Lobert Stein sat in his swivelling egg-chair, the sterile white computer consoles surrounding him like a giant mouth. The panoramic windows of his view tower gave him a constant unchanging outlook over the alien landscape of Taurus Delta, a dull brown desert pock-marked with boulders and sinewy plant-life, stretching off into all distances. The sky was an overcast cloak, always cloud-filled, misty like a blinded eye. Lobert repositioned himself, slouching in the impossibly uncomfortable chair, knowing that his lazy rest would be destroyed any second.
“Doctor Stein,” chirped the complex’s central computer in a juicy feminine singsong. “You haven’t touched your console for five minutes. Why is this?” Lobert cleared his throat. He’d always found the concept of talking to a machine a little strange. Shameful pathetic memories welled up in him, sitting in the classroom as a child back on Earth, unable to answer the tutor-bot, his classmates laughing away. The robot stood in front of his desk, its expressionless metallic face terrifying him. It felt so… unnatural.
“I was, uhh, contemplating,” he replied, scratching his balding scalp guiltily.
“Contemplation is good,” sang the computer piously, “but hard work is better. I suggest you return to your project.” Stein sluggishly obeyed, leaning forward and touching the console. His graphs and tables jumped back into existence, hovering in front of his disinterested eyes. He picked up his old-fashioned glass spectacles, wiped the lenses and propped them on his potato-shaped nose.
“That’s better,” the computer cooed patronisingly. “Remember, your work is integral to the future of the human race.” Lobert didn’t feel that encouraged. He was at a dead end. The aim of the scientist’s project was to prepare the Taurus Delta for colonisation by terra-forming the atmosphere, converting the atmosphere to human living conditions. The other scientists seemed to be constantly making breakthroughs, mapping the properties of this atom, classifying the molecules in that plant, while he sat in the chair, fruitlessly tapping away inside his pristine technological cage of an office.
It had all seemed so promising in the beginning, when he first saw the United Earth Aerospace Division billboards and video adverts, flashing with colour and intrigue. Colonising the universe. A fresh start. If he had thought about it, he would easily have come to the conclusion that all he was doing was picking up his socially inept and unsuccessful baggage and plonking it down on a different planet. One a bit dustier and a little less inhabitable. He sighed as he looked past his work, out into the endless rocky wilderness. Would he ever truly get away?