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Being made redundant almost a billion kilometres from Earth was a bad way to start the week, and he did not expect it to get any better. Blake Horton was travelling to Callisto, the second largest Jovian moon, to catch a scheduled interplanetary freighter that would take him back to Earth. Currently on board one of the regular Jupiter shuttles, he replayed his last conversation with his Line Manager in his head for the umpteenth time. He just could not get it out of his head.
“Mr Horton, I’m guessing you already know the purpose of this meeting?” was how his Line Manager had started their unexpected meeting.
“I’m hoping I don’t,” Blake had replied warily.
He was sure that he saw his boss trying to hide a wry smile at that point. He always referred to Blake by his first name, so the simple fact that he had suddenly become oddly formal was enough to set alarm bells ringing.
“You are aware that the industry has been adapting and restructuring in an oversaturated market for our product for the past couple of years?”
Blake was sure he remembered shrugging at this point. Everybody in the mining and refining industry was acutely aware of that problem.
“The company has been downscaling our teams for some time now.”
Blake had noticed before that when there was good news and praise his boss was all “I” and “we”, but as soon as things got negative it was all “the company”, “the industry” and the most dreaded “you”. The “you” had not arrived yet, but he knew it was coming.
His boss had continued, “Your maintenance team is being reassigned.”
This statement had genuinely caught Blake by surprise. Even considering his boss’ management jargon, it had been hard to see how that was entirely negative.
“Where am I being reassigned to?” he remembered asking naively.
“You will be added to our pool of non-remunerated employees back on Earth.”
There was the ‘you’ he had been waiting for. “So, you’re sending me back to Earth?”
“Yes, cabin-class ticket, setting off in two days’ time.”
“So, what will I be doing when I get there?”
“Whatever you like.”
“When you’re no longer on the payroll, you’re free to do whatever you want.”
“By ‘no longer on the payroll’ you mean not employed?”
“The company just doesn’t need life-support engineers anymore,” he had smiled.
“I guess people out here don’t need warmth, water or air?”
“It’s not like that.”
“I thought the first people to go would be the miners.”
“They are directly responsible many of our revenue streams. Life-support engineers are a fixed cost, a fixed cost which needs to be scaled back.”
“So, not so fixed? Can I just take a pay cut instead?”
“Sorry, you know that your union will not permit that. They won’t tolerate any drop in average pay rates in the industry.”
He had left the meeting with an electronic confirmation of a cabin-class ticket back to Earth and a digital letter of recommendation to any future employer. That was all he had to show for years of work, beyond three months’ salary in the bank and an interesting entry in his CV.
It would not have been so bad if he had anything to look forward to when he arrived there. There would be no reunion with family as he had none, not close family anyway. It would not be a homecoming as he had left no property back there, he was going to have to start all over again. As much as he disliked the term ‘homeless’, unless he got another job before his savings ran out, that would be the reality.
Back on Earth, he had been unemployed for roughly two years before accepting the contract to work for the Galilean Mining Corporation on the moons of Jupiter. He still suspected that the reason he had managed to get that job was that few people were desperate enough to work so far from Earth and in such a life-threatening environment.
Now, without a job and an employer to pay his board and living expenses, he could not afford the high living costs of the Jupiter system, so he had little option but to return to Earth. That journey was going to take just under four weeks if all went to schedule. Four weeks longer than he would have liked. Interplanetary travel had become much more civilised, even just during his lifetime, but it would still be a month of boredom.
- - -
Blake was slouched in one of the surprisingly comfortable seats in the spacious main passenger lounge of the almost deserted Jupiter shuttle. He was bored, which suited his depressed mood but did nothing to enhance it.
As much as he did not want to go back to Earth, after working as a life-support systems engineer on most of the Io mining platforms, he could not deny that it would be a much less hostile environment. Even by Jovian standards, Io had been an inhospitable place to work. It was all radiation shields and anti-radiation drugs, but at least it had been a job and a well-paid one at that.
He looked once more at the lounge around him. For the whole trip from Io, he had been the sole occupant of the lounge, even though it had seating for twenty people. As far as he knew, there were only five or six passengers on the shuttle anyway. The others were presumably sitting in the other lounge or the small bar in between.
The lounge décor was designed to be soothing, but Blake had his doubts. The lightly-cushioned chairs were a pale orange colour and the walls of the chamber were a deep red. As a weird contrast, the smooth metal floor was brilliant white. He did not find it to be a particularly peaceful combination and was glad that he no longer suffered from low-G sickness, otherwise he would probably be adding a few more colours to the décor.