His father had always wanted to go to space. Ever since he was a child, his father would amaze him with telescopes and sci-fi stories, immense images that held onto infinite promises. The promise of freedom, the promise of escape, the promise of a new life on a new world. The promises that shone down from the stars on moonless nights, filtered only by the thick steel bars of the high up window.
Were those promises to blame for his situation? Was theirs a siren's song, which called men not to the riches promised in their voice but to the cold death held in their surroundings. Perhaps, but he hadn't even made it far enough to know for sure. When the engineer had found him she seemed to be of equal parts amusement and frustration. Amused that a man would be so driven to see space as to hide himself in one of the habitable lockers these commercial liners have for the spoiled pet of the rich, annoyed that she would have to explain why some blue-hair's pure bread pomeranian got dirt under it's nails standing on a tarmac.
The annoyance seemed to outweigh amusement as he found himself here, in prison, staring at the stars that he would always see but never touch. There was nothing to do but look at the stars in his tiny cell, but as morning came his hobby left and nothing was left for him to do but to wait. Dusk was approaching but he didn't get to experience the solace of the stars again before his waiting came to an end.
An ornamented man entered his cell, draped in the clean white uniform of the Company. He was followed quickly by the engineer, equally ornamented and whose dress, while better maintained than anything he had ever owned, seemed somehow shoddy in comparison to the immaculate uniform of her apparent superior. The both stared at him and through a compulsion outside of his own will he rose to attention.
He was taller than the commander and found himself staring down into the man's light hazel eyes, yet somehow he felt smaller than the commander as well. Those light hazel eyes held a depth that could swallow any man, no matter his size, and leave him feeling small. Through quick glances he thought he understood why the engineer, or ensign perhaps, could stand just as tall and loom almost as large. Where the commander had a surprising depth, she held a shocking shallowness. Not the dull vacant shallowness of idiocy, but the cold hard shallowness of a guarded soul. They were a smart pairing.
The commander addressed him, "do you know who I am?" He asked in a tone which easily conveyed he was a man who could drive home a point a thousand other ways before he would have to raise his voice.
"No," he replied, before filling the expectant silence with a hastily added, "sir."
"And yet," the commander said calmly, "you seek to come on board one of my ships. A luxury ship, no less. A ticket to which probably costs more than your life. Yo provide such an affront to man and don't even learn who his his."
"No, sir. Not... sir, not really. It wasn't meant to be an affront,"
"But it was." The commander interrupted, "the ship is mine and the responsibility of what happens above it is mine. An affront to its passengers is an affront to me. An affront to its cargo is an affront to me. And certainly an affront to its hull is a severe affront to me."
All three stood in the deep silence of the moment. The commander and ensign held their heads high above it, while he slumped low into its depth.
"So why do you affront me so?" The commander asked.
"I didn't know," he started, though the commander quickly interrupted.
"But now you do, so stop your cowering, stand up straight and tell me - why do you affront me?"
"I," he started, and again he was stopped.
"Think before you speak and for the love of all the gods pull yourself together and stand up straight." The commander had raised his voice and for the first time he saw what was actually in the depth of the commander's eyes. It was the same depth that was held out in space, not the infinite darkness that some feared so strongly, but the infinite challenge that called to the select few who were so crazy as to wish to fill the void within with the eternal void without. The held nothing to fear for any man who was so bold as to raise to their call.
He stared into those eyes like he had stared into space so many times before. Letting himself fall and fall, up and up, forgetting himself and absorbing anything that passed through. As the evening shadows crept along the floor and melted away into those that oozed from the corners, both men stared and neither faltered.
That is, until, he turned away from the commander, towards the window and pointed through the bars. Out into the inky blue sheet that was slowly being punctured by the glowing pinpoints of stars.
With his gesture simply came the words, "that." And the three stared, heads held high above the silence.
The commander sighed and snorted out a laugh. "A romantic," he sneered. "You insult me because you are a romantic." he laughed to himself and the ensign let one corner of her mouth curl slightly to a coy smile. "It is rare that a man insults me for such a reason, but it is an insult none the less. Such insults, all insults, must be dealt with appropriately and yours, no matter how banal the reason, is no different.
"Ensign," she snapped to attention, "we need a fitting punishment for this man. A sentencing perhaps. Locked in a tiny cell, barely large enough for comfort and with only a window for company. Does that sound right"
"Yes sir," she replied.
"And work, there must be work, to pay off the debt of his insult. Hard labor, every day, and long evenings of monotonous duties. How about that."
"Sounds fitting, sir."
"A year should do it, maybe more if his soul gets so broken that he should not be able to re-acclimate to the outside world. Should that be good?"
"Good indeed sir", with every call the ensign responded and with every call the prisoner sank further and further down from the stance to which he had drawn himself up. By the end he might as well have been a puddle of woe on the floor.
"But this romantic streak," continued the commander, "it worries me. It means he is prone to a wandering mind and a distracted body. He will need to watched and constantly to ensure his punishment is evenly enacted. These are odd circumstances, indeed."
The ensign agreed.
"But," the commander continued, "now that I think of it, you used to complain that your old quarters were quite uncomfortable."
The ensign agreed.
"And there was only a small porthole to see where you were going. I also recall your need for a mechanic, nothing too difficult, just someone to make sure the gears were tightened and the numbers were right."
"A night's watch, too. And all of this before your expedition to, was it that star?" the commander pointed a finger out the window."
"Yes sir, just about a half a year away."
"Then this man will just have to serve his time with you."
The commander turned to his prisoner. "You are to report to your ship immediately. You are to read you manuals immediately. You are to perform your duties and any tasks asked of you immediately. And if you do as you are told and you find yourself unable to return to a civilian's life, you are to tell your office immediately. Is that understood."
His eyes welled up with tears. He curtly nodded his affirmation and after a moments gaze from eyes both locked at the surface and open to infinite depths he croaked