I was thrilled to get through to round 2 of the Super Challenge. This round was a sure fire way to test my commitment to writing as I was also on a long weekend trip diving in the Bay of Islands, NZ. There was not a lot of time due to diving and socialising and I had to find a little pocket of cell coverage to upload the entry. The hardest thing though was that I had no access to beta readers and I was working on an iPad.
The requirement for this round was the prompt “file a complaint” and there was a picture of a character, who must appear in the piece (below).
I was content enough with the result and vowed not to have too much attachment to the outcome.
Recycling the Rubbish
Captain Jenoa was waiting to file a complaint. The room was full of people both ahead of and behind him in line but there was only one person working the system. The complaints warden was square and squat with a severity that delved into each complainants soul. She didn’t say anything except for the gravel voiced call of “Next”.
Jenoa was in his off duty uniform, black shirt with winged crest that indicated a soldier’s rank.He wore the hat of his unit with a prideful tilt of his chin. His blue eyes were normally covered with tinted glasses to protect the retinas from the ultraviolet rays that bombarded his home planet. But here, in the dark complaints department of the Nova One, a colonising space platform, his eyes were exposed and startling. It wasn’t just his uniform that made him stand out.
The line moved up one. The next person was clearly from the compounds. Her long sweeping dress and tightly braided hair giving her away. “I want to file a complaint.” The complaints warden didn’t move, her gaze unflinching and silent. “Ah, what I mean is, I need form 284b with an extension on form 855.” The forms she requested were to lodge a complaint about cruelty to the beasts. The beasts genetic material was harvested and grown for consumption by soldiers while on assignment. What the hell did she expect? That soldiers should eat space junk? A screen appeared between the warden and the woman, who held up her wrist log. The wrist log updated with the requested forms. Once completed, the forms would be sent back via the interlog.
“For goodness sake, can we not speed this up? I thought this system was supposed to improve things?” A large man, a few people in front of Jenoa in line, growled and began to swivel around, looking for support.
Jenoa did not want to be seen agreeing with the man so kept his gaze focused on a promotional poster about Nova One. It was a picture of a blazing sun flare behind earth, as viewed from the Nova One platform. The poster read Freedom and Adventure. Jenoa stood taller, remembering how hard he had worked to be selected for this mission. Yet, for months his stomach was acidic with the control it took not to criticise the new direction, under new rule. It was a feeling of discomfort he had learned to assimilate into his daily life using medication and long periods of sleep. As an officer, he was not permitted to criticise the governing body. Complaining, however, was allowed because there was a system. Criticism led to investigation and, while the freedom Nova One had wasn’t complete, he preferred it to jail.
In fact, it was jail he was trying to avoid by being here. After six hundred days on this godforsaken space platform, of trying to live around the rules, to remain the person he thought he was, he now had to take action.
Yesterday, the woman and two children were from the refugee pods and had been out after curfew.
He had warned the woman. He had been coiled tight and his words to her were harsh. She let him speak and then she grasped his hand and led him into his pod. Her breath warm in his ear, her flesh soft and giving.
He promised himself that this was the last time. That the press of her body wasn’t worth the risk to either of them.
The children, their small bodies all bones and angles and their babbling language alien to Jenoa’s ears, played outside. They had the dirty edges of the unkept and the sallow skin of the poorly fed.
Today, at the end of his shift, when all he wanted was to take his pill and close his eyes, he had found flowers made from recycled rubbish adorning his pod door. It was a statement or claim of some sort. A public notice that he was communing with the refugees. The flowers were woven with the wrappers of the sweets he’d given the children. Disgust, both at himself and the neediness that wound through them all, reared up in him.
Something needed to be done about it.
The large man in the complaints line was still grumbling when he noticed the feathered wing symbol across the shoulder of Jenoa’s uniform shirt. The symbol of a soldier. “People. People. This man should go next. He is a soldier; look at his wings. A captain. He looks after us. Let him through.” Jenoa wanted to protest. He wanted to say that soldiers need to remember what it was like to be a person who doesn’t have special treatment. It is what keeps a soldiers empathy intact. But he allowed the grasping hands of the group to push him forward to next in line.
He could hear the murmuring behind him. The warm glow of appreciation filled the room. The same way the refugee children had glowed when he showed them attention. The way the woman glowed in his bed. He felt a surging and his wrist log gave three short beeps, a signal that his emotions had been activated. His wrist log was always put in the sideboard drawer when the woman visited, due to the incessant beeping.
“Next.” The room hushed as Jenoa took his place at the counter. The steel stare of the warden met his. It felt as though she scanned his thoughts, right through to the darkest places of shame.
“I need two 504 forms and a 150-1.” The warden didn’t move. The screen didn’t appear. The room was silent. He felt the wardens presence inside the rot that was his core.
“What the hell did he say?” It was the large man again.
Jenoa repeated his request. “Forms 504 and 150-1. I want to report curfew breaches on Refugee Line and a request for maximum penalty for these breaches.”
The glow was gone.