I suppose you guys would like a snippet, eh?
Valtaseri: Alice in Dystopia
“I think you know the world’s gone berserk when job applications start asking you what race you are, if you’re fully human, or if you have prosthetics.” Suri Robwyn sighed. The cyborg revolution had created a fad, and now everyone wanted or had an electronic limb or something to increase their speed, sight, or strength. To be faster, stronger, better, was the trend and it became unescapable. Finding full-humans slowly became a rare occurrence, and more and more cyborg gang fights were breaking out in the deteriorating streets of Old Londinium—once known as London.
But the Stede Messenger’s Institution for Young Boys and Girls was not in support of cyborgs or inhuman beings. Well, if some stranger knocks at your door, you’d want them to be fully human too, now wouldn’t you?
The letter seemed official. The paper, thick, was of the highest quality, and the seal was real wax, not the cheap stuff at the grocery down the street. Perfumed too. Suri snorted. Pretentious rich people. But she was interested nonetheless.
But because Allison Robwyn, who went by Suri, never had it easy. She’d been sick from the time she’d appeared on the banks of Valtameri, and her various health conditions had put her on that fine line between life and death more times than she’d care to remember or relive. The seizures hadn’t happened in months, but because they could be destructive and render her ill for days on end, many institutions, stores, and hostels had turned her down. She had gotten a job as a waitress and occasional kitchen maid at a hotel called “The Tree”, which offered temporary and permanent lodging as well as a bar and restaurant. A tall, looming, building, it was located in the middle of downtown, right by the train station, a fact she was reminded of many, many times a day. Like right at that moment. A train rattled through Londinium Station, the floor shaking, glasses and vases quivering as if a man took the cold, lower levels of The Tree hotel and rattled them up and down.
The basement of the hotel stretched far below the streets of Londinium- and right beneath the Londinium Central Train Station- the LCTS as the locals call it. Each time a train rattles through the station, the basement roars and the building shakes with the vibrations emanating from the passing train.
Suri sighed as her cot shook and the train roared above her, the noise shaking her down to her core. She glanced over the application one last time, and put it on her nightstand. She’d have to talk with Madam about switching jobs. If the Stede Institute wanted her, they’d have to be desperate.
“Allison, darling?” Suri looked up and the sound of her name purring in silence after the aftermath of the train. She knew who it was. Only one person called her Allison anymore.
“Hello, Gracia.” Suri leaned back against the back of her cot and grinned at the other kitchen maid, a large, hispanic woman with a big heart and a kind, welcoming smile. They roomed together, sharing the small, cement basement room that was the closest to home Suri would ever get.
Gracia spotted the letter right away. “Oh, chica, what’s that?”
“A job application.”
“You’re leaving us?”
“I got asked to.”
“Asked?” Gracia sat down on her cot opposite Suri. It creaked under her weight.
“Yeah, but it’s no big deal. I don’t know if Madam will let me leave.” She picked up the letter, folded it up and tucked it in the drawer of her side table, standing. She stretched and started to pull of the waitressing uniform. She hung up the dark green blazer in the small closet and started to unbutton the blouse.
“It’s not nothing, chica. Getting an application from anywhere is a big thing for you especially. Think about it. Where’s it from?”
Suri pulled the blouse out from the skirt hem and put it on another hanger. “A messenger institute downtown.”
“The Stede Institute?” Gracia’s eyes grew wide. “That’s huge!”
“Mhmm.” Suri didn’t pay much attention, just pulled off the dark green pencil skirt and slipped on a cotton nightgown.
“Allison! You can’t pass up this job! This is big, chica!” Gracia stood and grabbed Suri by her shoulders. “I’m serious!”
Suri sighed. “I’ll talk to Madam about it. Do they need me on the early shift?” She changed the subject, not wanting to talk about the application anymore.
Gracia nodded. “Yeah, they do. But think about it, okay chica?”
Suri nodded and turned from Gracia, then sat at the small desk that doubled as a vanity. Pulling pins from her high bun, she set them one by one onto the vanity. “Gracia, are you working night shift?”
“Not tonight, thank goodness. I’ll go get us some tea and I’ll be right back!” She turned and left their cement room to get the tea that they sipped together almost every night before they went to bed
Suri unwound her bun, then untied the ribbon that held it up in a ponytail. She let the blonde mass tumble about her shoulders, and taking a coarse brush, ran it through the tangled locks. The application form simmered in the back of her brain. Should she take it? Could she take it? What would they have her do? Would she be able to do it well? Would the seizures come back? Frustrated, Suri flung the brush down and buried her hands in her arms.
What to do? What to do?
She took a deep breath and sat up straight, picked up the brush and finished yanking it through her hair. She pushed her ribbon and the pins on one side of the vanity. She looked at her reflection, a bland face staring back. A face made thin and hollow from illness and hunger. Dark blue eyes that echoed purple—dull from overwork and exhaustion, but a spark glinted from beneath them. Too-long scraggly blonde hair. She pulled it over her shoulder and braided it for the evening, tying it off with a ribbon. She went over to her cot and gazed down on it, peeling back the covers. No scorpions tonight. Suri sighed. That was a relief. Sometimes they laid between the mattress and the sheet. They got up to 4 inches long, sometimes bigger— and could cause death from poison. She slid between the coarse sheets and straightened out the blankets on top as Gracia walked in, carrying a tray.
“Surprise! They had extra hot chocolate tonight so I got us some!” She winked at Suri and set the tray down on her table, sliding a mug onto Suri’s nightstand. For the first time that day, she smiled and took the warm mug, half full of still-warm chocolate, and sipped the warm drink. “Oh, Gracia! It’s delicious! It’s been so long since we had good chocolate like this.”
Together, they slowly savoured the warm drink, then put their cooled mugs on the tray. Curling up in the thin sheets, they chatted until the electricity was rationed for the night and the basement went black. Then the one immigrant woman and the one mysterious girl curled up and let sleep carry them off.