Former colonial heavy transport 'White Bear'.
First Jerusalem orbit.
Sometime in wee hours of a sunday morning...?
...I repeat: test activation of emergency smoke venting system in stairwell B-16 will commence in one minute. All maintenance personnel are to stay clear of...
It took longer for Allen's mind to register the gist of the announcement than it probably should have, but, considering the amount of overtime he just clocked in, reaction time of fourteen seconds wasn't half-bad, really.
Checking if his tools were still affixed to his harness, climbing to the nearest landing, attaching the suit's tether to the closest handrail via a spring hook and assuming prone position didn't take much after that.
If somebody asked Allen on his last day of being a student of the most prestigious university of Bormeo what he envisioned himself doing at about forty years of age, 'clinging to metal floor on a refurbished ore hauler orbiting (what is suspected to be) humanity's cradle while returning home from a thirty-six hours work shift of hunting faulty soldering in a face recognition system' probably wouldn't be that high on the list, all things considered.
While being inside what was, essentially, an aerodynamic tunnel with added risk of getting a faceful of random crap left lying around by overworked repair crews struggling to meet the deadline was far from completely safe, sealed environmental suit or not, Allen quickly grew bored of the process and almost nodded off right there. He chalked it up to his chronic lack of sleep for the last... week? Month?
Ah, it didn't matter. What mattered was getting back home while he still could place one foot in front of the other. Allen nodded to himself. Keeping one's priorities straight in the fugue state of /crunch time/ was extremely important.
Fortunately, the test was over and done with before he had to bite the inside of his cheek to stay awake. That would've been unpleasant.
Even more fortunate, however, was his familiarity with the former ship's layout. Working too long in the exact same place usually bred boredom - which often led to negligence and workplace injuries, yes - but it also allowed one to navigate all these winding corridors and confusing ladders on autopilot much easier.
Normally, Allen would've taken the opportunity to memorize the rare sights of the (now retired from service) vessel class that made post-collapse reconnection of remote systems possible in such record time.
Or thought about how the former workhorse of the 'UMN restoration initiative' was now destined to spend the rest of its spaceship days as 'First Jerusalem colony orbital residential block #926'.
Or at least noted how increasingly hectic the already quite eccentric collection of individuals he happened to work with on this project looked less than a week before the renovation was due (Allen was pretty sure the device the deratization team hurriedly carried by him right then resembled a military-grade flamethrower closer than anything meant to combat a vermin infestation according to safety regulations).
But that would require him to be fully awake and functional. Which Allen wasn't. And so he soldiered on.
'Hey there, Al! You got dragged on this graveyard shift too, huh?'
Allen did meet one of the co-workers he couldn't just (approximately) politely nod and wave his way around before he could reach the exit point and finally clock out.
His speech center didn't want to cooperate though.
Whatever Allen had to say about Lenny's work ethic, the way the guy managed to watch the recording of the local league's latest zero-g rugby match, try to decipher Allen's attempts at verbal communication and unscrew the ceiling access panel with speed and precision rivaling that of an automatic conveyor assembler at the same time was nothing short of mesmerizing. If one needed to get to some electronic contraption's guts fast, Lenny Hudson was definitely the man for the job.
'...that drat foreman of ours! Making such fine gentlemen as ourselves work to the bone, awkward sod. Who cares if some eggheads dug some kinda important thingumajig or another out of the dirt planetside and sent for more of their folks to arrive ahead of schedule, you can't just hurry up laying new power lines like that! That'll just make for a mighty juicy short-circuit at the first snotty joint...'
Lenny also couldn't shut up to save his life even at the best of times, so Allen abandoned trying to push a coherent reply through the deluge of words and used hand gestures to get his point across instead.
Allen's most annoying co-worker (at that time) then did something he had yet to see the man do: Lenny stopped doing everything, turned around as fully as he could and concentrated all attention on one subject completely.
'You mean to say you should've been asleep fourteen hours ago?'
Lenny assumed as sympathetic pose as his position of being wedged in between two walls and the ceiling, clad in a fully sealed softsuit and elbow-deep in some transformer would allow.
'You go and grab some shut-eye right now, mate. You are about the only reason we here in electrical are not behind on at least something, so don't get yourself whacked by tumbling down some stairs now, you hear me?'
That was... unexpectedly considerate of the man, given Allen's experience so far. He resolved to revise his opinion of Lenny sometime soon and continued his track.
Decontamination chamber at the point where modules with unconfirmed atmosphere composition ended and actual (almost) livable space began seemed downright inviting at this point. Harsh lighting, bright blinking lights and abrupt harsh sound tones that accompanied its work also made staying awake easier.
Being able to finally unseal the suit's helmet and breathe in something else than his own stale sweat made wonders for his ability to think too.
'Mister Allen Ridgeley! Back from your shift, I see!'
Mister Helper's somewhat high-pitched and jerky mode of speech that paused to emphasise every other word could be grating at times and often served to send his mind spinning on tangents about optimizing programming of the speech synthesizer its creators used to make the most use of the platform's limitations, Allen had to admit.
'Let me help you with that equipment of yours!'
Its visual design being more reminiscent of a child's toy than an unholy amalgamation of a forklift and a baker's dozen manipulator arms it actually was, carefully calculated 'carefree' body language of all the limbs at its disposal, the eye-searing hot-pink and neon orange tiger stripe paintjob and generally upbeat and helpful disposition rarely failed to make him smile though.
Properly taking off the suit and depositing all other equipment Allen had on him to the storage took some effort, but with the help of Mister Helper's helping hands the task was accomplished smoothly and in short order.
'Every item seems to be in order. Diligent as ever, Mister Ridgeley!'
Oh, he could talk now. Progress!
'What should I tell Chief Williams about section 97-238?'
'Section 97-238 is a-ok.'
'Section 97-238 is a-ok! Roger that!'
Mister Helper's voice had somehow sounded even more cheerful than usual at that statement. It even mimed the universal 'ok' handsign as best as its four-digit manipulators (all of them) would allow.
'I am sending word to the logistics manager now! You only need to sign the required form at the office and you will be home free!'
Allen could practically smell the freedom to fall asleep at any time now.
He could also smell (somewhat) freshly-brewed black tea as he approached the corner that served as 'logistics manager's office' in this pandemonium. That could only mean one thing.
And it was indeed one miss Clara Donovan without any room for doubt.
For all that most realians were grown in (deliberately made to be) similar batches and groomed to be a productive, law-abiding member of society in general and the profession they were slated for in particular, they were still based on your run-of-the-mill humans, and thus had a tendency to develop such curious thing as personal taste sooner or later.
'Mister Ridgeley. Notification from the storage room went through. Please place your signature in the highlighted space.'
True to her words, the relevant part of the document displayed on the handheld she slid towards him across the desk lit up from the rest. Although the form in question was completely filled out already, Allen still took his time to give it a thorough read several times to make sure he knew what exactly he was signing.
Not that either the establishment he was currently working for or Clara personally gave him any reason to do so, but Allen preferred to double-check just in case. If the clerk felt anything about some technician going with a tight comb over a piece of work she just finished right in front of her, Clara didn't show it.
Allen didn't find anything wrong with the form in the end (which didn't say much, considering his current mental state) and signed it after what probably was a completely needless waste of time.
'Can I get some of the tea you are having?'
Wordlessly, in one precise, uninterrupted motion, the handheld disappeared somewhere below the desk's surface and was replaced with a five-liter thermos still half-full with the fragrant brew. Allen put a thermocup of his own near it and proceeded to watch how it was filled up to just slightly below the brim. Without spilling a single drop. Or Clara taking her eyes off several monitors' worth of information feeds, for that matter.
It wasn't the first time he was asking. Nor did Clara refuse this request of his yet. But raiding your co-workers' tea supply without asking? That was just rude.
'Not at all.'
Besides, if the woman's scarce amount of visible skin was anything to go by, in addition to whatever secretarial suite she ought to have had installed in order to effectively process the amount of information she routinely had to work with, Clara also sported several subdermal armor layers and some heavy duty cranium reinforcement. And was never seen far away from a suitcase roomy enough to accomodate a fully loaded light machinegun either. So Allen assumed the emergency reserve of this precious liquid wasn't going anywhere without her say-so anyway.
He wasn't the only employee with enough years under his belt to recognize their security team member onsite, but, as far as he could tell, he was the only one to feel noticeably calmer in close vicinity to a heavily armed individual. Allen chalked it up to the very interesting life he led.
'I'll be going.'
He firmely closed the lid on his cup. Some fresh hot tea would be needed if he was to brave the commute back to home.
'Have a nice day.'
Ah, rest, sweet rest. He was going to spend his sunday home and he was going to sleep right through it. Might've seemed simple to anyone else, but, at that precise moment, it was all one Allen Ridgeley could dream of.