The buzzing under his pillow signaled 5:45 am. His hand swept up to retrieve and silence the phone as his feet swung down to the smooth tile of his housing unit. The cold contact reminded him more than anything that he wasn't home. This cube was where he lived, but he didn't own it, didn't even rent it, and if it was up to him, and if he had the cash - you used to buy things with cash not Tedison credits, he knew that as much as anything - there would at least be a nice rug on this floor. Each morning his waking feet expected to be met with plush fiber, even after all these weeks. The body remembered.
Gale blew his nose - congestion was a constant problem these days - and donned long shorts, a t-shirt advertising some charity fun run faded to a gray-blue, and his running shoes, even though today was not a cardio day. 10 minutes and he was out the door with a water bottle and protein bar. 15 later and he was in the gym hefting the free weights. He came to the gym early on days when he wasn’t scheduled to work. He didn’t love waking up early every day, but keeping to a steady routine helped him keep his bearings. A cordial silence ruled the floor, at least over here by the equipment. Most days in the gym - days when he couldn’t convince Gray to come out this early - he worked out solo. He knew without trying how much weight he could press, curl, endure. Or, at least, his body remembered.
But still, he was losing muscle mass, even adding reps and resistance. Fundamentally, he was not eating enough protein, barely enough calories. He could make quarts of oatmeal and ramen on his hot plate, but even supplementing it with the protein powder he’d found in his suitcase, it was not an adequate substitute for fresh food long term. Or at least, he reflected, not enough for a growing boy. Plus, day after day, quart after quart, and you didn’t actually want to eat much more oatmeal or ramen than it took to fill your belly. Because Gale worked in the biome’s only General Store, he and other employees got first pick of each week’s Manager’s Special - those items near expiration marked down to encourage a sale. So he could afford some fresh food, but not as much as he wanted. And meat was harder to come by here. Some produce was grown within the biome, but there wasn’t enough pasture for livestock, a least not enough to meet demand. The high cost of importing perishables to wherever here was made meat, in particular, difficult to obtain in very large quantities. So even as expensive as it was, meat did not usually remain on the shelves long enough to be marked down for the Manager’s Special. And he was getting sick of peanut butter.
Now was a good time to take advantage of another biome gym perk, the personal training was free. Gale surveyed the early morning bodies in the gym. A trainer with long hair and sunglasses leaned against a vacant leg press machine. Gale had never met him, but had seen his face around. Well, the bottom part of his face. Under the trainer’s TEDISON branded uniform seemed to be a slender frame with possibly ropy muscle. Just the sort of expertise Gale was looking for. He placed the weights back on the rack and approached with a nod. “Hey man, how’s it going? I’m hoping you can help me out here. How do I keep my mass up on a low protein diet?”
He bounced gently on his feet and stretched his arms, one after the other, across his chest. “ I’ve been increasing reps, increasing weight. . . but I’m starting to think unless they increase my paycheck, I might be kissing these guns goodbye.”