The rotting stench of Edenian fighter came through the breathing apparatus as I threw his severed limbs and onto the cart. No chemical made the smell go away, and it stuck with me for days.
Turning the dial on, an integrated AC puffed a whiff of cold air up my back. It felt divine. I loaded the rest of the torso and pulled the cart to the next body—just another day in the Garden of Eden.
I squatted and ran my palm over what seemed a left shin, and it felt solid. There was meat around the bone. Alien skin was rough, like an elephant or a lizard. I tossed the leg onto the cart and wondered if it tasted good, but I gagged at the idea and continued with my duties.
The torso was heavy, so I hooked it to a chain and pressed the button on the controls. The chain tensed, and the mechanism lifted the carcass. It dropped inside the cart with a skin-crawling thud. With this body, the cart was half-full. The scene of mutilated body parts ruffled my stomach. I moved my head and coughed. I needed a second for the smell and images to fade out of my nose and head.
Down on my knees, I searched the dusty rocks for bone shards and pieces of meat. I hated collecting organic fragments, but every piece was a penny. Hopefully, one day it will be enough for me to raise funds and escape this horrible place.
Spending days in craters, covered in dust, wasn’t how I imagined serving the Navy. Memories swarmed in my mind. In a moment, I was operating proton cannons on the USS J. Barry, but in another, I stared at the field of dead Edenians. How low have I fallen? A gasp steamed my visor, then I fetched the soggy flesh off the ground.
I came on to the head of an Edenian and spotted the damage on his helmet. The crack revealed one of his tiny pupils in purple sclera that signified they evolved a perfect vision. Edenians were tall, humanoid creatures with a speck of reptilian features to remind them of their past. Snakes, as we called them, developed a civilization, castes, and covens, all of it reduced to ashes now. I stared at the head and wondered if he had a name as if it mattered.
A siren from the main residential center called us to pull our carts toward the pit. I threw the head inside the cart, grabbed the handle and pushed it uphill toward the dirt path. A platoon of men in protective gear funneled on the road. We were headed for the rising smoke on the horizon. None of them acted as if they enjoyed the work. Whenever I get a glimpse at their visor, I couldn’t see a happy face. The column stopped. Nobody tried to cut in line because there was nothing fun waiting for them in the dormitory. There was nothing to do except count the minutes. “A thousand more credits, and I am out of this god-forsaken place.” Wishful thinking keeps my sanity in check.
The line moved at a pace of a space orbiter docking, yet nobody complained. The third shift finished with their first load when it was my turn to empty the cart. Two soldiers helped me take the cart to the platform and drove it to the yellow square. Heavy doors opened on a Pulverizer, and the hydraulic clams picked up the wagon. The mechanical arms lifted the cart closer to the mouth of the machine. Body parts went to the bottom with the sound of blunt metal impact, and then the razors grounded the mass.
The hatch operator made sure I stood behind him for safety. His name was Douglas. He always smiled for no apparent reason. I never figured out why he liked his job so much and never dared to ask. Jeffrey from the second company once said that Douglas had had problems with the oxygen tank during space travel, making Dougy a halfwit, but I did not buy it.
I finished my shift and handed the cart to the next guy. I gave him the situation report, said which acres were cleaned, and gave him the route to stick with. He hasn’t said a word, so I took my gear and took the road. Hauling myself back to the barracks, I dragged my feet through the gravel. Exoskeleton hissed with each step I took. I fixed my eyes on the sky, where an orange planet gushed pink gas clouds into the nebula. A bit to the south, an asteroid disc sunk beneath the moon. Deep space opened behind it with stars and orbiters glistening white. This sun shined no warmth on me. It was the same size like our Sun, but not so radiant.
Overall, the ground temperature was favorable; the water was fresh, and vegetation was light green, mostly toxic. The atmospheric transformation began phase one by producing ozone from melting the ice found in the asteroid belt. Soon we will stop poisoning ourselves with anti-radiation pills.
Photon harvest engines in the higher orbit powered the military installation and allowed us to work without problems. This was a significant investment from the Lunar and Martian colonies, which donated supplies and men for the task. If it were not for radiation, we would call this place a “garden of Eden”.
A pair of soldiers from the bio-warfare squad washed me before I stepped into the contamination chamber and left the exoskeleton on the rack. The second door led me to a cell where I took off my hazmat suit in a locker. Men from my company took their clothes off and checked for scratches, wounds, and lumps under the skin. An officer approached the two of them and told them to step next to the wall. I doubt I will see them again. MPs came in and took them to the infirmary, leaving the rest of us to get dressed in our regulars in silence. The final door led to a mess hall with lines of tables neatly positioned under five plasma screens on the wall. An exhibition of flags was flying above the screens, none representing my home.
I punched in the numbers at the counter; the display informed me about a dozen new credits in my account, barely enough to trade for food. I took the waiting line at another counter, picked the crackers and chocolate milk, put it on the tray, and proceeded to the empty table in the corner of the room. I sat there alone and opened the cracker package. Looking at the second floor, I saw officers entertaining people in suits. Those must be investors. By the expression on the civilians’ faces, I concluded they had a great time being here.
I zoned out for a moment, recalling my service on USS J. Barry. Background noise melted into a rustle while I ran the same old scenario in my head. My commander stood behind four operators that monitored the rods charging display. A destroyer slowly fell into position for a cannonade. We shifted our vision to digital and magnified the targets on the ground. A compound was located, somewhat smaller than a town on Earth, with no military installations spotted. Radar flashed red, shape-shifting saucers went airborne on the moon’s surface. Operators on the platform under us reported about swarms of drones going active. “Shields are on,” I heard it on the speaker. “Call your targets,” an order came through the channel. Spotters leaned forward, encapsulating their faces with bulky aiming devices. Adrenaline was pumping in my veins. A flat high-pitched tone turned me deaf while commands rustled on the radio. “Get some,” I whispered, anticipating kill orders. My finger danced on the trigger guard. I could’ve felt the sensation on my finger as if it was real. Bickering at the second table woke me up from daydreaming. I shook my head at the idiots about to lose their pay.
In a couple of years, the hotels will sprout from the ground like mushrooms after rain. Tourists will come, and by then, the evidence of what we had done here will be buried in the ground. Smiling blond chicks with perky tits will scream “Woo-hoo” from the top of their lungs, while riding a convertible on the polished road. Boys will drink night after night at the same bar, never to explore this place. “It’s just another day in the Garden of Eden.” People will say and continue with their miserable lives.
I finished my lunch, stared at the men on the second floor when a rail poster caught my attention. It was a futuristic plan for the moon of Eden, painted in bright and warm colors. Pearly beaches, palm trees with hotels made of glass and steel portrayed on the canvas sickened me. On the side was a girl in a bikini, artificial, just like the painting. A revamped pin-up girl with blond curly hair and a million-dollar smile gazed at me. The whole base jerked off to that digital chick. I wanted to grab a marker, blacken her central incisors, and add another pupil to make her cross-eyed, just so that soldiers would realize how fake she was. The day I leave for good, I’ll fucking do it, let them all know what I think about this awful planet.
I decided I had it enough and went to my chamber. Sitting on my bed, I saw the walls of my room as a prison cell. I had a traveling capsule converted into a bed and a traveling trunk full of gear for a chair. I also had a three-point stretch coat hanger, for a parade uniform nobody gave me, hung on the wall. I taped a calendar to it with dates scratched off. Other than that, there was nothing else with my name on it.
In two hours, the base went to sleep, but I stuck around for a cigarette by the window and watched at the working site. Deep space opened above the reflector lights where stars glistened in a pink mist while orbiters shivered in distortion.
I heard soldiers call this place heaven, but all I wanted was to be on a destroyer. I could not make peace with what happened to me. I never packed the folder the Navy handed me. It sat there on the bed, next to me. “You are demoted for failing to execute the order ‘Fire those cannons soldier, or help me God’” it said in the file. Now I realized it had to be that way. Snakes had capitulated five months ago, but investors were specific when they requested a clean planet. Although this was not really a planet, Space Corpse sold them a sunset on the moon and promised to help build a heaven.
Shift-ending siren woke me the next morning. “Another day in the Garden of Eden,” I said putting on the jumpsuit. I noticed troop carriers hovering near my window. This meant fresh supplies, more men, new gear, and a ton of new ways to kill time between shifts. I heard the older soldiers cheering behind the door. Did they think the job will be done quickly and that they would be sent home? I didn’t understand why the ‘Maid Corps’ was ecstatic when reinforcements meant less pay. We were nothing more than vultures, and this assignment was punishment.
Perhaps I might get a stake today if I am lucky or get double shifts because there is no such thing as a free lunch. So many men came today to serve their time. I found it shocking. The investors were in a hurry to get the hotels done by the next year, which explained workforce expansion. And the military had to follow orders if they ever wanted more funds to wage wars and operate in the quadrant. Everything seemed miserable, but people dared call this place the Garden of Eden.
“Fuck this place and people on it,” I cursed silently, grind my teeth as I reached for the doorknob, and left to do my shift. Anger motivated me to excel at what I did, but the fifth cart took all energy out of me. I laid on the rock and gazed at the USS J. Barry twinkling in the sky. “I should’ve fired those cannons when I had the chance,” a thought passed my mind, “But nothing washes the snake blood from conscience.” I looked at my stained gloves and went back to collecting carcasses.
I made peace with the Space Corpse over the fate they issued me. I made peace with Snakes before the final cannonade. I made peace with Eden’s moon, but I could not make peace with myself for the missed opportunities. A penny here and a penny there might get me off the moon. Wishful thinking keeps me away from doing something stupid.
Perhaps this is heaven, and I am just blind to see it. Maybe everything will make sense in the end.
Perhaps, this is not just another day in the Garden of Eden, after all.