Seated behind the massive facade of an oak desk, face turned toward the hollow eye of the camera, Onla read the words of the telefeed, but did not open his mouth to read them. The station manager made a face much like he was suffocating, and rolled his hands, gesturing to “get on with it” but Onla merely cleared his throat, and made a brittle smile. He gave a little shake of his head, and the flawless face of his co-anchor broke its porcelain smile and narrowed its eyes. It looked something like a glossy ceramic frog with a blonde beehive, which would have been ridiculous enough were it not also attempting to read from his screen.
“Ladies and ge–” it began, and its voice was girlish and sighing.
Onla interrupted, his controlled voice smoothing over the high, nasal sound of his deskmate. “Due to technical difficulties, this station must pause its broadcast. Please excuse the inconvenience. Your updates will resume as soon as possible.” The station manager could have left the camera on and pointed at Onla, but it would have been an embarrassment to the network, and not the senior newscaster, who was already vacating the desk by the time the cameras were switched off and every viewscreen in the city was blanked to its test pattern, with inoffensive music trilling in the background.
Onla’s co-anchor, a vapid thirty-something with a ghastly pink bow in its hair that was supposed to signify femininity, turned its froggy face back toward the camera, and stared hard at the top of it, waiting for the red light to come back on, which would signal that it would need to smile again.
While it concentrated, Onla stepped outside, and lit a cigarette. Though it was a damp and sweltering ninety-seven in the alley outside the station, he shivered as though freezing, and reached into his pocket to grab his phone. He dialed home, and listened to the ring, his eyes fluttering shut as he leaned back against the warm brick wall. “Pick up,” he said quietly to the line. “Pick up, please.”
When the voice on the other end came through, Onla relaxed visibly, and his long sigh ended in a low, self-assuring chuckle. “I’ll be a little late tonight,” he murmured. “Stay in, okay? The casts are getting even harsher — it isn’t safe anymore.” He paused to listen, and then answered, “I’ll be home soon. I love you, too.”