The platform on which Theo stands commands a view of the whole East dock. Below him, package handlers unload the contents of the trailers before them; pulling and prodding the stacks of boxes and miscellaneous goods onto the conveyor belts that wind between them and out into the warehouse. Theo is accustomed to the job. He’s quite good at watching people work.
Theo checks his watch. Twenty minutes until the end of the half. After that, it will be another hour before the shift is over. Theo’s wondering what he’ll have for dinner tonight. Meals are easy to plan when you’re cooking for one. It’s been a long time since he’s done otherwise. Not since his last wife died.
Theo’s thinking steak.
He’s also thinking about religion. About updating his faith. No one really pays tribute to Jupiter anymore and most contemporary dwellings don’t include larariums in their floor plans. Besides, if Christianity was good enough for Constantine….
A buzzer sounds over the intercom and the belts grind to a halt. A jam. Theo frowns at the interruption. Of its own accord, his hand lowers; seeking the pommel of the non-existent whip belted at his side.
Two thousand years ago, someone would have been flogged.
Today, in a time where laws prohibit that sort of thing, his fingers come to rest only on a small radio that he raises to speak into.
“What is it?” he asks of the small, black device.
“Belt five again,” it squawks. “One of Kevin’s savants tried to send a tire through.”
“Just fix it,” he replies, massaging the space between his eyes. Used to be, mistakes were punished. Things which would have earned someone a lashing nowadays received only a slap on the wrist. He’s done his best to combat laxity in the workplace, but somewhere between the requests for shorter breaks and mandatory brandings, his superiors always smile and find some reason to walk away.
Snapped from his reverie, Theo looks down to see a young man in a stained, sleeve-less t-shirt and faded jeans standing below the viewing platform.
“Can we go on break until they fix the jam? Kevin said to ask you.”
“Nullus quies, servi!” Theo shouts.
He checks himself, sighs. No one speaks Latin anymore. Not correctly, at least.
“Go down to pre-sort. See if Angie needs any help while they work on this.”
The kid makes a face and Theo waits for him to roll his eyes. He doesn’t though, and Theo stops just short of telling him to go home for the day. Not that it would do any good. They’d be short another package handler and the kid would see it as more of a reward than anything.
He watches the young malcontent shuffle back to the other part-timer handlers; a dozen or so college dropouts and Liberal Arts majors. Most scowl at the news, some glancing towards Theo in obvious annoyance. No one questions him, though. As one, they turn and make their way grudgingly towards the dock’s West end.
By the time Theo leaves, it’s early evening and the sun is hanging low in the sky like the airburst of a nuclear blast, bathing everything in a red-orange glow. Squinting, he pulls out from the main gate into a creeping line of traffic that stretches down to the freeway’s on ramp.
Theo’s thinking about how much longer this will last.
Used to be, you could only bank on ten, maybe fifteen years in the same place before people started to notice. With the rise of the average lifespan, he’s been able to eke out at least thirty since the turn of the century. Where he’s at now, it’ll be thirty-four next Tuesday. He’s considered just staying put.
No one seems to notice much anymore. Or care.
Somewhere between the supermarket and the iPod people stopped trying to make history and started finding different ways to just re-live it.
Traffic light. He comes to a stop behind a mini-van. A worn bumper sticker reads: sh/Ch ney ’04. Someone has peeled most of it off.
Theo’s had to adapt many times in his very long life, but these past two centuries have been especially trying. It’s been hard to sit by and watch while each new empire makes the same stupid mistakes as the last.
Like the idiots managing the warehouse. Never mind that an eighteen-hundred-year-old Sicilian with centuries of experience managing/overseeing/whipping others is continually flooding your suggestion box with ways to improve productivity. Just ignore those because he’s going bald. Listen to the jackass with the MBA who thinks employees work faster if there’s an HDTV in the break room.
No surprise. The aedile of Messina refused to listen when Theo came to him with concerns over the growing number of slaves in the work force – how the amount of unpaid labor might eventually cheapen wages for free men. Between wet, hacking coughs from the cancer which had yet to take his life, the old man laughed at a destitute slaver’s apparent attempts to influence the market. A few centuries later, there was no market, no wages, and every free man that hadn’t died in vain to defend the empire in Europe was gearing up for a lifetime of indentured servitude.
Welcome to the Dark Ages. We hope you like castles.
Theo’s window is down so he’s able to hear the tapping. He glances over to his left.
A beaten, primer-grey Ford waits in the lane next to him. What he notices first about the four occupants is that they’re all wearing the same mask; a simple white thing with a large black cross crudely splashed up, down and across the front. He wonders where the eye holes are.
Then he notices the gun. Well, guns. Each guy has one.
The passenger facing Theo is tapping on the window with his. Seeing that he’s got his attention, he points to Theo.
Then he points to the gun.
A pause. Theo points to himself.
The man nods.
Theo points to the gun.
The man nods again.
The man shrugs.