The artificial natural lighting flickers and then dies. The concourse flashes instantly with auxiliary fluorescence, jarring Ian from a half sleep. He blinks against the unforgiving light and rubs his eyes. The others around him continue to sleep. Earlier they looked like robust travelers economizing their downtime with a cat nap. They are ashen and sunken-cheeked under the industrial bulbs. The lipstick of the woman near him cuts a ghastly red against the monochrome skin of her cheeks. In a perfectly pressed suit and tie, the man in the seat opposite gives the impression of being in state—the mortician having forgotten to sew shut his gaping mouth. The others in seats farther away don’t look asleep so much as passed out. Looking at them, Ian squeezes his forehead. How many years of off-center living did it take to leave them so wounded with exhaustion?
Had the last eight months done the same to him? So much flying. So many meetings and presentations. So much time away from home.
Enough of that, he thinks. The flying, the energy injections, the sacrifices. They are the things that give him what he has. It’s sleep deprivation, he guesses, that has him so morose.
Tucked away in a corner, another man sits awake with his hand cradled in a Skreen charger. His perfectly groomed gray hair and elite, tailored suit speaks to his high-ranking in some company. He stares into the luminosity of his palm as though it held a sacred text. He bursts out laughing at something he sees in that bonsai luminescence.
That’s what I need to do…just laugh, Ian thinks.
He looks into his own hand and then glances at the first-class waiting area. All of the seats with chargers are occupied.
The light changes back to a calming glow. He looks at the employee standing at the boarding gate. When they make eye contact, she mouths the word sorry.
Ian shrugs and smiles.
They’ve been glitching at night sometimes, she whispers, smiling automatically and then looking down into her screen. Her eyes go hypnotic.
He glances at the flight display and sees that his is still on schedule. He checks his palm for the time. If he fell asleep immediately upon boarding, he would get in nearly five hours. It’d be the most hours in a row since leaving home. The flight would have him back in time to see Jordan off to school. Then he will have five rare days at home. Five days, he thinks. They’d already been living in the neighborhood for six months. In that time he’d barely spent five weeks total in the house, and never for more than two days in a row. Still, it was better than living in the dead-bolted paranoia of a high-rise.
In WhisperWood, there were neighbors who looked in on Jordan. The schools were safe and matriculated students at a 100 percent rate of success. His son’s days were spent in healthy activities with other like-minded boys. There were nightly study sessions. Everyone helped to raise each other’s children. For a single father like himself, it was a haven compared to the cold distrust and self-reliance of the apartments. It was an environment that he and his wife had once only dreamed of for their boy. Her talk had always been of the future and what they would have, what they would give him.