Shadows Triptych - Two: Shadows of the Past

It all fell apart that day.

I had integrated fairly well into this new world, I thought. There were a fair number of things that would always be strange and alien to me, but mostly there were familiar concepts from home, albeit in different forms. I coped as most people do when they see something they can't handle or simply don't like; I ignored it.

My days consisted mostly of data checking and correction, reading through lists of numbers, verifying they match a second list. I always had an eye for details like this, catching discrepancies in my old firm's accounting logs. I had no way of knowing what the endless stream of numbers was, but then again, I didn't need to know what they meant to know if they matched.
I heard my coworkers' sniggers as they walked past while I sat, scanning the printouts. "Can you believe he's using hardcopy?!" they'd whisper. I'd ignore them, reading a bit louder to drown them out.

I had settled into a mundane life: every day the same. Wake up, take the transmat tube to work, scan the numbers, lunch promptly at 43,200 (forty three twohundred), just before what I knew as half-past noon. Then back to work until 64,800 (sixty four eight hundred), quitting time. Tube home, sleep, wash, rinse repeat.

Repeat, that is, until that fateful day. I hadn't noticed her before, or if I had, I hadn't taken much note. Her resemblance was ... uncanny. It had to be her. She was here too, trapped in this nightmare future mankind had grown into, and we had thrust upon us. She was waiting in line at the cafeteria, only two people ahead of me.

My heart was racing. There finally seemed a ray of light in my drab existance. I could barely hear the serving droid through everything going on in my mind, and ended up with a tray full of three kinds of flavored paste I hadn't known existed.

I followed her cautiously, paying more attention to where she was going than where I was, nearly spilling my tray on several different people. I sat near enough to listen to her speaking with her friends, but not obviously so. It was her voice. God how I'd missed her. I had to fight the urge to jump up and grab her, making a mad dash of escape. Such an idea may seem romantic, but I had lived here long enough to know that it was unnecessary, as well as unwise. A commotion like that would surely summon the Protectors.

I ate the paste, listening to my wife for the first time in five hundred years. There was a nagging voice at the back of my mind. I ignored it. It was nearly 45,000 (forty five thousand) when she said her shift ended at 67,800 (sixty seven eight hundred), nearly an hour after mine. I was late getting back from lunch, and was severly reprimanded for my tardiness. I would have to stay late tomorrow, but that was of no consequence.

I stayed late, claiming data inconsistency to any who asked. Finally, at 67,300 (sixty seven three hundred), I put my papers down and walked to the tube station.

My heart was in my throat, my stomach was chasing butterflies, and I could scarecly hear the PA over the pounding in my ears as I approached her.

"Excuse me --" I cautioned, gently resting my hand on her shoulder in that way she always enjoyed. Before I could say anything else, she had turned, looked directly into my eyes, screamed and jumped back.

"I'm sorry" was all I could say as the Protectors surrounded me. I never let my gaze stray from her face, finding solace, an escape in her eyes. I was blodied, battered and bruised before being conducted to a padded holding cell.

So much for routine, I thought dryly. For one fleeting moment, I had touched her again, and that was enough. For now.

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