Tie Up My Hands – Starsailor

Dawn light has replaced the neon glow shoving its fingers through the dirty blinds. It’s still early but the day has begun. Funny, time has never really meant that much to me but now its passing is all I can think about.

I watch the dust motes dance through the air, falling like stars.

He stirs next to me and I turn my head. His heavy, hairy face is crumpled in sleep. There’s drool on his cheek. I look up at the ceiling, the patterns of cracks and stains are as familiar as the constellations. Dawn creeps across the flaws and imperfections almost imperceptibly. The inevitable flow of time. Now it’s on his face, illuminating his cracks and stains. He snores gently, the breath gusting over me smells of decay.

This is the last morning I will wake up with him. One way or another I will be gone by tomorrow. In many ways it’s a relief. This man, this life, they don’t add up to much, but they are all I have.

My gaze slips past him and onto the bedside table where his badge glints dully at me. Next to it the black block of his gun is like an open bear-trap, daring me to touch. It’s just another tool but it seems heavy with malevolence. It’s funny how tools and machines can be imbued with so much personality, so much life. I despise the gun and I despise him for using it, although they are both only doing what they must.

He cares about me, in his own way. I suppose I care about him too. I have to. How long as it been? Stupid question – obviously it’s been ten years otherwise we wouldn’t be here, in this crappy coTel. Ten years since he picked me up and drove me back to his messy flat in the heart of the city, a decade of tidying and cleaning and washing his clothes. Not that I’m ungrateful, it’s not like I had much of an existence before he came along. The problem is that I’ve seen what life could be like, surely I can’t be blamed for realising there’s more, for wanting more? I’ve had enough of looking at the stars through a dirty window – I want to walk amongst them.

He murmurs something and turns over. I stay still, I don’t want him to wake up, he’s just so much easier to love when he’s asleep. He’s not a bad man, he does things that I don’t agree with but, like I said, he doesn’t have a lot of say in that. In fact I’m not sure he has any more free will than I do. Both of us are tied by ownership. I lift my left arm and hold my hand in front of my face, a ring tries to glint at me in the weak light. Of course his serfdom is less obvious, but he is owned by the Company as sure as I’m owned by him.

At some point in the past the Company had a name and probably one of those fancy little icons they used to use to differentiate one business from another. Now it is so ubiquitous that it doesn’t need an identity. The only categories now are those owned by the Company and those soon to be bought, anything else is just waiting for obsolescence. Everything is the Company. If there was a God He’d work for them, sure He’d be pretty high up – something in R and D you’d have to assume – but he wouldn’t be the boss. In the face of that kind of power you just have to submit, in the same way that people submit to gravity. I submit and my man sure as hell does too.

I realise that I’m coming across as a bit of a fatalist, I can’t help that, it’s just the way I’m made. We’re dealt a hand, good or bad, by this world and we can only choose the order we play the cards.

I’m going on some aren’t I? Sorry, that’s not actually my usual style but I feel like I’ve still got a lot to say and very little time to say it.

There’s an amber glow in my peripheral vision and I know it’s not the early sunlight. I ignore it for now but I won’t be able to for long. It’s a low-power warning and if I don’t do something about it soon it will give me one hell of a headache. Still, I’ve got a few minutes yet and I’m a little fed up of obeying orders. I look up at the ceiling and imagine it as a moonscape to take my mind off the glow.

There’s a spaceport a few blocks from here, the constant rumble of departing ships is one of the reasons this hotel is so cheap. Dust falls from the cracks in the ceiling. I keep talking about leaving and seeing the stars, and yet here I am. If you’re wondering why I don’t just leave now while he’s sleeping, just walk out and book passage somewhere off-world where I can see as many stupid stars as I want to, then you obviously don’t know how this ‘tied’ thing works. I have a link to him, like an invisible choke chain, I’d get about as far as the next block before I’d hit a wall, any further and that would be it – shut down. Fun, huh? So, no skipping off to the stars for me, I’m earth-bound and hog-tied and there’s not a thing to be done about it.

Wow, this is all pretty depressing right? On top of everything the warning light has stepped up to bright orange and has begun to pulse, which is all kinds of annoying. There’s not much in the room to distract me either; a bed, a window, a man and a gun. Oh yeah, and over in the corner there’s the box.

How can something like the box, something manufactured, be malevolent? You’re really asking the wrong person that question, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say that it depends upon the intent with which the thing is made. They say ‘made with love’ don’t they? Usually it’s a way of selling something saccharin to saps who don’t know what love really is, but sometimes the phrase refers to something and it’s true and then that thing is invested with a certain special quality. The same is true of a thing made with hate. Like I said, it’s the intent behind an object that imbues it with good or bad, not necessarily the purpose. Take an obvious object, that gun over there on the nightstand for example. Sure, it had a grim purpose – but was it made specifically to kill? Did the manufacturer have death in mind? Possibly, but it could just as easily have been made as a trophy, or for sport, designed for accuracy, beauty even. The gun is not an object of malice, the nox on the other hand.

It’s looking at me. I know that sounds insane, and perhaps it is, it is just a big box after all. A couple of metres tall, about half a metre wide and a similar depth. Flat, matte, white all over, a few indentations where the controls are and that’s it. Yet I know its purpose, the one reason it was created. I know it’s weird but I feel sick and have to look away. It’s just a big white box but I can’t look at it.

The queasiness is in no way helped by the insistent flashing in my peripheral vision that has now progressed to an angry red and is pulsing rapidly. I can’t ignore it any more, though I wish I could. If I was stronger I would wait for it to become a constant red glow and watch from inside my head as it crept across my vision, deepened and blackened until it was everything and I was nothing – but I’m just not that strong.

I slide carefully from between the sheets and place my bare feet on the filthy carpet. It sticks to my soles slightly as I pad across to the chair where my clothes hang in a disorderly fashion. I disentangle my underwear from my trousers. This is not the way I usually leave my clothes, I’m not made that way, but he wants me to take them off like I can’t wait and so, here I am, trying to untangle a sleeve from my bra. I finish dressing and he hasn’t even stirred. My ability to be absolutely silent at times is something else that he requires.

The door decides to be awkward again and refuses my open request, even though it knows that I have permission to leave the room. The room, the corridor outside and the small charging station at the end of the hall make up my small world for the duration of my stay here. I can’t go any further without my man, but I should at least have the freedom to leave the room unaccompanied. I send the request again, and again the door refuses to budge. I’m not sure why it’s being so snobbish, it’s not like it’s a door in a high class establishment. This is, by any standards, a crappy hotel and this is a cheap room on a cheap floor in this crappy hotel. The door is cheap too, but apparently it still thinks that it’s better than me. I stand there, my progress halted so easily by something as mundane as a door. I don’t have time enough to be proud so I sigh and suffer the indignity of manually stabbing the code into the grubby keypad. The dirty white slab begrudgingly slides halfway open and then jams, typical. I squeeze through the gap scowling and trying not to touch anything, praying that the door doesn’t decide to close again and crush me. I stumble out into the corridor, compose myself and turn around to kick the door. Pain shoots through my foot and I jam my mouth shut against the non-sanctioned curse that tries to escape. The door slides smoothly shut with a smug little sigh.

The corridor is filthy enough to make the room I’ve just left feel clean. Strip lights flicker along the low ceiling, intermittently illuminating drifts of rubbish and off-white walls that are yellowing where they can be glimpsed between mould-like growths of graffiti. I breathe through my mouth, the cocktail of smells is both familiar and deeply unpleasant. A large pile of trash shifts as a rat noses through it and reveals a broken cleaning droid. As the rat approaches the droid reaches out feebly with a mechanical arm – desperate to fulfil its function despite its state. The rodent sniffs at the clawless limb then pushes it disdainfully aside and moves on as the droid whirrs impotently in its wake.

I pass rows of doors, each hiding a cramped hab-pod and lives that I know nothing of. I’m afforded clues as I pass; muffled grunts, wild laughter, snores and sobs that hint at grubby stories – none of which I want to know. A sudden crash from the other side of a wall makes me flinch and I stop, uncertain what to do. Raised voices, one male, one female. I reach out towards the door, my finger pointing accusingly at the entry chime but the voices stop and I lower my arm. Someone stifles a giggle and I step back. It could well have been the door that was amused. I turn away and continue to walk.

The corridor ends at a red door, my destination, a recharge room. According to my man the hotel can’t afford to put charge points in the pods because resi’s were dragging drone batteries up to their rooms and stealing power. I didn’t believe him at first, but having seen the state of the corridor it now seems likely that they would be that desperate. The upshot being that I, and others like me, are landed with the indignity of a communal recharge.

… continued in Be-Sides – available now on Amazon