By Jay St John Knight
The Earth looked like a giant glistening jewel hanging in the nothingness of space from the observation deck, with sapphire oceans giving way to emerald continents and swirls of cloud formations like milky quartz playing across the surface. Earth, an eden set on a field of black, hemmed by stars of eternal white fire. Ray stared longingly at it, fixated by the beauteous sphere that was intangible to anyone who hadn’t seen it from up here. He had children down there, and a wife. A home too, in a sleepy town on the outskirts of a big city just far enough away for the stars to fight their way through the light pollution.
Ray slurped the last droplets of his lunch through his straw and got up. There was much work to be done. Data had to be collated and processed, ready to be transmitted back to Earth, and there were some general maintenance that needed attending to as well. He strolled out of the observation deck and made his way down the corridors of the station. It was silent save for the constant hum of technology around him, pulsing like an artificial heartbeat.
Ray’s first stop on his rounds was one of the three server rooms. They were whirring rooms of white and grey, blinking lights and towers of hard drives with wires connecting to each other like spider webs. He plugged his diagnostics tool into an access terminal and began running the maintenance program. These rooms were the processing hubs of the orbital station, integral to everything from communications and life support to maintaining the station’s orbit, and were vital to his existence up here. His tool beeped when the program was complete and he carried on.
His next stop was the oxygen farm. A large, cylindrical room filled with a multitude of plants that transformed his carbon dioxide into fresh oxygen to breath. This room was the counter balance of his presence here, thriving off a combination of his recycled organic waste and the solar rays that constantly bombarded the station. He would sometimes spend hours sat gently pruning leaves and carefully checking each plant for disease or signs of malnutrition. He’d even began to grow food in here, tomatoes sat in one corner happily flowering and next to them runner beans flourished in a makeshift tepee of offcut plastic strips. There was even a tiny herb garden in standalone pots on the floor. It was his own Earth, a sanctuary of green amongst a station of white and grey. Ray ran his diagnostics and carried on.
He stopped by a small maintenance hatch, keying in an access code that unlocked it with a heavy clunk. Inside was a shaft that ran the length of the corridor, eventually dropping down into the engine core that sat at the centre of the station. Ray got on his hands and knees and crawled towards a terminal. The closer he got to the centre the louder the hum of the station got, like he was crawling through the arteries of a metallic leviathan towards its gargantuan heart. The core was generally off limits unless there was a serious system failure, so the terminal was as close to the station’s core as Ray could get. It was a delicate and immensely expensive piece of technology that was nearly impossible to repair, so ensuring it was properly maintained was vital.
After Ray crawled out of the shaft, he carried on down the long corridors. His footsteps echoed as he strolled, spiralling off in both directions down the corridor. He was heading towards the data centre, where he spent a lot of his time analysing and compressing various data streams from the probes and unmanned craft that scanned the fringes of the solar system. And there it was, at the end of the corridor, the glowing red light that sat above the door. Ray stopped in front of it, staring in through the dust covered reinforced glass into the darkness beyond. It had been locked for nearly four months; a whole wing cornered off until the support team could come up and deal with the situation. Ray lingered, peering, and in the darkness something moved.