A Heavy Sleep
The view was the only unobscured one David could find. He would get up twenty minutes earlier than necessary on mornings when he had to work and would take his coffee to the window and look out. Despite the fact that the view never changed, there was something about being there in the morning that gave him a sense of purpose. He imagined it was the same impulse that made ranchers take a ride around their property each day, looking it all over.
Of course David didn't own anything he saw out of the window. He didn't own much of anything at all. But he still felt a proprietary protectiveness toward what he saw. And although he was usually shrouded in darkness, he could see the sunlight just beginning to reflect off the far east coast of North America.
David sipped his coffee through the small tube on the self-heating pouch and watched. Today a supply ship was coming. Some people would leave. New ones would come. Supplies would be unloaded. And David would finally get the one thing he'd wanted desperately ever since he'd arrived. Sleep. A real, full night of blissful, heavy, uninterrupted sleep.
An hour later, post-coffee, -shower, and –outfitting, David glided down the corridor toward the lab. He felt vaguely out of it, realizing only after it was too late that he had failed to return the greeting of his former coworker whom he'd just passed. It's always the gravity—or lack of it, David realized. It was like his consciousness took flight and hovered just outside his head, moving gently away each time he reached for a thought.
By the time he got to the lab the work had begun. "Slow morning again?" someone yelled from across the room. It was the same thing every day. Everyone else whizzing, gliding, flying from place to place, from person to person, through his whole life. And then there was David. The only one who had what he euphemistically referred to as a "weight problem." The problem being that he needed it. And lately, he seemed to be the only one who did.
Artificial gravity takes massive amounts of power. It's expensive. It breaks down all the time. And it's a bitch to keep running. When the station was first designed, it was assumed it was a necessity. But after a few years, they realized they could turn off the gravity selectively, saving resources. And it turned out that some people preferred the feeling of weightlessness, especially people for whom the very notion of weight had always been a touchy issue. So more and more areas of the station went completely without artificial gravity for longer and longer. Bodies figured out how to thrive without the constant resistance of gravity with which to work the muscles and make the heart pump harder and faster. Children grew up only knowing gravity as an amusement-park novelty. Finally, most of the time, throughout most of the station, everyone was completely weightless and preferred it that way. But David couldn't sleep without it, or at least not well. He was perpetually tired. But that was going to end today.
It was amazing how hard it had been to find what he was looking for. All he wanted was a bed. A simple bed with a mattress. It seemed no one wanted to sleep in a bed anymore. The fulfillment centers were full of pods, suspension chambers, and of course papoose-like body bags that swaddle the sleeper in infant-like security while regulating body temperature to exact optimal-sleep levels. That was what came standard with every apartment on the station. It was, after all, what worked best in zero G. It was what most people alive had been using their whole lives. It was generally accepted that it simulated the environment of the womb as closely as possible once the occupant had vacated those accommodations. Sex, pillow talk, and breakfast in bed, as it turned out, weren't really all that dependent on the actual bed after all.
David sped down the corridor, occasionally propelling himself faster on the holds spaced every few feet along the corridor walls, designed for just such a purpose. After eight hours in the lab and two more jokes about his perpetual tardiness, David had managed to slip away. If he was lucky, he'd make it to the loading dock just as the ship pulled in.
"David, we need to talk." Nat grabbed his arm. Her momentum propelled him against the corridor wall, bringing his daydreams to a halt.
"Can it wait?"
"If we don't talk now you'll spend all day thinking about what I'm going to say. You may be on time for whatever it is you're rushing to, but you'll regret it."
David grimaced. "Has anyone ever mentioned how annoying it is when you point out that you know them better than they know themselves?"
"Don't hate me for being empathically enhanced."
"I only hate you for pointing out when I'm about to be in a bad mood before I even know it's going to happen. Don't you ever worry about the power of suggestion?"
"It's the reason I've gotten as far as I have."
"It's also the reason we didn't work."
"You still love me." She was right, of course. She always knew what he was thinking and feeling and what he needed, except for one thing. She refused to turn on the gravity in her room and she wouldn't sleep with it on in his. They were doomed.
"I can't talk about this now."
"Gary's looking for you. You're getting chewed out again for using too much energy."
"Why do you even care, Nat?"
"I'm bred to care." Or to simulate caring, thought David. "And I just wanted to do something nice for you." She placed a hand on his arm, shifting their equilibrium just slightly so that she rose above him by a few inches. Not that "below" or "above" have much meaning when there's really no up or down, but David realized that Nat had a talent for making it seem that way anyway.
"Look, I'll deal with it. I just need to go." He tried to pull away from her, but found the only way he could gather momentum was to reach out for her arm, sending a tactile message exactly counter to what he was trying to say with words. Shit, he thought. She's even got weightlessness to her advantage.
At the loading dock, David keyed in his code and slipped inside, exhaling loudly once the doors closed solidly behind him and his feet settled firmly on the ground. It was one of the few places left where the gravity was on all the time. The bed was already unloaded, left alone with a ring of empty floor space around it as if contact with anything more technologically advanced would infect the other object with a terminal Luddite condition. David took a moment to admire it from afar.
His bed. Fully assembled it looked, for all David could imagine, naked. He could almost feel the bed's cold embarrassment at being so exposed. Mercifully, the unloading had been finished and no one remained, the dock personnel probably having taken the transport crew for drinks in the lounge. David approached the bed almost reverently. He'd waiting for it for so long, but now that it was finally here he wanted to drag out the anticipation. How would his hand feel as he stroked it along the frame—only imitation wood, but wood-like nonetheless? Would the mattress have the same dense, almost-organic give that the ancient bed in his grandmother's room had had, or would it too be a poor simulation? Either way, David decided, he would take it and be happy.
He approached the bed, his breathing becoming shallower with each step. As he got there, however, he noticed something on the mattress. At first, he assumed it was another piece of cargo, left there by a careless dockworker or overlooked in the rush to get drunk and meet women. But as he got closer, he could see the gentle rise and fall of something alive. Someone. Someone was sleeping on his bed.
David sped up his steps, ready to fight whomever it was if he had to to get to his possession. But as he loomed above the bed, prepared to heave its resident to the floor, he froze. It was a girl. No more than five or six, curled into a position incompatible with the zero-gravity sleeping bags. Her knees were drawn up to her chest. One arm pulled them in tight and the other was folded under her head, which lolled back heavily onto the mattress. David stood and watched her sleep.
After ten minutes or so, she shifted positions, this time rolling flat onto her stomach, fingers almost digging into the faux-cotton mattress cover. David held his breath as she let out a sigh. When she had settled back into a deep unconsciousness, David moved over to the manifest computer, which listed all the incoming cargo. He found the entry for his bed and erased his name.
Someone, he thought. Someone will find it. And they will try it. And then we will all be free.