by Walt Staples -
The old man shuffled down the corridor, slowed by his burden. His friend had put on weight towards the end. He glanced down at his own paunch and grinned ruefully. His friend wasn’t the only one packing it on of late. He thought about his burden. Friend? No, much, much closer than a mere friend. Almost a lover. What was that ancient word? Bunkie--the one you ate, slept, shared a blanket with, and died with if worst came to worst. Yep, his bunkie.
The disposal tech looked up as the old man entered. “Yes, sir? Can I help you?”
The tech looked at the shroud-wrapped burden. “Why didn’t you just put it down a disposal chute? Why lug it here?”
The old man smiled slightly. “Biological.”
The tech raised his eyebrows and tilted his head. “Okay.” He pulled up a form on his display. “Weight of object to be disposed of?”
The tech looked at his display, then leaned closer to it. “I’m not seeing a listing for that. Could I take a look?”
At the old man’s nod, he unwrapped the shroud on the end nearest to him and stopped. After a moment, he looked back up, his eyes softened. “Yeah, okay. Tell you what, I’ve got a document box that should work. Be right back.” When he returned, the old man placed his burden in the container and the tech sealed it. He then attached a small reaction unit and a guidance pack to the container. He consulted his display and tapped in the coordinates for the guidance pack’s A.I. Then he opened the funerary airlock and placed the container on the track. The container moved in and the inner hatch closed. The tech tapped once and the light above the lock changed from green to yellow to red.
The old man began to ask, “I wonder, when I…”
The tech smiled gently. “I made a note of your I.D. When the time comes, if it’s within the parameters, you’ll be put on the same course.” He looked at his display. “Your...bunkie will reach Tau Ceti in 162 standard days.”
The old man, his eyes wet, sniffed. He wiped a finger beneath his eye. “Thank you, so much.”
The tech nodded. “I had a dog once too.”