For the people of Sokol station, the days were a blur of grey walled monotony. Industrial habitats like Sokol didn’t bother with luxuries like viewports or holodisplays. A Sokol-nik would wake up, go to work, meet his quota and return, exhausted, to the cramped pod he called home only to repeat the same cycle when he woke up the next day.

The only change Piotr ever knew was the leftover credits in his digizen’s wallet at the end of the day after expenses. Food. Water. Air. Maybe a little something for Anya, even though Ninel would give him hell for it. If a man could not afford even an occasional gift for his one daughter, what sort of man was that?

Then later, Ninel and he would lie in bed too tired to do anything but listen to their landlord and his newest girlfriend until the morning shift bells woke them.

Piotr woke to the screech of the morning shift bells, that ugly electronic fakery given the lungs of a behemoth in order to propel every Sokol-nik to action. Across the room, Ninel was already throwing on her boilersuit. Piotr joined his wife, suiting up with only the rustle of stiffened fabric and the pop of buttons between them. Neither of them met each others’ eyes, not wanting see the weary darkness beneath their eyes, those bags that spoke of an ever present dearth of sleep. It was an intimate moment utterly devoid of intimacy.

They trudged down the street, joined the shambling mass of Sokol-niks headed for the manufactories. As he always did, Piotr flashed his credit chip at the dispenser nestled beneath the poster of Uncle Sasha and snatched the nutrient bars is spat out. The rust-coated machinery whirred and croaked out the anthem of the Kamchatka Solar League. Faltering electronics rendered the tune as a cacophony interspersed with the banshee scream of broken syllables.

It was as meaningless as the jovial “In one month, Patriot Sasha Romanov clocks 560 workhours, demonstrating his love for the League. Follow the example of Sasha Romanov!”

Piotr handed a bar to Ninel as he rejoined her and earnt a gruff “Thanks.” This would be their only exchange until shift end.

The No.15 Assembly Line is a fat, ungainly python that curls its way in a loop, consuming itself in a never ending cycle. Each of the bends in its grey loop is marked by the parasitic lump of an extruder. Here, Piotr stood.

Here, Piotr worked.

And he assumed that one day, here, he would die. Probably in the same manner of Old Alexei. Piotr could still recall those withered parchment-like hands clutching at an ionic induction fan. He could have been asleep, so calm was his face.

But, dead he was.

His destination, No. 33 Recycling Line.

Piotr had entered his second shift and had sunk himself into the all-too-familiar monotony as he followed the manual sent to his digizen when he realised something was wrong.

Like a clock with an irregular tick, the beat of the No.15 Assembly Line was perturbed. Piotr’s eyes were drawn away from his work as he looked up at the gangway above.

Four storozhey ran across the gangway. The hurried clatter of their boots usually meant a man was guilty of being under quota. Piotr knew he was not alone when the tension in his shoulders built as he focused himself on his work.

A man who is under quota is not a man. He is a parasite, the cannibal that consumes his own flesh.

But there was no bullet. No sudden yelp of pain or thud of a slumped body.

Just shouting. Loud with an edge of fear. It was easy enough to steal snatches of conversation over the conveyor’s whirr.

“-emergency meeting.”

“What? What do you mean, gone?”

“-king gone! Presidium is silent. The Fleet is dark. Chastikol-”

That was all Piotr got before he saw the storozhey take off at a run with the foreman close behind.

They were left unsupervised.

They were never left unsupervised.

All was not well in paradise.

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