Off Day – Part 2

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

Part 2 of 5

“I’m ready, Miss Oliver, but not to go anywhere.  I’ve lived in this house all my life, as did my father and grandfather.  I’m not leaving this place.”

“I’ve been ordered to take you back to the office in my jumper,” she said gesturing to the small craft behind her, “no one is allowed to stay.  The last ship leaves in the morning, and the last of the envi plants will be shut down.  Nothing will remain living on this planet for long after.”

She finally turned away from the basket of strawberries to look at Otis considering, almost as if she hadn’t seen him before now. Then, she took a lecturing tone, “The directives are clear: The colony must move to an orbital station.  Living on a planet which cannot naturally support us is archaic, almost anachronistic.”

Otis let her speak without interruption, though he had heard it all before.  He liked listening to her voice.  It wasn’t sweet or pretty, but it wasn’t his own voice either, and as much as he hated to admit it, it was nice to hear someone else’s voice.  After a few moments Otis realized that he wasn’t even listening to her words anymore, just her voice.

“This is the future,” she was saying when he tuned back in.  “No more need to waste resources on terraforming, air-cleaning, escape velocities, communicating through atmosphere…” she trailed of when she noticed him smiling at her.

“You’re obviously very passionate about this,” he said.  “It’s good to have a job that you can be proud of.”

“Yes, well… today is my last day.  There won’t be any need for the OWA once the entire population is on the orbital base.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s progress.”

“So it is.”

They both looked back to the garden.  Otis took a step over to a wooden bench, and sat, removing his hat again, and scratching his beard.  Another breeze blew across the dusty plains, nothing but rocks and dirt for miles and miles around his small patch of green.  Twenty years ago, before the first of the envi plants had been shut down, the whole plain was grass and trees.  A hundred years before that, before the first of the envi plants had been switched on, before the colonists had arrived, and his great grandfather had staked this plot of land, it had all been porous pink rock.  Someday, it would be porous and pink again. Rocks aren’t sentimental for the past.  “How did you find me?”

“Your Off Day beacon, of course.” she said, “While it seems that the light and transmitter have been damaged, it still has a passive ID chip.  We wouldn’t want to accidentally miss someone at the end.” She smiled disarmingly.

For a few moments he stared up at the roof in shock, then he smiled back at Jade, and finally, he couldn’t help but laugh.  “For thirty years, I thought that no one was coming to see me because I…  because my beacon was damaged.” he managed to get out between the hoarse guffaws of a person unpracticed at laughter, “and now I find that it’s just that no one had any reason to see me anyway.” He laughed for a few more moments, and then let it die abruptly, and with a deep sigh.

She frowned, not seeing the humor.  “We would have been out sooner, if your beacon had been fully functional.  We’ve been checking on the progress of such outskirted habitations for months, ensuring that everyone was packing up, and getting ready in plenty of time.  We would have missed you entirely if I had not suggested that we do a final high-powered scan for the passive IDs.”

“And when they found one, they sent you to see if I was still here.”

“Yes.”

“Well, you found me,” he said, “and I apologize that you’ve wasted your time.”

“Is there no one in the main colony whom you wish to see?”

“Nah,” he said, without thinking, “I’ve never had much need for friends, and I found out long ago that I’m not a family man.”

For a moment, she looked as if she wanted to say something, but thought better of it.  Instead she turned again to look at the garden, then up at the pinkish mountains in the distance.  Otis wondered if in all her life she had ever truly been outside.  He had heard stories of the main colony, and when his father had told of the metal city, built mostly from the remains of the colony ship, he had always sounded a bit sad, and Otis felt sorry for all those people made to live in a can, while he got to live out here in the beautiful world.

If the initial orders had been followed since he read them so long ago, most of the citizens should be up in the city-station by now.  They would only need one.  The colony hadn’t grown much since the early days, and the directives ordered a suspension of fertility programs until the city-station was ready.  Still, Otis had seen at least two ships go up every day for the last two months.

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.”

Look for Part 3 tomorrow. In the mean time, check here for more fiction on TG Daily

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

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