I went to dinner not long after the doc left. Something about his demeanor seemed a bit off, but I couldn't place how. Maybe it was the temperature reading was still bothering me. I checked the register before I left, examining the numbers keenly. The first was a seven, the second a two, same as the little meter Doc Esco had. I shook my head as I left; it said seventy-two, but I still didn't believe it.
- - - - -
At dinner Russell picked me out of the crowd before I could spot him, and he waved me over to his table. "So how'd chess go?"
I shrugged, poking at the poor excuse for potatoes. "S'alright, I suppose."
"Who'd you play?"
"Dr. D, something long and humanly unpronounceable."
He smirked. "I know who you mean." He picked up his fork and made for the peas on his plate. I glanced at his, then I glanced at the pile of peas on my own plate. Something struck me as odd about mine. I grabbed his wrist, lest he disrupt the order.
"What are you doing?" Russell started to ask, but I shushed him, studying the two plates intently. There was something different about mine, but what was it?
"Russell, do these look different to you?" I asked in a low voice, as if raising it above a whisper would've thrown everything off. He leaned down to be eye-level with the table, examining the two plates from various angles, humming with intense thought.
"Now that you mention it," he replied slowly, "yours does look a bit different. It's like something happened to yours right there." He pointed at a tiny indent a bit off-center from the top of the pile. On impulse he reached and plucked a pea from his plate. "You see that?"
"The way that some of mine fell? And the indent? The stray ones fell the same way yours did."
I leaned over to get a better look. I didn't see any fall, but I could see the indent and the stray ones; they looked practically identical.
"Put the pea back." He complied. I cradled my chin. I had a funny feeling about the number, not too unlike the funny feeling I had with the room temperature not being quite right. "I think mine's missing one."
Russell nodded. "I dunno how you can tell with the number, but from that indent I'd agree with you."
I rose hesitantly, my plate of peas in hand, and picked my way across the cafeteria. I don't know why, but I felt I had to tell someone. Finding the most official-looking person behind the counter, who unfortunately happened to look the most intimidating, I waved for her attention.
"Yes? What is it?" Her clipped words jarred me a bit.
I swallowed my shyness with some difficulty, and piped up, "It's probably not anything important, but I think my number of peas was off." She cocked her eyebrow at me. "See, there was an indent here, and I think the number was slightly off..." I tried lifting my plate to show her, but she shook her head vigorously.
"That's preposterous! Absurd!" she thundered, waving kitchen utensils at me. I shrunk back a bit.
"All I said was..."
"How could you suggest such a thing, a number of peas being off? It's ridiculous!"
I scrunched up a bit, failing to emulate a turtle. "All right, all right," I squeaked, backing up slowly in defeat.
"Any luck?" Russell asked upon my return.
I shook my head. "She insisted nothing was different, and I'm not one to argue with authoritatively vehement kitchen staff wielding heavy utensils."
"Don't blame you; it's not too bad a way to be."
I contemplated my peas some more, shaking my head. It didn't bother me so much that there was something off about them, but it was more irksome that nobody else, save Russell, believed me. "Still," I murmured, "I can't help but think there's something not quite right about the number."