The gray hallway seemed different than Ben remembered it. Had they changed it since last time or had it just been so long that his memory was playing tricks on him? It was hard to tell with the flashing light. He looked around awkwardly, trying to avoid eye contact with the others that had been forced out of their home units by the evacuation drill. Ben studied the others and quickly found that most were playing the same game of “avoid the others” that he had been, but they would not be allowed back in until every one of the 3,400 or so residents were confirmed as being out.
Ben began nonchalantly scanning his neighbors looking for insights as to who they were. It was curious feeling to see so many people in one place. Movement caught his eye three doors down. A young girl in a pink tutu was bouncing up and down excitedly. The drill must have interrupted a ballet lesson. Her father looked terrified to be outside and held her hand with a white knuckled grip as he shifted his gaze from one person to the next.
Ben turned at the sound of the raspy voice. It had come from an elderly man who was standing outside the door directly across from his. His blue eyes were tinted with sadness even if his face displayed a cheery grin.
“How long has it been for you?”
“Oh… Maybe 3 or 4 years. How about you?”
“Not long. I like to go for walks. The vidwall can’t get the color of the sky right and I enjoy the smells of the city.”
Ben looked down for the first time and noticed that the old man had on shoes! Nobody wore shoes anymore!
“My name is Seymour.”
“Nice to meet you. My name is Ben.”
Comfortable silence returned. Ben watched a struggle on play on Seymour’s face. He was trying to be polite and not press, but he desperately wanted someone to talk to. It was a simple wish so Ben decided to grant it.
“So, how long have you lived here?”
The man’s face lit up and he stood up a little straighter.
“Oh I reckon about 50 years.”
Seeing the shock on Ben’s face caused him to laugh the way old men do, mixed with a few coughs and wheezes.
“Oh I know that this building has only been here about 15 years, but I used to own a house on this very spot. Buildings started going up all around, high as the sky with all this new fangled technology built in. People started going out less and less. Anything you needed was magged right into your home. The building companies kept trying to buy my home so that they could build another residential tower. I resisted for a long time, but eventually the neighborhood was filled with them and, well, it wasn’t much of a neighborhood anymore.”
Seymour paused with the realization that he was ranting.
“To make a long story short, they gave me this unit for free and more creds than I could ever spend.”
“Wow. Not a big fan of all the changes huh?”
“Oh, they’re not all bad. In my old house I had the darndest time getting the shower temperature the way I liked it. Now as soon as I step it’s always 97.6 degrees. I guess I just miss certain things. Like knowing who the blasted President is!”
Ben started laughing and others in the hall turned to see what the ruckus was.
“Well you do understand why they changed the system right? Now the people vote based solely on what his policies and beliefs are and not on how he looks. It also makes him much harder to assassinate. The same reason he doesn’t live in the White House anymore where the whole world could know his whereabouts.”
Seymour dismissed it all with a wave of his hand and a “Meh!”
“I think a man is more accountable when he has to look the people he is leading in the eyes. It reminds him what he is doing it all for. Ya know everyone seems to like this new guy, but I would just like to be able to look in his eyes just once. They are the windows to the soul. That can tell you more than some stupid speech someone else wrote for him.”
Ben liked this old man. He may even have to viswall him so that they… no, that would be rude. He would come and knock on his door like they did in the past.
Seymour continued to talk about the way things used to be. Ben could not believe that he had swam in an ocean and didn’t die. Seymour thought that was funny. When he told him about eating steak Ben almost threw up. Seymour just chuckled and shook his head.
The flashing light suddenly stopped and almost instantly the hallway was clear.
Seymour knew what this meant and his shoulders sagged again.
“Well it was a pleasure meeting you Seymour. We should do this again before the next drill. Maybe I could knock on your door sometime?”
Hope danced in Seymour’s eyes as he held out hand slowly. Ben tried not to show the hesitancy he felt as he gripped it.
“The pleasure was all mine. And you feel free to knock on my door anytime. You have a good heart Ben. I can see it in your eyes.”
Seymour released his grip, but waited in the hall as Ben turned to leave, holding onto the moment as if it were water seeping through his fingers.
Ben palmed his door and it slid open silently. He turned and nodded a final time before the door slid shut and trapped him back into his own world.
He quickly walked back to his desk, where he had been working before the drill. Quiet conversation was taking place as they waited for his return.
“Sorry gentlemen. It was unavoidable. Where were we?”
Immediately the voices went silent.
“We were discussing the proposed amendment to the Clone Law Mr. President.”
Author’s Note: This story is part of a short anthology. If you enjoyed it you can read the rest of the stories here.
Copyright © 2011 Adam Drake