“This isn’t a solution. It’s not even a statement, it’s a penance. You think you don’t deserve to live in the stars. Why?”
Off Day is original fiction by TGDaily’s CB Droege. Don’t start at the end. Get the story so far.
Part 5 of 5
“You haven’t really thought about it.” he said, showing a spark of the passion these conversations once brought out in his own father. “Earth always has been the authority, and it will be forever if we let it, but we don’t need them.” He slammed the package back on its shelf, almost breaking it. For a moment Jade simply stared at him, clearly at a loss. Otis realized then that his face had twisted with anger, and he had been nearly shouting at the girl. She must think his solitary life has left him a bit mad, and perhaps she would be right.
She glanced nervously at the door of the room, and shrank toward the door. He finally took control of himself, and allowed his face to soften. He tried to smile again, but knew how unpracticed it must look “I’m sorry, Miss Oliver.” he said, his voice returning to the soft crackle that it had been outside. “I suppose I haven’t moved past these ideas as much as I thought I had. It’s been so long since I really thought about the politics…” he let his statement trail off, shaking his head.
Jade stood, tucked the stray lock of hair behind her ear, and walked out of the room. “I think I will take that glass of water now,” she said simply as she walked up the stairs and back into the house above.
Alone in the small room, Otis turned to the small mirror above the sink, and tried his smile on himself. It was overly toothy, and did look a bit mad. He sighed, and turned to follow Jade, grabbing one of the tomato packages on the way. When back up in the house, he saw that she had placed herself on a stool close to the door, and was pointedly not looking at him. He turned and closed the floor panel with one hand, holding the plastic package in the other.
He walked back into the kitchen, and set the package on the counter next to the basket. He could feel her silently watching him as he pulled a glass from a cupboard, and filled it from the tap. He turned and placed the glass before her on the counter.
“Thank you,” she said, and took a sip.
“Miss Oliver, I -“
“I don’t believe you.” She said, cutting him off.
“What?” Otis was surprised. What didn’t she believe?
“You say that you want to live in that tiny little hole for the rest of your life, but I don’t believe you.”
“Then why -“
“I’m sure you meant to when you first built it, in your grief, and your overblown political righteousness, you meant to be making a place for yourself to live,” she said, “but that’s not what that is. That’s a tomb, not a shelter. You know that you would have a better life, be happier, on the station.”
“I’m happy here.”
“You’re a martyr here, Otis,” she pushed the lock of hair out of her face, which was now fierce and more angular than he had noticed before, not angry, but fervent. “This isn’t a solution. It’s not even a statement, it’s a penance. You think you don’t deserve to live in the stars. Why?”
“The- The Earth has no right to- to-“
“What did you do?” she demanded
“I killed her,” he said, softly, resignedly. Then, seeing her shocked expression, “I didn’t murder her, but I might as well have. She was fragile, and I made her stay out here with me and my damn garden. She wanted to live in the city, but I wouldn’t have it. That’s what killed her.”
Jade was silent then, once again out of her element, her streak of youthful wisdom brought to a sudden close. She took a long sip of the water, seeming to be thinking about how to respond.
“You’re not going to even use that room are you?”
The question surprised him. In years he hadn’t given it as much as a single consideration. He was preparing to live in the shelter after Off-day. That had become his whole existence, but now?
“Look,” she was saying, softly, “You can come back with me right now. Come to the city, and ride with me up to the new station. I’ll make sure you get nice quarters, and even get you a job in a hydroponics lab…”
“It’s too late for me now,” he said glancing sadly over at the little carpet in the floor of his living room, “It’s just too late.”
She sighed, “Nothing’s ever too late.”
“That’s an expression for young people, Miss Oliver.”
She looked away, “I suppose it is.”
“What will you do?” he asked.
She reached up and pushed a button on her visor.” I should call in to the director, have him send some police to arrest you,” she said, “The directive is clear. There are no exceptions…”
She sighed again, and turned toward the door, reaching for the handle. When he called out to her, she stopped and turned. Perhaps she thought she’d changed his mind; She raised an eyebrow when she saw that he was simply holding out the plastic package of dried tomatoes. He tried another smile, with fewer teeth this time, he hoped.
She looked at the packet for a moment before reaching out to accept it. She thanked him almost silently and held the bundle against her vest with one hand. She nodded to him without smiling back, and turned again to leave.
“What will you tell them?” he asked.
She paused with her hand on the door’s lever, not turning around, the stray lock of hair falling into her face. “No one was here when I arrived. All the residents of this household died many years ago.” She pushed the lever down, and stepped out into the sunlight. Otis leaned back against the counter, and let the door slam closed behind her. He closed his eyes, and ran his hands over his bald pate. Listening for a moment, he heard the hydraulic door of the jumper, then the whine of the small jets. He put his hat back on, and pushed the door open. He wanted to finish harvesting those strawberries before nightfall.
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