Off Day – Part 3

Off Day is original fiction by TGDaily’s CB Droege. Don’t start in the middle. Get the story so far.

Part 3 of 5

As if reading his thoughts, a faint pop sounded from the northwest, from the direction of the main colony. Otis looked over his shoulder at the tiny upside down candle in the distant sky which had, for some years been his only evidence that he was not the only man on the whole planet.  

When he looked back, he saw Jade had also turned around, and was looking over his head at the ship, undisguised excitement on her face.  “I’ve never seen the ships launch from this distance,” she said, “It looks so… slow.” She watched it until it disappeared into the sky beyond view, then lowered her eyes to Otis.  He had been staring at her slack-jawed, and he composed himself quickly, putting his hat on so it blocked his eyes from hers.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “for a moment you looked just like… like someone else.”

Jade took the few steps to the bench, and sat beside him.  Her smell was too sweet, and it made Otis want to turn away from her, but instead he turned and peeked out at her from under the straw brim.  She gave him a sad smile, “You have to come with me, Otis,” she said, “Is there anything you want to get from the house first?”

He pushed himself up from the bench then, and turned to look down at the woman, who pushed the stray lock out of her face once more as she watched his slow deliberate movements.  “Would you like to come in, Miss Oliver?” he asked, “You’re probably thirsty, and there is something in the house I want you to see.” He walked over to where he had laid his basket on the dirt, picked it up and walked around to the front door.  Jade was still sitting at the bench, so he motioned for her to follow before stepping inside.

The house was all one floor with cooking surfaces and tools at one end, and tables and chairs at the other.  All of the surfaces were kept meticulously clean.  The steel of the kitchen, and the simulated wood dining table were both clean and polished.  The plastic floors were swept clean.  Several books, none of them fiction, were stacked neatly on a small shelf over a reading chair in one corner.  A narrow staircase ran up the back wall to the second floor, and underneath it sat a shining net-node in a tiny alcove.  Otis hung his hat on a small hook near the door, and set his basket on one of the counters next to a dehydrator which was currently filled with sliced tomatoes.  The door opened and Jade came into the dim room, pausing at the threshold to allow her eyes to adjust while Otis washed his hands at the sink.   

“Make yourself at home, Miss Oliver,” Otis started, “I’m afraid I haven’t much to offer guests right now.  Would you like a glass of water or a tomato juice?”

“No, thank you,” she glanced around the room.  Her gaze fell momentarily on the net-node, and she raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“Oh, I never use that thing, of course,” he said, “but that’s no reason not to take care of it.  Do you need to jack in?”

She stared at it for a moment longer, and shook her head. She raised one hand to tap her visor with one fingernail, dislodging the lock of hair once more.  “I’m always connected,” she said.

“We had those in my day, as well, but I’d wager you’ve never looked at the net the way we would… I’ve got some NeWorld pills stashed somewhere, but they may be expired if such things do expire,” he explained while opening a drawer and moving some things around, “Aha!” He drew out a small, faded plastic box with a decades old version of the NeWorld logo on it.

“Where did you get these?” she asked.

“You look surprised,” he said, “I was once a NeWorld user, but after my wife passed, there was no one left to jack-in with, and the games aren’t as much fun alone.”

“No, I guess not, I’m sorry,” she said somberly, then “What happened… to your wife”

Otis looked at her carefully, trying to read her eyes.  They were flat, and unconnected, but at the same-time they held a certain depth that he couldn’t place.  He watched as she put her hair back into place again, just like her, just like is wife had done over and over, every day.  In the half-light of his kitchen, he could almost believe that he was standing right across from her, but did this girl really look like her, or had it just been so long?…

“My wife was pregnant with our first child when she fell ill.  Illness is not usually trouble, even all the way out here, but this was strange and dire.  I tried to take her into the city, but she didn’t make it through the journey, it was too difficult for her.” He stammered a moment, “If we had had a nice jumper like yours, or if we had been just a bit closer to the city…”

“…or if they had sent someone out to you?” she finished for him.

He gave her a sad smile, “None of the surgeons would come out this far.” he said, “This was right about the time of the proclamation from Earth.”

“I’m sorry,” she said again, obviously not used to such situations.

He held the small box out to her, “You sure you don’t want to jack-in, I don’t mind.”

“No, thank you,” she said, “You had something to show me…”

“Yes, of course,” he said, “I’m sure you’re busy.” He dropped the small box of hallucinogenic pills back into the drawer and closed it.

Look for Part 4 tomorrow. In the meantime, check here for more fiction on TGDaily. 

Off Day © 2012 CB Droege; Illustration © 2012 Catherine Lehman