Gus was waiting for his appointment in a small room with several other people. A few had looked up when he entered, but no one had said anything to him. The atmosphere was tense because no matter how you looked at it, everyone in that room would be competing with each other for a slot to get off this hell hole of a planet.
Gus fidgeted with his tablet a little bit as he tried to distract himself. He’d had the same article pulled up for nearly ten minutes and hadn’t absorbed a word of it. He dismissed the article and began pulling up a forum when there was a shout from the next room.
“NO, You can’t do this!”, shouted a man's voice from the other side of the wall. There was the sound of a slam and then nothing. Gus sat up straight not sure what had happened or what to expect next. After a few minutes though, he and everyone else in the room were relieved to see a petite woman in a crisp uniform step out of one of the doors and call the next person in.
His interview was in twenty minutes and every moment of waiting felt like agony, but he couldn’t cut it any closer than he had. He’d already cut it closer than he felt comfortable with by relying on the public transit times to actually be correct. It turned out they hadn’t been as per usual and he arrived fifteen minutes later than he’d predicted. Which had turned out fine, but he could have been very unlucky and been stuck on the other side of the hab dome well past his interview time.
He fidgeted in his seat, unable to focus on anything let alone his tablet as every few minutes another person was called into a different room. A different door opened each time until it was his turn. The same petite woman from before opened the door and called him in. “Gustav Noba Whittaker if you could follow me please”, she said in a clipped tone that betrayed the mood that roiled beneath her sweet smile.
Gus quickly rose from his seat moving to shake her hand only to find she had already turned her back and had advanced into the room. He followed her in, closing the door behind him and sitting on the other side of a desk from her. She had already sat and had a tablet in her hand that she was reviewing intently.
The moment Gus sat down she began speaking. “I see your occupation is hard labor in the mines. You have little in the way of technical training though you have scored acceptably for a variety of technical positions. You’ve even scored fairly well in some of the practicals as well, particularly when it came to software engineering and mechanical repairs.” She spoke quickly and precisely. Her tone was flat and emotionless as her dark eyes scanned from the tablet to Gus.
Gus opened his mouth as she put down the slate and looked straight at him. He shut his mouth as he felt her eyes pierce into his soul. “In fact you scored so damn well in comparison to your occupation that it raised some red flags in the system”, she said.
Gus swallowed, his mouth now feeling exceptionally parched. “Red flags?” he asked. “What do you mean by that? I swear I didn’t cheat.”, he followed up with.
"Oh we know you didn't cheat. After comparing your old test records with our own tests we were able to verify you're very smart. Too smart to be allowed to waste away mining ore with a pickaxe of all things.", she said an amount of disdain in her voice.
Gus flinched at her tone, but remained silent. He knew that trying to excuse his the colony's lack of manufacturing wouldn't really help at all. It's not like he enjoyed it here so he wasn't going to waste his breath defending his shit situation.
She continued speaking flicking a tablet across the desk to him. "This is the standard conscription offer. Minimum two years service with a potential forced extension of that minimum all the way up to five years total. I would count on the five year marker with the way the war has stalled out as of late."
She took a sip of water before continuing, "After you've finished your manadatory service you're free to sign up for another term or part ways with the military. You'll get any accrued pay that wasn't spent on your shore leaves. In addition you'll be granted full citizenship in recognition of your service. There's plenty of work to be found in the civilian sectors of the Avalon fleet that's valuable to the war effort and I'm sure you'll have plenty of offers when your conscription contract is up."
She paused looking Gus dead in the eyes, "All you have to do is sign right there and you can leave this miserable rock. You'll belong to the Avalon Fleet Military, and you might die before you make it out of your contract. But I'd say it's a damn sight better than wasting away here."
Gus swallowed, his mouth feeling quite dry. The weight of the decision before him hadn't quite hit until just then. He looked at the tablet that was now in his hands. The document was longer than what she had told him, but he had already read the contract on the way over. He knew what the words said, but their meaning only just now sunk in.
Gus pressed his thumb against the scanner at the bottom of the tablet. It took his thumbprint as well as a sample of his DNA to verify his agreement to the terms and he handed it back to the woman.
She smiled and stood putting out her hand. He rose and shook it. "Welcome to the Avalon Fleet Gustav", she said.
What followed was a whirlwind of activity. The onboarding of new recruits had obviously become a matter of routine given the speed at which Gus found himself being moved through the process.
He was quickly shuffled into an examination office. They did a short battery of tests to verify his health before sending him along to the next room.
Here his head was shaved and he was injected with a tiny microchip into his wrist. He was told the chip acted as a short-range tracking device and would also hold important personal information. Just by waving his wrist over a scanner, any terminal in the Avalon fleet would be able to pull up all of his records and accounts.
Gus had some misgivings about the tracking, but he wanted out, and the usefulness of such a device was hard to argue against. He had little time to process these thoughts as he was quickly sent to the next room, where he found several other freshly shaved recruits. They were all at terminals, intently focused on the screens. Gus was shown to one of the terminals and told to complete the tests put before him to the best of his abilities.
The tests started easily enough with basic logic problems, reading comprehension, and mathematics. However, the problems rapidly increased in difficulty. After what felt like hours, but was more likely less than one, the terminal stopped giving him questions.
He was once again led to another room where he stripped and was given a basic-looking uniform in his size. He dressed into it as it was explained to him that more uniforms would be delivered to his assigned bunk.
After that, he was sent to a waiting area. He looked around and saw quite a few other recruits and started to move towards an open seat when a door on the other side of the room opened up. Out of that door came several soldiers escorting a line of people bound in chains.
The shock of seeing people in chains prevented Gus from recognizing who they were for a second before he started picking out faces he remembered from news clips. Many of the prominent leaders of the colony were being dragged through the waiting area to the shuttle loading door like they were heinous criminals.
Gus was stunned and unable to move until he was jolted back to reality by the sound of the door opening behind him again. He quickly took a seat next to a lanky and slightly rough-looking man.
The man turned to him. “Bit of a shock seeing ‘em like that, ain’t it?” the man said with a chuckle. Gus could tell the man probably come from one of the agri-domes based on his accent. “It’s ‘bout time they got their comeuppance if the rumours are true.”
Gus cocked his head slightly in confusion. “What rumours would those be?”, he asked. He didn’t socialize much and avoided social networks. He was almost always the last to find out about these kinds of things.
“S’prised ya ain’t heard. Well I like ya stranger so ol’ Benny here’s gun tell ya what I heard. Benny’s mah name bye the bye. Not short or long for nuthin’ it’s just Benny. Don’t think I caught yours yet stranger?”, the lanky man named Benny’s thick drawling accent carried a cheerful tone to it.
“The names Gustav, but you can call me Gus. I was working in the mines down in Dome South-1a. You’re from one of the agri domes, I’m guessing?” Gus replied in equal cheer as he found Benny’s mood somewhat infectious.
“You got it right. Grew up in North-8c thought I’d die there too and end up feeding the plants.”, Benny said. “Saw the ad for the Avalon fleet posted errywhere though, and decided to take a chance. Turns out they need skilled ‘ponics folks, and I fit that bill for ‘em.”
“That makes sense. A lot of mouths to feed in the Avalon fleet if rumours are true.”, Gus said as he nodded to what Benny had told him.
“True enough,” replied Benny. “Anyhow ‘bout them rumours. Like I was saying, sounds like a lot of ‘em higher ups were up to no good. Falsifying testin’ records, puttin’ kids who came from money into tech trainin’ over kids who got higher scores. That sort of thang. Anyhow, word is the fleet up on high got wind of it somehow shortly afta they got here. Now they is roudin’ ‘em all up and gonna put in a new gov’ment.”
Gus just sat in shock for a moment as he processed what Benny had just said. The woman in the recruiting offices words came back to him. About how his test results had raised red flags. Had he been held back from tech training not because of a lack of talent, but because someone had waved their hand and made it so? Gus shook his head, that was in the past now. He needed to focus on the future.
“Well that’s pretty crazy, good thing the Fleet’s taking care of it.”, he replied to Benny nodding as he did so.
Some time passed as Benny and Gus slipped into conversation about the past and speculation on what would happen next. A few other recruits sat near them and joined in on the conversation.
More time passed and they were finally allowed to board the shuttle. The trip into space was less eventful than Gus would have imagined. Seeing the view of his home planet wasn’t anything new. He’d seen satellite images before, but there was something about seeing the scarred and often times molten surface of the small world with his own eyes.
That world had been his literal and figurative hell his entire life, and he was finally leaving it behind. He knew he wasn’t precisely headed to Heaven, but he hoped his life would be better than it had been at least.