The old man’s watching me soon as I step through the ‘lock and start shucking my suit. Which isn’t so weird, I guess, but usually he’s got more to say by the time I get in. Poor old bugger; sat in the module all day wired up to his jury-rigged surplus life-support, he’s usually hungry for some jaw of an evening.
â€œHey, dad,â€ I says.
â€œHey, boy. Tough day?â€
That’s usually my line. So I reply with what’s usually his. â€œTough like the ribbon, dad.â€
He smiles for a second, then looks kind of thoughtful again. Maybe he got a bad batch of meds this week. Sometimes they make him dopey. It must suck for him â€” he used to be a real active guy, one of the first cargo handlers up here. Used to be a legend. Still is, to some of us. I push for the culinary unit to fix myself some scoff; my work’s not done for today.
â€œSo,â€ he says, â€œwhat you doing tonight, boy?â€
I keep busy with the culinary, my back turned to him. â€œSame old thing, I guess. Swing over to the Sidereal, have a drink with the guys, check out the girls. What about you?â€
â€œSame old,â€ he says. â€œFinish this damn section of my degree, watch some old movies.â€
The one thing you could say for the old man’s condition, it gave him a chance to do the one thing he’d always regretted not doing â€” getting the degree that had kept him from being more than a docker … that had kept him from earning enough to make sure he didn’t end up that damned hospital chair like a man twice his age from down the well.
â€œDon’t do it, son,â€ he says suddenly. â€œDon’t go.â€
â€œHow come, dad? I’m always going to the Sidereal on a fifth-day. Thought you liked the peace. Want me to keep you company, is it?â€
â€œNot what I mean, son. Go to the Sidereal, fine. Just don’t go where you’re planning to go.â€
â€œI don’t know what you mean,â€ I bluff.
â€œYou do,â€ he says. â€œNo good’ll come of it. Seriously.â€
â€œDad, I’m just-â€
â€œListen, son, just because I’m stuck in this chair all day doesn’t mean I’m out of the loop. A lot of the other old guys and me, we keep in touch. We know what you’re planning. Hell, we even understand why you’re doing it. But it’s a mistake. Don’t do it. Don’t attack the cargo station.â€
Should’ve guessed he’d catch wind of it somehow. He’s a smart old bugger.
â€œDon’t you get it, dad?â€ I ask. â€œWe’re doing it for you, and for the others like you! And for ourselves, and for them that comes after us. We’re doing it so no one has to end up stretched, ever again.â€
â€œWhat do you think it’ll achieve?â€ he replies. â€œThat they’ll just cave in when strikes and propaganda have failed to move them? You think they’re not willing to kill you for trying to take over that station? It’s corporate property, son. They can do what they like.â€
I look at him, all hunched over, trailing wires; a seven foot tall man you could pick up and thrown across the room like a bundle of twigs, even at the bottom of the well. Fed a cheap diet by the ribbon company, housed in cheap dorms with thin shielding; worked like a dog for thirty years, and now hardly able to move on his own, at an age when Earthers were just settling in to the long afternoons of their lives.
â€œHow can you just accept it, dad? After what they did to you?â€
He gives me the same old spiel: how they’d not done anything, and how the choice had been his; that neglect of care was different to deliberate damage; that there was no work down-ribbon when he’d joined up. How there’d been no choice but the one choice. He strokes the battered old textbook he’d got from the UpTown library â€” he still has a real thing for real things â€” and looks at me straight.
â€œIt’s economics, son. It doesn’t care for wrong or right. It just works. You attack the docking station, you’ll make things worse, not better. Not just for you, not just for me and your mates and all us dockers, but for everyone on the UpSide.â€
â€œSo, what, you’re going to grass on us, is that it?â€ I says.
He deflates again, crumpling into the chair. â€œNo, son. Never that. I don’t love the corporation any more than you do. But I’m old enough to see that they’re necessary. Without them we’re nothing.â€
â€œWe’re already nothing!â€ I shouts. â€œThey keep us as nothing â€” and they break us so well that when we’re useless to them we’re not even willing to protest at having been broken.â€ I push back to the ‘lock, start pulling on my suit.
â€œDon’t go, son. Please. Don’t do this.â€
â€œI’m sorry, dad, but I got to.â€ I turn away from him and step into the ‘lock, hoping he didn’t see the tears.