Fantasy future society - class division, social unrest. It needs editing - review please!
“My name is Flee Chambers. I’m twelve years old and I can’t write. My glorious friend, Sass Deville, is writing this in his fair hand. I think he might be adding a few things that I’m not actually saying, but am definitely thinking, so you had better watch out for him.
Anyway, we’re both twelve, but I look older, probably because I haven’t had such a privileged upbringing as him. It’s difficult to look smart and fancy when you’ve been learning how to be a bin-man for the past three years. Mum wasn’t chuffed when she found out, I remember. She said that when The Choosing was come, I’d probably end up being something like a driver or office boy. No chance, thought I - and I was1 right. I’d wanted to become a mechanic and Sass reckons there’s still time, but I’m not so sure myself. Mechanics are cool. They get, like,2 loads of cool cars to work with because the Uppers need someone to fix their rides when they bash them up in duels or whatever it is they do.”
“You just had to mention the duel, didn’t you?” Sass glared through swollen eyes.
Flee laughed, “You should’ve seen yourself, mate. I don’t know why you picked a fight with that ruffian – he were twice the size of you, you had no chance!”
“Fine. Well. I’m not Scribing anymore. My hand hurts and do you have any idea how expensive ink is these days? I think we should plan it a bit better before it becomes a testimony to your idiocy.”
Flee looked in awe at the scroll that Sass had been using. It was nearly the same size as Flee’s torso and was crinkled and ivory-coloured, like material for a bridal gown. He’d never seen a scroll before, but he wasn’t going to tell Sass that.
“What are all them squiggly bits at the bottom?”
“They’re just footnotes.”
“Why’re you writing stuff about my feet?” Flee enquired.
Sass took a deep sigh. “Footnotes are notes at the bottom of the leaf where the Scribe gives the Looker some more information about what has been said. I’m just…gilding the lily, as it were.”
Flee decided to ignore him. He knew that when Sass made little sense it was because he was trying to pull the wool over his eyes. “I don’t know why we couldn’t do it on a Puter.”
Sass rolled his eyes. “Seriously, Flee, I know you can only Type but using Puters is just so beneath us, don’t you think? Scrolls are the way forward.”
Sass was his best friend, but there was little getting past their differences in upbringing. It was true, Sass was cleverer than him – he could Scribe whereas Flee was only able to form letters by pressing buttons, and everyone knew that the central Net system was constantly watched. He wore nice clothes, things with weird names like cummerbund and westcut in materials that came from countries Flee would never even dream of visiting. But Sass would only take it so far when teasing Flee; he did, after all, save Sass’ life.
* * *
Lunsdie 2nd Snowgrowth, 96th Ans of the New Era.
This day’s promise shimmers in the dawn, as the great poet of the late Windsor era once said, and so it does, beautifully.
Sass Deville was at his writing bureau. It was an antique of many centuries ago, before the New Era had begun; in fact, some said that it was from the reign of Charles III, although most passed this off as preposterous, for Charles III was as legendary as King Arthur, though perhaps not for the same reasons. It had come from his mother’s family, who could be traced back to when Wessexon was still named Avon, many, many moons ago. His mother’s family was where the money lay, though his father was loath to admit it; a fact that, indeed, caused far too many post-brandy arguments.
The bureau was a beautiful relic of times gone past, when Carolian England was at its most opulent. The riots had ceased and prisoners were being retrained as Artisans, amongst other things. Charles III’s obsession with not wanting to be compared with his beheaded forefather had caused him to emulate the other with the same moniker. Opulence was obligatory. The once-feral Artisans used Art-of-the-State technology to craft the most elegant timepieces, tables and thrones out of synthetic wood designed to be as durable as pine, as sleek as mahogany and, if desired, as scented as camphorwood. The technology, however, was gruelling hard work to use and dangerous. Artisans were lucky to retain all ten of their fingers for longer than six months and most lost a limb before being put out to pasture. There were, needless to say, some rather more fatal incidents. As the Artisans had been felons, thieves and fraudsters usually; deftness of hand came with the job description and the unfortunate consequences were seen to be deserved.
Sitting at the glorious bureau that could have cost lives to craft, Sass absentmindedly stroked his smooth chin that did not yet sport any hair. Day-break was his favourite time of each new revolution of the Earth, and his father had permitted him to take the master bedroom in the East wing in order to fully appreciate every new day. Each morning, he rose with the Sun; he never closed his curtains and would, in a second, rip them down if it weren’t for his mother’s devotion to the heavy, gilt-corded upholstery. He was able to sit at the bureau in his thin night-attire whatever the season, for the room had been designed to adapt to the young Deville’s body temperature. He was so used to the luxury, however, that it didn’t occur to him that most people would have died wearing so little on a cold Snowgrowth morning. And they did, in their droves, just a short distance from his house. Until that day, Sass Deville had not been made aware of their presence.
Sass was not usually stuck for words. He liked to start each day’s diary entry with an appropriate quotation from one of his favourite poets, or something witty that he’d overheard said from outside of his father’s study or games room. The games room was usually out of bounds and the content of these particular citations was usually bluer than Sass realised.
Sass wanted to be a Wordsmith when he came to his Selection and he knew that only the most eloquent could rise to such high echelons of the intelligentsia, but his father was rich, his mother richer, and he was almost as smart as he believed himself to be, so he had every chance. After all, the Selection was not for another decade; Sass was only eight years old.
It had been the second morning he had felt the strange block in his Scribing. The previous morning he had spoiled his scroll because he had misspelled – misspelled! – the surname of a Continental Scribe whom he was quoting. This in itself was catastrophic for the Scribe-child, but adding salt to the wound was the fact that he couldn’t remember the correct spelling, as if the letters were rebelling against him in his mind, the spelling slipping away wispily like the fragments of a dream. Now, this morning, the second day in the freezing month of Snowgrowth, it was as if all the letters in all the words were an army, joining forces against him, shielding themselves tortoise-style in each droplet of ink. He could not think of what to write next. He looked out of the window at the glorious snow-kissed panorama before him. Nothing. He inhaled, held his breath as he listened carefully, licked his lips, stroked his hair-less chin, desperately employing all five of his natural senses to aid him in his time of need, to provide him with a hint of chestnut or chirp of a red-breast or something. To no avail.
Frustrated, he dressed in his daywear and left the grand mansion, not knowing where he was going, nor paying attention to his route, but walking determinedly, nevertheless. Onward he strode, marched, ran, walked, whimpered, lost and alone. And cold.
“W-what? Who … who the devil are you?!” he called, reaching for his gun-holster.
“Woah, calm down, Uppers-boy. I’m just out collectin’ firewood.”
“Firewood?! You expect me to believe that? You’ve kidnapped me…and it’s so, so cold…” Sass shivered.
“I’d be best off goin’ home wit’ few scraps of twig for firewood instead of some Uppers-boy who wouldn’t keep the fire burnin’ for longer’n a few minutes,” the boy replied sulkily.
“By the Muses, I stink! What is this rag you’ve tied me in?”
“Less of the ‘rag’. That’s my best cloak I’ve wrapped round you. Thought you was dead. Didn’t want to leave some Uppers-boy to shiver to his grave. Not sure I should’ve bothered, now.”
Sass noticed it was dark. “How long have I been here?”
“Don’t ask me, Uppers-boy. I’m not allowed to keep time. But I found you not long past. Think my ‘stinking rag’ has warmed the life back into yer.”
Sass brushed himself off and attempted to stand up, regretted it, and sank back, inelegantly, into the soggy pile of snow and mud. “Look, I don’t know what’s happened here. Who are you anyway? And why do you keep calling me Oopas-boy?”
The boy sighed. “No gratitude. Don’t worry about it. I tell you what, I could point you the way back to your mansion region but then I must depart. Me folks’ll be worried sick that I’ve died collectin’ sticks like our May did a few ans back.”
Sass looked around, ignoring the boy’s family bereavement. It really was pitch black and he couldn’t see his home at all, which, in all honesty, was quite surprising given its magnitude.
‘Where am I?’ he thought, and, for the first time in his sheltered life, was scared. “Fine, boy. You can take me to the closest mansion. I’ll be sure to know someone there and be able to use their Connections to contact home.”
“Connections? I wouldn’t’ve thought you lot would use such things.”
“In dire emergencies, we do. By the Scribes, Mamma and Pappa must be at their wits’ end!”
The boy instantly cheered up. “Well, why didn’t you say so before! I’ve got a Connection on me! Always carry one!” he grinned and produced a palm-sized black metal disc.
“I do hope you don’t expect me to touch it, do you?” Sass sneered.
The boy cursed. “Fine. What’s your Connection number?”
“How am I supposed to know such trivial information!?”
The boy sighed, wearily. This wealthy kid was really getting on his nerves, which he thought was particularly rich especially after he’d just near enough saved his life. “You need to know the Connection number to make the Connection.”
“Oh. Well. Only the servants have that information.” Sass folded his arms, then added impatiently, “Look, do you know how to get us out of this dismal place or what?”
There was only one thing for it. “Yup, let’s walk. I’m Flee by the way.”
“We hardly need to exchange pleasantries. I’m still uncertain of your motives and not entirely sure that you didn’t try to kidnap me.”
As Sass’ privileged eyes were too accustomed to the luxuriant mansion, it would be best to paint the picture through Flee’s. Due to an astigmatism that he would never have corrected (for there was no need for binmen to have accurate vision), Flee’s first view of the building made him unsure if they were in the right place; it looked like a row of terraced houses, but it couldn’t be. Flee squinted curiously, waiting for the blurry, dark oblong to become clearly focused. Then, as if he had been turning the wheel on a microscope, willing his eyes to process the contents of his slide, suddenly the mansion came into view. He stopped and gaped slightly. It was made from red brick, unusual and decadent even by the Uppers’ standards, and Flee couldn’t comprehend its vastness. There were things on and above the windows and doors (‘more’n one!’ he noted), their names Flee didn’t know. It curved prettily at the tops of each section, as if seducing the sky as part of a bargain to share the air-space; however, beneath these artful arches, the house was sturdy and looked constant, substantial. Unbeknownst to the awe-struck Flee, due to the angle at which they had approached the house, the full enormity of the estate was not visible.
The plosive noise caused by Flee’s dry gasp made Sass turn. He smirked. What a pauper, he sneered to himself.
He awoke, sweaty. There was an arm across his chest, which made no sense at first. He had only ever had two arms, previously, but now he could definitely count three. Bleary-eyed, he realised that there was a person attached to the surplus and unusual arm – which was a different colour, now he came to think of it – and he turned to face her, bemused. Hell, she’s ugly, he thought. His head throbbed, heavily echoing his heart-beat, and his mouth craved water. It must be Lunsdie. He had overslept.
The door in the corner of the room opened, creaking far louder than usual.
“You can’t still be a-bed, sire!” uttered a painfully-thin man, dressed in monochrome, old-fashioned tailcoats.
“Fuck off,” he moaned, covering his thick head with the silken duvet. However, he found the temperature unpleasantly hot and, dizzily, uncovered himself to the waist, partially sitting up. “Where did this tart come from anyway? She’s shit. I said I wanted Annabel.” He kicked the unconscious girl, who farted in response.
“If you remember, sire,” the man resembling a wand continued, then quietened his tone as the sleepy man wafted his hand for both noise and flatulence control. “If you remember, sire, Annabel was not available last night and you were most, er, insistent that you were accompanied in your Bouz session. Madame assured me that she was of an equal quality to your favourite, An-”
“Equal quality?” came the hissed response. “That woman needs a pair of Binocles. Or a dog. This one was rancid. Look at her –” he exposed the drunken girl “- she’s barely got tits. And she makes you look fat, Flogmeistre. I like something with meat on it, not something that looks like she’s been scraped out of a Lowers’ gutter.”
“Sire,” the butler replied, despondently, “I’m sure you are already aware that the People’s Chamber meeting began five minutes ago. They are expecting you to say something about the Sterilisation Bill.”
“What? Can’t Squealer do it? I’ve hidden that scandal about him and his butler – he owes me,” the King announced, lazily.
“Prime Minister Squealer is currently taking croissants in the South drawing room.”
The King guffawed as his exhausted butler regretted his words.
“An unfortunate confusion. James Croissants, the kitchen boy, is dutifully skinning a rabbit for luncheon as we speak,” mumbled the butler.
The King sank the glass of Bouz that was on his dresser; it wasn’t water but it would give him a boost for what was to come. He stood up, naked, and stared at the butler, who had not yet vacated the room.
“What do you want, Flogmeistre?”
“Isn’t there…something you’re forgetting, sire?” the butler responded uneasily, looking the King up and down.
“Of course I’m going to fucking get dressed, you prat. I’m hardly going to go into see Squealer like this. He’d be beside himself.”
“Naturally. But that was not the matter to which I was referring, sire.”
“What are you wittering on about?”
“Today is Lunsdie the second,” the butler said, pointedly.
“Your point is?”
“The second of Snowdrop, sire,” he added, raising his thin, black eyebrows.
The King looked blank. Standing up was making him feel somewhat queasy.
“Today is your Eighteenth birthday, your Majesty. Many happy returns.”
* * * *
The meetings usually took place in one of the mansions, depending on whose husband or father was out on business. They knew that this phrase meant prostitutes and Bouz, but that usually boosted their resolve. Some mansions were frequented more often than others; this was brave for the women concerned as they were publicly admitting their domestic shame. The Honeykettle mansion, for example, was always available and served as a back-up for those whose menfolk had fallen ill and been forced to stay in that particular night, or who had become suspicious and attempted to thwart their wife’s, or daughter’s, plans. Everyone was deeply grateful to Ms Honeykettle (wife of) but some, particularly the newer members, gossiped behind her back about her husband’s determined sleaze.
Ms Honeykettle, like four or five others, was a stalwart member of the Society for the Protection of Eve’s Children – Nightingale faction. There were many factions in the SPEC and they were all quite different to one another. Nightingale faction was probably the most reserved of them all. There were rumours that one girl from the Pankhurst faction was courting a Lowers man, her gardener, and Greer faction was renowned for being particularly brutal; if there was SPEC-related violence to be had, you could safely bet on it being one of the girls from Greer.
Tonight they assembled nervously in the largest mansion of their precinct.
to be continued