Clyde woke several seconds before the alarm began to chirp. The lights slowly brightened the gray, cement walled room and he pressed the off button on the alarm. He rose, washed, and dressed in his worn work-clothes, all in the space of the eight foot by eight foot apartment. He ate his allotment of morning carbohydrates standing up over the sink, then brushed his teeth with peach-flavored toothpaste. He checked the time, then left hurriedly and joined his co-workers in the hall, on their way to the staircase. They walked down five stories in single file. On the ground floor was the airlock. The hallway wall was lined with rows of rebreather masks. Clyde picked up his assigned mask, donned it, checked the filter and pressure gauge (looking out of habit at the large overhead sign that read 'Have you checked your filter and pressure gauge?'), and then lined up to enter the airlock. He shivered in his clothes and secretly hoped for a new set to arrive soon.
Through the clear interior and airlock doors, Clyde saw the outer brille door, made of smokey, reinforced glass, roll up--light poured in, silhouetting all the figures ahead of him. He closed his eyes at the brightness. There was a subtle warmth that penetrated his eyelids and he smiled. Each worker progressed through the airlock one-by-one and soon it was his turn. He waited for the airlock door to seal shut, and the chamber to flood with fresh air, then opened the interior door and stepped into the chamber. He wrapped his coat tightly around himself, bracing for the chill of winter air. The outer door unlocked--he pushed it open and stepped out. A warm breeze passed through the weave of his clothes. Fluffy pink pollen floated on the air in dense waves.
"Spring," he said quietly, behind the silent safety of the rebreather.
He looked up into the air, watching the pollen clump and dance. Someone bumped into him from behind, grabbing his elbow, motioning him forward. The others got annoyed when he broke the line. He saw the face through the mask, his own that also belonged to one of his drone brothers, another Clyde.
He ran up to him, grinning, finding the other Clyde's hand. He yelled "It's spring!" through the mask, hoping some of the sound would carry, or at least the shapes his lips made.
"We have to work," mouthed the other Clyde, shaking his hand free and continuing onward. Clyde followed at a slower pace, walking to the side of the column of workers and receiving furtive glances.
Eventually he arrived at the worksite and greeted his partner Dan who was similarly dressed but flagrantly wore facial hair. Clyde admired his rebelliousness, although many of the Dans chose to wear beards. He often wondered who the first Dan was. Dan nodded a brief acknowledgement. They set to work. It was Clyde's job to shovel crushed rocks into the hopper. The machine churned and masticated the rocks into a paste. Dan controlled the nozzle that laid down the foaming cement into the waiting form blocks. Week-by-week new apartments and storage units accreted into buildings. More room made for more drones. The colony was growing at the expected pace.
They worked for eight hours straight. Clyde's mind fuzzed and blurred; the rocks he shovelled barely held his attention. Dan had to turn the machine off before Clyde realized that their shift was over. Dan patted him on the shoulder. Dan left and joined the column walking back. Clyde lingered in the room they were working on. He watched the others leave until there was no one but him. The light was dimming. He looked at the sky through the missing ceiling. Clumps of fluff dotted a purple sky. Night was near. Spring.
A thought invaded him, pressing from the inside out, demanding and urgent, and before he could countermand it, he slid his rebreather off. Shocked at having broken the quarantine of the mask, he held his breath tightly. Putting the rebreather back on wouldn't help. He was doomed. He exhaled in short bursts, then his lungs cried for air and he sucked it in. It was warm and fresh and deeply fragrant. He puzzled at the smell, then realized it was methane. He laughed, then laid down on the floor he'd shovelled and ground up just yesterday.
He marvelled at the changing sky with eyes not hidden behind a layer of plastic, until he felt a tightness in his chest. He sat up and coughed and realized the consequences of his folly. The fluff was harmless, so they said, but the micro grains would always get you. The pain grew and he moaned.
"I've always wanted to do that!" he yelled out, smiling through the waves of pain. He began to cough up blood. He fell on his back, and began to feel the thrall of a seizure. He choked on his blood, and watched the stars come out.