The mountains shielded the last of the days sun from reaching him. He used the lengthening shadows as a way to mark time since there were no modern conveniences out here. Deliberately so. He preferred this to the mess of noise and dirt that he had called home for so long.
As the edge of the shadow crept up his face and signalled the end of another day, he stood and, taking the small walking stick that had been leaning against his chair, made his slow way back into the small hut that stood in the foothills.
“Alright?” the other occupant of the shack asked.
“Yeah,” the man replied. “Feels like the shadows come earlier and earlier these days.”
“Well, it is winter, old man, or have you not noticed how cold it is in the mornings yet?”
“It’s all the same to me,” the old man said with not a small amount of sadness in his voice.
“Perhaps this is the year,” the other said, still in another room.
“Aye,” the old man replied. “But not today.”
“Of course,” the other voice chuckled. “But you best decide soon, or the choice will be taken from you.”
“It always is,” the old man said. “Always has been, always will be.”
The funeral was held back in the city. It was a quiet affair; no more than eight people in attendance and none who knew any of the others.
In the front row a young woman stood, dressed in a stylish black suit with a skirt that reached down to brush the ground. Her hands were clasped around a small purse, also black. Her head was bowed and while she wasn't crying, she had been.
“Excuse me?” a voice said from beside her. The owner of the voice, a young man in a grey-blue suit smiled a tired smile at her as she looked up at him.
“Yes?” she asked, not irritated, but also tired.
“He was your father?”
“Uncle,” she corrected him. “But he raised me like a father. When my own dad died, and his son, we bonded and,” she stopped talking, blinking back tears.
“I understand,” the young man replied. “My name is Gunther and I was his carer at the end.”
“You're the mighty Gunther,” she almost laughed. “He told me so much about you.”
“And he told me just as much about you,” Gunther replied. “I am sorry, truly sorry, that this is how we have to meet. I just wanted to come over and offer my condolences and ask if there was anything you needed or anything I can do for you?”
This time she did laugh. “The way he spoke of you, I should be offering that to you. You were closer to him in these last years than I ever was.”
“Maybe, but I was never, truly, family. I could tell. The way he always used to sigh and say ‘Gunther, we need to bring that girl out here. Show her what she’s missing. That city, it’s not good for you kids.’ Half the time I thought he was trying to set me up with you.”
“That sounds like him. When he lived here, when I was younger, he was always showing me different boys to take out.”
Gunther looked around. “Your husband isn't here?” She waved her left hand at him, the ring finger was bare, but had distinct tan lines. “Oh, I didn't know, I'm sorry.”
“It’s alright,” she replied. “She never liked my uncle anyway.”
“Ah,” Gunther said with a wry chuckle. “That's the problem with exes, isn't it? They say we can’t choose family, but we can. Sometimes we choose wrong.”
“He chose right with you,” she said.
The two embraced in the mutual loss of a loved one and said their goodbyes.
The young woman, Naomi, walked her usual walk to work. She didn't like this particular path, but it was the most efficient way to work and going any other would mean she would have to wake up earlier. Sleep was the one thing she refused to compromise on. She had to have the exact amount. It was for her health and she couldn't fathom the idea of someone like her, barely in her 30s, going to bed before 10pm. Even though she never actually went out, it was the principle.
The building she worked at stood before her and she waited out the front for half a minute, staring up at the reflective windows that seemed to rise all the way to heaven. At the very top, the name of the company covered the entire top three floors. She couldn't read it from down here, but she knew it said eutronics.
She entered the lobby and greeted the security guard as she buzzed her card through the access point and made her way to the lifts. There, she buzzed her card again and made her way to the fiftieth floor; the legal team. Part of it, at least.
She wasn't a lawyer, thank you very much, she would say to anyone who knew which floor she worked on. She was a general office assistant. She was good at it. When she wasn't there, or so she had heard, no one really knew where anything was. She knew it was an exaggeration, but she felt some small smugness in her chest knowing that, at least, someone valued her.
Daneel Collins, the CEO, was on the fiftieth. He was upset and he was yelling. Not at anyone in particular, just yelling. Everyone who was nearby had seen this several times before. It was his usual way of letting off steam as a product launch was nearing.
His offices were on the 70th floor and everything between him and the legal team - floors 35 through 50 - was research and development. Only the bare minimum of people could access anything above floor 50.
He stormed out of the office where he had been yelling, slamming the door behind him and power walked, angrily, back towards the lifts. As he looked around, to see if there was anyone or anything else he could yell at, he spotted Naomi, photocopying a large ream of papers a few cubicles over. His face softened and he abruptly changed direction, waving his assistants to leave him alone with her.
“Naomi,” he said softly, although the edge of anger was still in his voice.
“Mr Collins,” she replied, looking up a bit startled.
“I will always insist you call me Daneel,” he replied.
“I'm sorry, Sir,” she said, lowering her head slightly. “I can’t.”
“I was sorry to hear about your uncle,” he said. “He was a good man, even at the end.”
“Yes,” she replied and said nothing else.
“Listen, I know we haven't had a chance to talk about it, but if you want, we could get lunch. My treat. Call my assistant when you get a chance and I’ll have you brought upstairs, ok?”
“Yes,” Naomi replied, looking in the mans face. He nodded and turned back and started his power walking back to the lifts.
She would never make that call, and they both knew it.