Unexpected Properties

16 07 2010

The workday is over and Olaf finds himself tethered to the moving walkway headed back toward the ped complex and his home.  He absent-mindedly fingers the object in his pocket, oblivious to everything else around him.  He had slyly transferred the item from the pocket of his anti-c’s to his parka pocket back at his locker.  He seems to be weighing the object in his hand and in his mind.   At the ped complex he untethers himself and starts toward the apartment.  He is in quite a hurry and manages to bump into someone along the way.  “Hey, watch it!” he yells as the other man is sent sprawling in slow motion to the pavement.  “Some people need to watch where they’re going.”

“Kendra!”  he bellows after walking through the door.  We waits, but there is no answer.  He calls a couple more times before he gives up.  He shrugs and heads into the kitchen where he draws the object from his pocket.  He hesitates slightly.  It’s as if he just now realizes that he broke the rules by bringing the item home from work.  He shrugs again and pulls it all the way out, examining it.

He marvels at the weight of it and examines it closely. He sees intricate detail he hadn’t noticed when he had looked at it at work. Small symbols are etched into the side of it that make him think of jumbled golf tees. The tool markings on the object suddenly give him the feeling that this item is very old and did not originate on the Pytheas. He finds himself in a thousand yard stare, his eyes striving to penetrate the roof of his house and the shell of Piazzi city. His hand relaxes and the object falls from his grasp as he realizes that it must have come from beyond the solar system. The low gravity enables him to catch it right as it hits the countertop.

A wave of dizziness passes over him and he reaches for the counter to catch himself. The object starts to feel slightly warm to his touch, but this sensation is overshadowed by his feeling of vertigo. He brings his free hand up to rub his eyebrows and becomes startled. Unsure of what startled him, he knits his brow in confusion. He holds his hand in front of him and realizes that he cannot see it. Further examination reveals that he cannot see any of himself.

Object still in hand, Olaf makes his way into the washroom and finds an empty mirror facing him. He becomes genuinely frightened and drops the object into the sink. Instantly, he sees himself in the mirror, eyes wide and mouth agape. He looks into the sink and sees the object lying there. A small smile gnaws at his lips as he picks it up and glances at the mirror again. He sees his own smile dissolve to a frown and then stares at the object in his hand. He turns it over and over again in his hand looking for the “on” switch until an idea strikes him. It seemed to have activated itself when he dropped it on the counter. He taps it gently on the sink counter and gazes up at a once again empty mirror. The dizziness this time is overshadowed by elation over his discovery. He hurries to the front door.

As he reaches for the latch, he hears voices on the other side of the door and hesitates. Olaf steps back as the door swings open and Kendra enters. She is talking to a neighbor who is lingering on the door step. “I’m really looking forward to it,” she says to the woman. Kendra turns her head and calls sweetly, “Olaf?”

Olaf is about to answer when he realizes that he has no idea what he would say. Kendra turns back to her guest, “He’s usually home by now, I wonder if he got held up at work.” Olaf’s eyebrows go up and immediately becomes interested in where the conversation is going to go. He feels torn between the guilt of eavesdropping and the exhilaration of getting away with it.

“It’s sweet that you’re worried about him,” the woman at the door says in a somewhat sarcastic way. Olaf looks at her, confounded. “I don’t know how you do it, Kendra. He is such a difficult man.” Olaf’s jaw drops and turns his attention back to his wife, curious as to how she is going to defend him.

“Tell me about it. You know they say men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but sometimes I wonder if he’s on Pluto the way he ignores me.” Both women laugh and Olaf sets his jaw.

“That sounds so much like my Henry. I try to have a serious conversation with him and he only responds with grunts. Then, the first chance he gets, he changes the subject to sports or something else moronic.”

Olaf’s face grows redder as Kendra responds. “Well, that’s a man for you.” They laugh some more. “Well, I’ll see you at the Opposition party, Sarah. I need to get dinner started before the ogre gets home. I don’t need him any more grumpy than he already is.”

“Well, good luck with that. I’ll see you at the party.”

Kendra shuts the door and goes into the kitchen. Olaf clenches his fists until they turn white around the object in his left hand. His frustration escapes his lips in a low “errrrrr” sound.

He hears Kendra call from the kitchen, “Olaf? Is that you? I didn’t hear you come in.”

Struggling to compose himself, Olaf responds. “Yeah, it’s me. I’ll be in there in a moment.” He takes several deep breaths and tries to relax himself. The color begins to go down in his cheeks as he unclenches his hands. He catches something out of the corner of his eye and turns quickly to see what it is. Not seeing anything, he attributes it to his highly sensitive state. He stares down toward the artifact in his hand before remembering that he cannot see it in his invisible state. Tapping it on the wall next to him deactivates it, but despite its becoming visible again, he only glances at it before he shoves it in his pocket and starts toward the kitchen. His jaw is still set.

“Glad you could make it,” she says without turning around to look at him. “We only have a few days before the Opposition, so we have a lot to get ready. I went ahead and invited Frank and his wife over for you. I don’t know why we don’t have them over more often, I hardly know, eh, what was Frank’s wife’s name again?”

“Mandy,” Olaf responds evenly.

Kendra continues as though she hadn’t hear him. “Anyway. I thought Frank was your best friend, but you never invite him over. Oh, that reminds me, Do you remember the Alstotts? They were the ones that had invited us over to the last Opposition party. Well, I ran into her at the grocery store and do you know what she had the nerve to tell me when I invited her family over for the party? She told me that she already had plans with the Jonson’s! Of course she sincerely apologized, but you know what, I bet she just can’t handle the competition. I know what it is, she heard about the caterer I hired and it’s driving her crazy. Do you remember that party? She had only one hors d’oeuvre and it was that awful pecan thing . . .”

Olaf could feel himself toning her out and decides to get involved in the conversation. He wants to disprove her earlier condemning remark. “I met the Jonson boy today,” he snaps. He marvels at the curtness with which his statement comes out as she stops talking immediately and turns to face him. She regards him with surprise and then coolness as she returns to her task. Olaf finds himself at a loss on how to continue as the moment stretches on in silence.

“Uh, he’s starting his apprenticeship at the station. He’s on my crew.” He nods his head as if to punctuate his last statement.

“That’s wonderful, Olaf,” she says absently before stopping to fully consider his remark. “Hey,” she says, turning to face him again. “Maybe you could talk to the Jonson boy . . . “ She shakes her head and purses her lips. “Never mind, I don’t want to put you out.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Olaf narrows his eyes at her.

Kendra waves her hand as if she is swatting away his irritation. “Forget it, the Alstotts and Jonsons would just ruin a perfectly good party anyway.”

“Oh.” He wants to be angry, but the weight of the object in his pocket is starting to distract him from the conversation. “I’m going to take a walk. I need to sort through a few things.” She gives a questioning look that compels him to elaborate. “It’s work stuff.”

“Alright, but dinner will be ready in an hour.” She dismisses him with a wave of the hand and returns to her task.

Olaf taps the object against the wall on the way out the door. He attempts to consider the possibilities of his newly obtained power, but finds himself lacking imagination. The world seems different from his new point of view. He is like a witness to the reality surrounding him but no longer a participant. However unattached he had felt to the world previous to this point is overshadowed by a feeling of being completely cut loose from the bounds of his life. Piazzi is not a large settlement; Olaf knows most people at least as an acquaintances. But now as Olaf walks toward the ped complex, the people he sees have taken on an almost foreign demeanor. There is a difference between being actively ignored and not being seen that was never as clear to Olaf as it is now.

He eventually finds himself at the ped complex which is relatively empty at this time of watch. The complex is surrounded with a park area with a few heated planters and some gaudy sculptures. In the park area, Olaf sees a little boy with his mother. The mother is standing with a group of other women while the boy appears to be looking for something. He watches the boy for a moment, and then scans the park for the presumed missing toy. Olaf spots a red ball behind one of the sculptures and goes to it. The boy has his attention elsewhere as Olaf nudges the ball into the open. He taps it with his toe, sending it in a high arc toward the boy. Olaf cringes when the ball connects with the boys head. The boy is startled and looks about him as if trying to determine where the ball originated from. Olaf looks guilty at first and then remembers that the boy cannot see him.

The idea dawning on Olaf’s mind radiates as pure mischief from his grinning face. He looks eagerly about for his next victim but is disappointed by the sparseness of people. The mall is a perfect place to find people to prank, he decides. Attaching his tether to the moving walkway that connects to the mall, he sets off. He starts amusing himself by blowing or whistling in the ears of people headed in the opposite direction. Then he takes it to the next level by knocking off people’s caps or tugging on their purses. Their reactions of annoyance are pleasing to him on some level, yet he bores quickly.

Upon arriving at the shopping plaza, Olaf looks for a target. A young man is looking into a shop window. He is dressed in a rather ragged fashion as is the style with youth in Piazzi. A shorter, middle aged, rather stocky man is standing about two meters behind the young man with his attention on something across the avenue. Olaf walks up to the second man and shoves him hard enough so that he falls to the ground. The man looks up and sees the younger fellow walking away.

“Hey! What’s that all about, punk?!” he yells as he gets to his feet.

The younger man ignores him until he feels the older man’s hand on his shoulder. Olaf, at this point, is having trouble controlling his laughter at the situation. The young man turns toward him, but before he can say anything he gets punched in the face. The blow sends him sprawling several meters away. Olaf stops laughing as it turns into a full on brawl. Suddenly it isn’t funny any more and he decides to leave.

Tethered to the moving walkway and on his way back to the ped complex, he has the sensation that someone is watching him. He turns to look behind him several times, but the only eyes he sees are looking straight through him. Someone knows what he’s done. Walking back to his home, he has a distinct feeling that someone is following him. It is almost dusk and the shadows seem deeper than he ever remembered them. His heart rate increases and he begins to hurry, but the low Ceres gravity hinders his retreat. Then he spots something terrifying to him. His instinct is to let go of the artifact, but his hand doesn’t seem to want to let go. White knuckles grip it with increasing fear as he begins leaping in an attempt to go faster. This uncoordinated method of travel is too much for his bearings and he falls. When the artifact hits the ground, Olaf feels the fear slough off of him and he lets go of the object. Apart from some mild vertigo, he feels close to normal again.

He picks up the artifact and shoves it in his pocket for the remainder of his walk home.

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