Paul Temberson blinked and frowned, but looked out her synth-window at Tranquility Base for a couple seconds. Deimos Recycling needed him more than he needed them, and this HR flack knew it. But it wouldn’t do to piss her off too much; she might spite her own company to score a point. “A problem? What?”
“You checked ‘Other’ for Religion and wrote down ‘none.’ Our application has checkboxes for ‘Unaffiliated’ or ‘Atheist,’ if they apply.” She drummed four fingers on the edge of the desk, then tapped the icon that brought up his application. “We can fix that right now, if you’d like to change it. Then we can move on to some other paperwork.”
“Oh. I was going to ask about that,” said Paul. “I thought it was illegal to ask for religious affiliation, but I didn’t want to raise a fuss about it.”
Cynthia pursed her lips for a moment. He hasn’t done his research, she thought. “Actually, for us it’s the opposite.” She tapped at her desk for a moment. “Not only is it legal for us to ask, it’s a legal obligation. Here’s the governing regs. I’m surprised you haven’t read them already.” She pushed the icon across the desk, giving it a two-fingered twist. It opened, the corners throwing off sparkles and eddies, which annoyed her. “Section three dot four, paragraph six.” Pulling up the messenger, she tapped @IT - did you upgrade my desktop and not restore prefs? Plain theme, please. Sparkly isn’t professional.
“Huh,” he said, tapping the document closed and pushing it back across the desk. “I wouldn’t have believed it. I did my homework, but never expected that in the regs. So why do you have to ask?”
“Because we can’t put atheists on a salvage crew.”
“Yup. Insurers won’t cover that situation, and they got the government to update the regs so we’re covered.”
“But why?” Paul looked truly curious.
Cynthia leaned back in her chair. This was always the hard part. “Before you recycle a can, you have to take care of the ghosts.”
He looked baffled. “Ghosts. You mean like stealth hackware?”
She sighed. “I mean ghosts. The spirits of dead humans that haven’t moved on.”
“You’re serious,” he said after a long pause. “But what do ghosts have to—and what difference does it make?”
“This is something the government and the corps don’t like to talk about,” said Cynthia. “You can imagine why. But cans—orbital habitats—are abandoned after a few decades simply because the ghosts get to be too much to deal with. It’s something about dying in micro-gee. Habitats on the moon, Mars, even larger asteroids, don’t have that problem.”
“Well, you can change me to Unaffiliated.” Paul nodded. “But why do atheists have problems?”
“Because when faced with proof of an afterlife, a few of them lose it. Anything from nervous breakdowns to full-blown psychoses. The vast majority adjust their beliefs, but there are enough problems that insurers just don’t want to deal with it.” Cynthia tapped at the application.
“Okay, I can see that,” said Paul. “You hear things, especially from people from out past Mars, but you put it down to sendep. Sorry, sensory deprivation.”
A message popped up: Sorry. We’ve adjusted your prefs. Rebooting now.
“Not now!” Cynthia growled, then looked up at Paul. “Sorry. IT just rebooted my desktop.”
Paul laughed. “That’s one reason I’d like to take this job. Trank’s nice, but you don’t have to deal with flakes like that in orbit. Everyone’s watching out for everyone else.”
“Right. So when my desktop comes back, I can access the offer letter. You’ll need to pick a crew whose spiritual advisor is compatible with your beliefs, but we have most of the major rituals represented. The spirit guides—the ones who actually help the ghosts move on—are either Tibetan or Native American. But your interactions with them will be at a professional level.” She stood and stretched her hand across the desk. “Welcome to Deimos Recycling, Mr. Temberson. We’re looking forward to having you on one of our crews.”