It had been a very long day at work. I’d messed up countless times because of my condition, from filling out the wrong forms to simply not understanding someone’s explanation for coming into Illagu. My superior had reprimanded me at least a dozen times.
I was thinking about my miserable day the whole way home, staring down at my dragging feet. It was about two steps up the stairs to my apartment when I heard someone call, “Excuse me.”
I jumped, gripping onto the rail as my heart raced. With wide eyes, I turned to the source of the voice.
“Sorry,” he said with an uncertain smile. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s fine,” I responded breathlessly. “Did you need something?”
“Yeah, I was just wondering,” he turned, pointing back towards one of the apartments on the opposite side of the miniature plaza, “wejdajhews witches zaren my apkdmsent.”
He turned to face me once more. “I just want to turn the lights on.”
I stared at him a moment in confusion. Was he asking about a light switch?
“I'm...sorry,” I said, “what are you called?”
“Oh, my number is 216894,” he replied with a nod.
I smiled. “You’re a brand new Outcast.”
“Am I that obvious?” he asked bashfully.
“No more than when I first got here. My name’s Dax. Show me to your apartment, I'll walk you through a few things.”
He led me to his barren apartment – the lack of furniture made the darkness feel oppressive.
“Sorry to tell you, but there’s no electricity out here,” I told him.
He tilted his head to one side, looking completely horrified by what I’d just said. “Why?” he asked slowly.
“Because Outcasts are ridiculously paranoid. They don’t want the System to find them, so they don’t use anything linked on a network, other than plumbing. If it can be hacked, Outcasts don’t use it.”
“Then how – ”
“These,” I replied, tapping on one of the sconces on the walls. “You’re supposed to put candles in them, though it’s not the best lighting. During the day, most people just leave their doors and windows open for sunlight.”
216894 scratched at his head.
“The stove is gas-operated,” I continued. “I...still need help starting those.”
“Ithfidsmhbaduejlakinga headache,” he muttered.
“Ohmehyds,” Ramona’s voice carried from outside the door. “Is this a new tenant?!”
I glanced over just in time to see her appear in the frame of the open door.
“Hello,” he said, nodding to her. “I’m 216894.”
Ramona gasped. “A former byte? Wedklakdmhgaiowjdkjgu. Yoijewsudjkgedusieaiwjdsmtu my birthday party. Everyone from these apartments will be there.”
“Everyone?” I asked.
“What can I say? I throw a great party. Speaking of, I nehasodijmlgkjhwsion.” Ramona disappeared from the doorway.
“Former byte?” 216894 asked.
“It’s another way of saying you were once part of the System,” I replied.
“I don’t get it,” he muttered, glancing around his new home, clearly uneasy.
“Listen,” I said, placing a hand on his shoulder, “I know how confusing it can be out here, so I’m more than happy to help if you need it.”
“Thank you,” he responded in relief.
I smiled. Finally meeting someone else from the System made my day a whole lot better.
To be continued…