Chapter Six (cont.)
Toliver found the walk back in the dark unremarkable, the sky shrouded beneath dark clouds. Joad showed him his domicile, how to key the DiNAlock® and left him. Toliver didn’t see where he went. At this point, he didn’t care. As Toliver entered his new home, the lights came on, nearly blinding him after the darkness outside. Without thinking, he asked the lights to dim by half. The lights complied.
As his eyes adjusted, he saw a miniscule kitchen. Most of that appeared to run automatically. He had a small, metal table attached to one wall. Actually, it appeared more than attached. It looked like it had grown out of the wall. He had what seemed a wooden, straight-backed chair, though Toliver suspected it must involve graphene in some way. A single bed filled the opposite wall and he sank onto it gratefully. He would think more about his situation tomorrow. Now, he just felt too tired. He couldn’t remember ever walking so far before. He managed to get his shoes off and rub his swollen feet before he fell back on his bed, already asleep.
Toliver bolted upright to a clangorous, cacophonous commotion and slipped off the bed, landing hard. This was followed by a pounding on his door.
“Wake up, wake up, wake up! The sun is in the sky. It’s time to get to work.”
Still dressed, Toliver fought his way out of the sweaty shirt he wore and put on one of the ones bought yesterday. He pushed his feet into his ‘new’ boots and suppressed a cry as heal blisters on both feet were scraped open. He sucked in a hiss of air through his nose. Some instinct told him to step out, rather than tying his boots or doing any more than finger combing his hair. He blinked into the swollen, red sun, which had just cleared the horizon and sat at eye level. He turned to his right to clear his vision and noticed another twenty or so standing outside. They were mostly men, but Toliver saw three, possibly four women in the group. Joad was returning from the far end of the group.
“Let’s get to it. You all know your jobs for today.” As Joad passed them they scurried off, though Toliver noticed they slowed down after Joad went past.
“Tie your boots before you go to the yard,” Joad said as he passed. “And get your hat.”
Toliver pulled his hat from the back pocket he’d stuffed it in and knelt down to tie his boots. So this morning became the start of countless clone mornings to follow. When he reached the yard, he stopped to study the piles, trying to determine the best place to start.
“Don’t just stand there and stare at it,” an unfamiliar voice called. If you don’t get it taken of, I’ll have to do it.” Toliver turned to look for the source of the voice, deeper and somehow more menacing than Joad’s, and lifted an eyebrow when he saw it belonged to a solidly built, yet petite woman.
“What are you looking at? Get to work.”
Toliver turned back to the task at hand as the woman walked away. He studied the problem for a minute more before approaching the mess in the right, front corner near a windowless shed. He began pulling the 1” x 6” x 8’ planks from the mess and stacked them several feet behind him. He stopped when his stack reached about three feet high, unable to continue without pulling some of the heavier 2” x 4”s and 4” x4”s out of the way. He piled these by the wall of the shed. The broken pieces of each type, he tossed to the far end of the pile. He started a new stack of planks along the fence perpendicular to the first pile.
As the morning wore on, he fell into a rhythm.
“You can take a break now,” said a dark-skinned women of indeterminate multiethnicity. Snapping Toliver back to the present. He was startled by how much the sun had risen and how little reduced his twisted pile of wood appeared.
“You get a half hour, mid-day, part of which is already gone.” She held out a dirty cloth sack and a dumb graphene cup.
“What’s this,” Toliver asked when he took it.
“High protein, energy biscuits and water.”
Toliver took a tentative bite of one of the biscuits which crumbled to dust in his mouth.
“That’s terrible,” he choked out. “Is that part of the punishment?”
“No, but it might as well be. Break it in pieces and pour some water over them. Once they soften up, they’re only sort of terrible. Oh, and they make pretty good plasters for blisters and the like.”
Toliver laughed, but did as she’d suggested, putting the pieces on top of the boards he’d stacked.
“Thanks,” he said sincerely. I’m Toliver.”
“Janeannie,” she smiled” I need to get back.”
“All right. I hope to see you again,” he said.
“I don’t think either is going anywhere.