then floyd and gary and hakim were not ernie’s friends any more.
so they became his ex-friends
ernie could not understand it.
he felt there must be some misunderstanding.
somebody must have been talking behind his back.
since floyd and gary and hakim had been his only friends he did not know who the talker behind his back could be.
he wanted to know.
the protocol for dealing with ex-friends was firmly in place.
but ernie was desperate.
he felt floyd had been his best friend of the three.
they had shared mutual enthusiasms for the teachings of master j and the novels of harold parker and e ashton flournoy.
surely floyd, if ernie made a really passionate and heartfelt plea, would at least tell him what the charge against him was and who had instigated it.
protocol or no protocol.
but ernie hesitated.
it was a bold step! and ernie was not a bold person.
he decided to get some nourishment first, to get his strength up.
and maybe get a night’s sleep after that.
unable to concentrate on anything, ernie paced up and down in his cell until feeding time.
his heart started racing and he lay down on his cot to try to calm himself.
he thought he heard a sound outside in the corridor!
but of course that was insane - just paranoia brought on by his emotional stress.
there was no one outside in the corridor - had not been for almost two hundred years - one hundred and fifty years before ernie was born.
it was feeding time - his head would be clearer after he was nourished.
and today was chocolate day - ernie’s favorite.
he sat down at his station and attached the feeding tube to his arm.
the warm glow of the chocolate soothed his melancholy soul, but a pale afterglow of paranoia remained.
he wondered if the upcoming two hundredth anniversary had affected his brain in some subtle way - or maybe the brains of floyd and gary and hakim.
two hundred years! since any human had invaded another human’s personal space.
how ridiculous to think he had heard anything in the corridor.
ernie had always taken it on faith that there even was a “corridor” - of course he had never seen it or been in it. he had been told it was still possible to activate the ancient cameras to show “real time” pictures of the corridor.
with a sudden boldness perhaps brought on by the chocolate, ernie decided to contact floyd.
the result, of course, was what he should have foreseen.
an instantaneous message - you may no longer contact this person. this is your only warning.
in a sudden panic ernie wondered if he would be reprimanded or punished.
but a second message reassured him. it simply said - you may contact other friends or attempt to make new ones, using proper procedure.
ernie breathed easier. surely there would be no such message - or even the previous message “this is your only warning” if he were to be punished.
he decided to get a good night’s sleep. perhaps a dream would guide him to the right path.
tomorrow he would attempt to find a new friend or two - perhaps another acolyte of master j, or another enthusiast for e ashton floury.
and he would forget floyd and gary and hakim, much as he had loved them.