her. As his tongue licked her neck, she shuddered. For some reason, she thought of the posters in the Rest Room. One of them had some strange words on it. She had thought at the time that they were unusual, and she had never heard anything like them.’In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.’

The man slipped his trousers down around his knees.

Aurelia screamed anyway.

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28 thoughts on “Aurelia’s new job

  1. I’m more of a watcher of science fiction than a reader of it, as the science has often to be seen to be believed! Mind you I enjoyed my lunchtime read of your story, despite the absence of Billy Bang Bang!

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    1. Cheers, Eddy. I was just experimenting with SF on this occasion, as the story was more about sex trafficking, and I wanted to add a new slant to it. It’s not really my forte though.
      Tubby will be out of hospital soon!

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  2. Nice foray into “dark” science fiction, Pete.

    Aurelia looked at the uniform. It was black, and completely see-through from neck to ankles. It resembled a gauze, floating and insubstantial.

    When I read that, despite the pleasing imagery, I immediately realized that the girls had been drafted into the sex slave trade. This doesn’t spoil the story at all. It lends to anticipation in the sci-fi / horror sense of the word.

    Speaking of sci-fi / horror, I really liked how you used a famous movie poster tag line (“In space no one can hear you scream” from the film, “Alien”) to create an appropriate and somewhat chilling punch line. Also, the tag line made one think of the black extraterrestrials in Ridley Scott’s film. The “huge, ugly, and dirty” miner in your story offers a human analogy of one of Scott’s monsters.

    Great writing, Pete!

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    1. Thanks very much, David. You got it completely, as I suspected that you would. The reader was always supposed to suspect from the beginning that the job was too good to be true. The see-through ‘uniform’ was merely a confirmation of what we expected, and Aurelia was unprepared to face the awful reality of what it implied.

      The Alien references were a later addition, as my original idea was to have the new arrivals being imported as food. Human meat, to be consumed as a luxury by the well-paid miners. Then I saw the documentary about the sex trafficking trade, and changed the concept.

      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. Your original idea sounds like a variation of “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” and “Soylent Green” (not to mention various films about cannibalism, whether in the Avocado Jungle or elsewhere). The food idea could probably be adapted into a different story.

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        1. I had ‘Soylent Green’ in mind at the time, but was happy to change the plot, as it was too much like plagiarism in the back of my mind. It may reappear in a different form, though cannibalism is a matter of taste…
          Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. I sussed out what might be happening quite early on but it is good reading. So, she is stuck! No one to complain to and who’s to know if she’ll be freed after fifteen years . . and Earth would have changed utterly in that time. A life sentence with wages!! A dark tale Pete.

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    1. No great surprise mate, I agree. Fifteen years on the planet, then if she goes homes, decades will have passed. The ultimate trap, and a real dilemma. And will there actually be any wages?
      Pleased you enjoyed it. x

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  4. That said, it’s an interesting one on a number of levels. The name ‘Aurelia’ alerted me because it’s the same name that I gave to the slave girl in an adaptation that I wrote of a Bible story. Clearly, Aurelia is not a good name to have if you want a quiet life πŸ˜‰

    Of course, the trafficking element provides a frightening snapshot of the reality of the human condition – the sense that ‘it will probably never end’.

    But the bit that really interests me is where you say, ‘Everyone knew by now that there were no aliens. No monsters lurked in the distant reaches of the galaxy. There were only humans…’ I have been pondering this. It’s a profound observation in the midst of this story because it emphasises the innocence/naivety of the victim. Yet I strongly suspect that in a world where there was still trafficking, there would also be a widespread belief in aliens and monsters. There would have to be. There would have to be something to direct people’s attention away from the reality that lurks right in their midst. There would be a planet somewhere that was seen as having ‘gone wrong’. Or there would be pirates – real or imagined. Something. Just the stories wouldn’t be about the planet where the ‘monsters’ really lived…

    Or don’t you think so?

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    1. Anything is possible in a story, Ros. I just imagined a society that had eschewed all belief, including that there might be alien races. Or they just accepted what they were told by the authorities. I had in mind a system that was a cross between that shown in the film ‘Metropolis’, and in Scott’s ‘Blade Runner.’ If it was a book, rather than a short story, there would have been a lot more background.

      There could be pirates of course, but they would have to have stolen the expensive spacecraft, and found refuge somewhere from the authorities.(The ‘Alliance’ mentioned briefly) Then that is what pirates have always traditionally done.

      The name was chosen as I was reading a book that mentioned the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

      I am only dipping my toe in fiction at the moment, and as for science fiction, this was just an experiment. I appreciate your thoughtful comment a great deal.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thinks: Do I really want to read Pete’s latest story?
    Responds: Probably not.
    Thinks: True, but then you won’t know what it’s about.
    Responds: You’ve got me there…

    Curiosity! It’s my undoing every time!

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    1. I was watching a feature on human trafficking/sex slavery, and as I said in the comment below, I wondered what it might be like in the future, given that it will probably never end…
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  6. I had same reaction as Sarah. Human trafficking as part of Moon and Mars colonization is depressingly plausible. Somebody’s gotta serve and clean up after all those millionaires booking their flights. Pete, you are a master of the macabre and of realism. Now I have to eat lunch (wish Sarah’s garlic dip was included). I hope Ollie’s tail is curled.

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    1. Many thanks, Pippa. Kind words as always.
      Ollie’s tail is curled, but unfortunately he has yet another skin infection. The tubes of cream are out once more!
      Enjoy your lunch, even without the garlic dip. (We always eat in the evening)
      As ever, Pete. xx

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    1. It was inspired by watching a news item about human trafficking. One commentator remarked that it had been around since the earliest times, and unless we did something about it, it would ‘never end.’ I began to think of this extending far into the future, and what form it might take.
      I am very happy that you thought it was ‘well-written horrid’, Sarah.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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