The iFactor – Chapter 2

by R.W. Van Sant

Once free of the congested compartment, Matt felt the air move more easily into his lungs. The warehouse had been an ordeal. Inside the enormous hall, the cacophony of noise and motion overwhelmed his senses. There were just too many people. They moved in and out, between and around the labyrinthine walls of crates. The effort of keeping track of each one, even subconsciously, made his head throb.

The passageway, which led to the city’s central dome, was not crowded, a fact for which the gaunt officer was sincerely grateful. Still, he appraised the long, wide corridor before he entered it. A rail for the cargo conveyances ran the length directly down its center. On either side, a long, paved walkway led to the end. Interspaced along its length were several small piles of small boxes waiting for available space on the next car. It had only two exits, and he had little wish to return the way he came. Still, it was unoccupied, and it wouldn’t take long to traverse it. He reminded himself that there was nothing to fear, Sirius was the safest colony in the universe.

The colony was sealed. Nothing of the corrosive atmosphere could get through the dome. The atmosphere was synthetic and sterile. Matt preferred the outdoors, an unobtainable commodity in the extra-stellar colonies. He missed the beaches and forests of California. There was, however, nothing for him back home. After what he did, there was no work for him anywhere on earth, at least not in law enforcement. If not for an old bond of friendship with the colony’s chief of security, Ken Vanderhaar, he’d never have donned a uniform again.

Matt walked rapidly down the causeway, taking advantage of the void. Even so, his ears were alert to every whir and clank of the machinery that kept the city alive. For the moment, he was alone and in control. By the time he reached the end, his pace had evolved into an energetic, quick time. Matt burst into the immensity of the dome and once again into the natural light of Sirius Prime, as filtered through the thick, acidic atmosphere and of course the silica polymer that sheltered everyone in the colony from a crushing, corrosive death. Under its protection, a metropolitan population thrived and did business.

The large park in the center of the city beckoned, promising peace and serenity. Matt would have loved to take a break and lie in the grass and let tensions seep down the blades into the soil. The activity in the docks, however, left him drained. He strode to a nearby transit station along a little cement path. He cast a longing gaze at the patch of transplanted Terra, but the haven of his small apartment called more powerfully.

The transit stop was vacant. Matt sat on a bench and rested, waiting for the next conveyance. It was one of his favored times of day, tween shifts. During the middle of a work shift, most the workers were at their positions, happily slaving away for the greater glory and growing profit margin of one of the mega-corporations who shared the city under the distant auspices of the United Nations Colonial Council’s appointed Governor.

The train car slid up before him, and the door opened. It was bursting, unusual for that time of day. Still, his apartment beckoned, and his bed would not be denied. Matt stepped on, his muscles tensed as he was jostled about by the representatives of humanity, sharing the small space with him. He negotiated his way toward the far door and sat on a seat with space on either side. As the other commuters sucked the air out of the small chamber, he reconsidered walking; it was only a couple miles. The clenched his teeth as the train doors closed and the transport gently accelerated along its way to the next stop.

A few passengers disembarked, but several more boarded and began the hunt for a place to sit. “Sorry, taken,” Matt said as a large man loomed and pointed to the empty seat beside him. It wasn’t as though he were trying to be rude; it was just that he had a strong impression someone else needed the seat more than he did. An image of a weary-looking elderly woman with a child on her lap and another sleeping with her head leaning on the old woman filled his mind. The seat wasn’t meant for the man in the suit. His impression of the fatigued woman held more sway over him than the demanding stares of an executive. The man wasn’t about to argue with a member of security, even if he was only an inspector. He snorted and made his way to the opposite end of the car.

Matt settled back, cleared his mind as best he could, and took long deep breaths while doing his best not to let his uneasiness show. Still, he couldn’t shake the sensation that something was off. Several times during the short ride, he had the distinct feeling that a couple of the passengers were taking a more than usual interest in him. A cargo inspection officer on a transit car on Sirius Primary wasn’t as odd an occurrence as it would have been on Earth, hell everyone here rode on the transit systems unless you happen to be a cooperate executive. Still, he felt self-conscious.

The riders were not staring or even looking at him, yet an inexplicable feeling was developing. It didn’t feel as though he was being watched, more like someone quite close was thinking about him too much. Eventually, he had enough and rose from the seat. A man in a city employee uniform relocated to take the seat. Matt held up his hand to stop him. A confused, surprised look crossed the man’s face. Matt glared until he backed away.

 The train slowed to a stop, and the door opened. An old woman struggled to get herself and the two young children who clung to her, onto the train. The smallest girl was weary and crying.

“Please, sit here.” Matt turned and let the woman and children fill the freed seats. A grateful girl smiled at him. He returned it and stepped off the train into the wide-open space of the dome with its less heavily trafficked walkways.

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