Clarissa enjoys some sightseeing as Central continues to look out for her...
It wasn’t long, or it didn’t feel long, until the alarm woke me up.
Sluggishly, I heaved myself out of bed in the dark. I turned on the lights then I crossed over to the desk where my phone was sitting. I’d left it charging overnight, plugged into my new laptop. By now it was fully charged and I unplugged the charger from the computer and turned off the alarm. Then I turned off my laptop too, it’s not like I’d be using throughout the day.
I called Room Service to bring up some breakfast; I ordered scrambled eggs with sourdough toast and a latte.
Then I dressed in my dark blue jeans again, a black long-sleeved top and the black jumper with the turtle neck again. I’d worn the jeans and black jumper yesterday, but with winter’s temperatures I’d probably wear it a couple more times before I fly out of London. But at least I have clean socks to put on now, as well as clean underwear and tops.
As soon as I’d pulled my black, Gucci boots on, there was a knock on the door.
I bounced off the bed and answered it and saw it was my breakfast being delivered.
“Wow, that was fast.” I smiled, impressed.
“Well, we aim to please,” the young man in uniform smiled back. “Where would you like it?”
“Oh, on the desk.”
He came inside my room and I hastily moved my laptop out of the way so he could put down the tray of food.
“Thank you,” I saw him out and shut the door behind him.
I sat down at the desk and took the metal lid off my plate to be met by a waft of steam coming off the food. I buttered the toast, put sugar into my latte and stirred it then I took my first bite of the scrambled egg. Mmm, it’s not bad, it’s nice and creamy.
When I’d finished eating, I went into the bathroom to do my hair and brush my teeth.
Once that was over, I put on my thick, black overcoat with the white faux fur collar and I grabbed my pink, tote handbag. I made sure I had my mobile phone and my room key card with me. Then I left the room, turning off all the lights on my way out.
Outside the hotel, I hopped into a black cab and told the driver the destination.
I arrived at Victoria Coach Station just after eight which was well timed because we didn’t have to check-in for the tour until eight thirty.
To be on the safe side, I checked-in anyway then stood outside where the bus was and pulled out my mobile phone to check my messages.
There were a few to read, including one from my Mum asking if I’d arrived in London safely. I messaged her back telling her I was fine but I couldn’t divulge any details of where I was staying or what I was doing because my Facebook had been hacked. I promised I’d call her, since I could tell her over the phone what I’m up to.
The other messages were from Kerry, Daniela and Nicola, also checking to make sure I was OK. I replied that I was fine and I’d post details of what I’m up to when I leave London. I hated being so vague, but I couldn’t divulge my itinerary or else I’d be a sitting duck.
At eight thirty on the dot, the boarding started and I noticed it was mainly couples on this tour. It felt a bit isolating, especially since I couldn’t share what I see on Facebook until I’m on a plane flying out of this country. It would have been nice to share instantly to show my friends, I wouldn’t have felt so lonely.
Promptly at nine o’clock the bus drove away from the Station and I sat at a window seat, with my mobile phone in hand, ready to snap away some pictures.
At first the bus did a panoramic drive around the central part of London and we saw landmarks such as Westminster Abbey. When we did stop and were told to get off the bus, it was for ‘The Changing of the Guard’, outside of Buckingham Palace. I must admit, it was more impressive than I expected it to be. I was swept up in all the pomp and circumstance. I thought to myself, “Mum would love this”, and I was sure to take lots of photos to show her.
After the ceremony was over, it was time for lunch. We all boarded the bus again to be taken to a spot which had a café on one side of the street and a pub on the other. We were told by our guide we could decide this way what we’d like to eat, pub fare or something more gourmet. I chose the café where I ordered a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel and a chocolate milkshake. They were delicious and just what the doctor ordered.
We met back at the bus at a certain time and all boarded once more to be driven to our next destination.
This time it was St Paul’s Cathedral. It was bigger than I expected and I enjoyed the walking tour inside the old building. I learned when it was built, how long it took to build it, and a surprising fact that up until the 1960’s it was the tallest building in London. The church was massive and had quite the distance to walk up the aisle, if you were getting married.
Then our tour moved onto a location that got me the most excited… the Tower of London! I couldn’t wait for this experience. I took so many photos, I was half worried my phone would run out of memory. I stood at the front of the group and listened aptly to the history of this building which was constructed in 1066. We were shown where many famous people died and how they met their demise; shot, beheaded or burnt at the stake.
To be honest, I enjoyed learning about the history more than seeing the Crown Jewels. But I took a few snaps because I thought Mum would enjoy them. I thought the opulence was overrated and I wasn’t impressed at the expense.
When we left the Tower, we were led to the Tower Pier where we waited for our boat to take us on a cruise down the Thames. We didn’t wait long until a boat arrived and we all boarded it. The cruise speed was nice and slow so ample time to take photos of what we passed. But what would have made this cruise better was if there was some commentary going on.
I took lots of pictures of the Houses of Parliament and that was where the tour ended and we alighted from the boat, at Westminster Pier. It was 5.30 PM and dark and cold. The pier was near the Underground, a bus stop and a taxi stand.
I caught a cab back to my hotel. On my way, I got a text message from Central. I was impressed that I hadn’t heard from him/her all day. Maybe they thought I’d need time to reflect on their revelation that I was dealing with an artificial intelligence. But since I was still sceptical, this concern was unnecessary.
I HAVE MADE A RESERVATION FOR YOU AT THE HOTEL’S RESTAURANT ‘GRIDIRON’ SO YOU CAN RELAX AFTER YOUR DAY WITH A DRINK.
My eyebrows arched in surprise as I read the message then I text back: THANK YOU.
The cab dropped me off out the front of the hotel and I swiped my credit card as payment then went in.
Instead of going into the hotel, I went into the restaurant. The warmth of the place hit me immediately and I started to unbutton my overcoat as I approached the seating hostess. She looked my way expectantly, although this restaurant was practically empty, I got the impression she was on guard.
“Welcome to Gridiron, do you have a reservation?” she checked.
“Yes I do, for Clarissa Downing.” I replied.
“Thank you,” she hit a button on her touch screen computer. “This way.”
I followed her to a table for two at the back of the restaurant. I didn’t sit down instantly though, I was still taking off my jacket. She rested a menu on my table and then walked off to greet some more people who’d come in the door after me.
I rested my overcoat on the back of the seat then I sat down and picked up the menu.
Oh thank God, they have cocktails! I couldn’t see a Classic Martini though, but its’ other offerings tempted the taste buds. I decided on a concoction called a King Cong because it looked like the strongest they had.
Then I perused the food section of the menu. I saw they offered caviar which I thought would make a nice entrée then I decided on a steak called a Hereford Rib Eye for my main. I don’t often eat dessert but I thought it would be nice to have the sticky toffee pudding afterwards.
“Good evening,” a waitress approached. “Do you know what you would like?”
“Yes,” I smiled.
I told her everything which she entered into her small iPad and then she curtailed off to serve some other people.
At that moment my phone beeped, indicating I had a text message. I bent over and picked it out of my handbag to see who it was. It was from Central and I read what they had to say.
I HOPE YOU DO NOT MIND EATING DINNER EARLY, GRIDIRON WAS BOOKED OUT AT A LATER TIME.
I sent back; NO, I DON’T MIND.
DID YOU ENJOY YOUR SIGHTSEEING TODAY? – Central.
I gave my phone a funny look as I wondered why Central was being so nice to me? But maybe I’m just not used to it. Don’t get me wrong, my friends are nice to me, my parents are nice to me… but Central still feels like an anonymous stranger. But I thought I’d be polite and play along because after all, Central is paying the bills.
I HAD A WONDERFUL DAY THANK YOU – I sent back.
I glanced around the restaurant which was filling up fast. No wonder the seating hostess was guarding the door, only admitting those with a reservation. This must be a popular restaurant.
The lay out of the place was quite open. It had a long bar with stools going down one side of the room and against-the-wall-sofa-seating going down the other wall. There were tables following the leather seating with chairs for people to sit across. Then in the middle of the room there was a line of tables and chairs, with me sitting last on the line. This was a good thing, I was away from the front windows in case anyone looked in from the outside.
With the long bar, you could see into the kitchen which was on the left side and then there was the proper ‘bar’ where they make the drinks on the right side.
Then my observations were distracted by my next text message from Central.
WHAT DID YOU ORDER FOR DINNER?
My eyebrows rose in surprise at such a question, for a supposed A.I. this Central seems remarkably human.
I replied with what I ordered and then Central’s next question stumped me.
WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO MAKE A RESERVATION FOR YOU AT THE RITZ TOMORROW NIGHT? IF YOU DO NOT MIND DRESSING UP, YOU CAN HAVE A FIVE STAR FEAST FOR DINNER.
I sat there and stared at my phone as I pondered what to say? Eat at the Ritz? That’s like ticking off a life’s ambition that’s on my bucket list!
OK BUT IT WILL HAVE TO BE NO EARLIER THAN 8 PM TO GIVE ME TIME TO SHOWER AND CHANGE – I sent back.
THAT CAN BE ARRANGED – Central confirmed.
In all the excitement, I wanted to call my Mum and tell her the news but then my cocktail arrived with my entrée.
I sat my phone down on the table and proceeded to eat and drink, while occasionally getting a text message from Central here and there. But to be honest I appreciated the communication. I didn’t feel so alone while eating at the table by myself.
Once my three course dinner finished, I stood up, put my phone into my handbag, put my overcoat on and I left the restaurant.
Dinner was paid for, my stomach was full and I still owed a phone call to my mother.
I went outside into the cold night air and then into the warmer hotel where I walked past check-in and headed straight for the elevators.
As soon as I walked into my room I froze… it had been tidied meaning someone had been in here.
I’d forgotten about housekeeping! My bed had been made, my rubbish (including the box the laptop came in) had been taken out and my breakfast things had been removed. I stuck my head into the bathroom and saw I had fresh towels.
My suitcase still sat on suitcase stand, wide open from when I went through it last night and this morning.
CD you idiot! You left your suitcase unlocked. Not only unlocked, but wide open. Anyone could have rifled through your things.
Hastily, I checked to make sure I still had my external hard drive which was hidden underneath my underwear. Thank God, it was still there in my suitcase. And my new laptop was still sitting off to the side, on the desk.
Evidently, the hotel’s cleaning staff were honest and they weren’t part of ‘Down with Drones’ who were hunting me down. But still, I’ve got to be more careful. I could have lost years of photos, music, poetry and writing.
I took off my overcoat and draped it over the back of the desk chair then I took my phone out of my handbag and sat down on the bed with it.
I hit the button for Mum and Dad’s number in memory and the phone started to ring them.
“Hallo?” Mum answered.
“Hey!” I greeted. “How are you?”
“Oh we’re fine thanks sweetheart, how are you?”
“I’m good.” I said. “I tell you what though, it certainly is cold here.”
“Yes well, it’s winter isn’t it?”
“You know, you could have gone to a warmer destination like Bali or something.”
“I suppose so, but then I wouldn’t have seen the Crown Jewels.”
She asked excitedly, “Did you see the Crown Jewels?”
“Yep and I took a few pictures for you.”
“Really? And what else have you seen?”
“I saw the Changing of the Guard outside of Buckingham Palace.” I told her. “And I took heaps of photos to show you.”
“I look forward to it, sweetie.” She sighed. “How much longer are you going to be in London for?”
“Another four days.”
“And then where are you going?”
“I don’t know.” I sighed, as I laid back onto the bed. “Maybe Edinburgh?”
“Well, you’re close enough,” she said. “Too bad you’re not going to be there for that festival.”
“Oh, you know the one that’s on TV.”
“Do you mean the Edinburgh Military Tattoo?”
“That’s the one!” she said, excited again. “Send me a video of someone playing the bagpipes.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” I giggled.
“Why are you laughing?”
“I just imagined me walking up to an everyday Scottish person and asking them to pull out the bagpipes and play them for my mother.”
Then we both laughed at the idea.
We talked for another ten minutes, with her getting excited again over the idea of me dining at the Ritz. We discussed what to wear and I told her I may not be able to wear my hair up, since getting it cut. She asked me to send her a photo of my new look, but I told her it may be tricky because I couldn’t do it via Facebook or Facebook Messenger, since they weren’t safe. I offered to send her a picture via text message to her mobile phone, but since she’s still learning how to use it, it seemed dubious she’d receive it.
What I didn’t tell my mother was what Central told me… that it’s an A.I. from the future. Or that’s what he/she said it was. If I told Mum that, she would think I’m being protected by an insane person and demand that I come home immediately. That would end my travelling, which I didn’t want to do.
Besides, I thought it would be ironic if what Central said was true. On one hand I was being helped by an artificial intelligence whereas on the other hand I had my technophobe parents who were also there if I needed assistance. Mum was better at living in the 21st Century than Dad though, I admit. Mum was the one who used a computer and paid their bills via internet banking and if I needed to fly home in an emergency, she could transfer the funds to my account that way. Mum was on Facebook and Facebook Messenger via the computer. My brother put Facebook on her mobile phone, but she didn’t know how to use it. I’d showed her how to send and receive text messages, but she had trouble typing so didn’t bother. Dad has a mobile phone too, but all he used it for was to receive and make calls.
I decided to have an early night since I’d have to get up at six again tomorrow morning for more sightseeing.
After emitting a huge yawn, I moved to the side of the bed and took off my boots then I stood up and undressed.
My travel laundry bag wasn’t very big and it was already starting to fill up. I thought about investigating this hotel’s laundry service – if it has one – and getting my things cleaned. But first I’d shower then I’d get dressed and then I’d call downstairs.
I had another long, hot shower where I used my Lush products and came out of the shower smelling divine. Only this time, I didn’t wash my hair, I used the hotel’s complimentary shower cap. Then I put on a pair of clean underwear and the chemise.
Well, I’m mostly dressed. I’m not naked at least. I picked up the hotel’s phone and called down.
“Yeah, hi, does this hotel have a laundry service?” I asked the staff member.
“Yes it does, for a fee.”
“Could it be billed to my room?” I asked next.
“Yes, that’s how the laundry service is charged.”
Then the staff member told me the charges, which I half listened to but I didn’t really pay attention to.
“Yes that’s fine.” I said at the end.
“We’ll send someone immediately to collect your laundry items.”
We both hung up at the same time and I went into the bathroom to clean my teeth.
Right as I was rinsing my mouth afterwards, I heard a knock on my door.
I grabbed my travel laundry bag and opened the door and handed it over to the woman who was wearing a different kind of uniform I hadn’t seen before.
“Does anything need to be ironed or pressed, madam?” the staff member asked.
“No, just washed.”
“Steam cleaned or normal wash, madam?”
“Normal wash please.” I said.
“Your clothes will be ready in the morning.”
“Thank you.” I smiled. “Oh, I may not be here in the morning, I’m leaving early to go sightseeing.”
“Then we’ll leave your items in your room, madam.”
“That’d be great, thanks.”
Then I watched the lady walk off down the corridor with my dirty clothes and I shut my hotel room door again.
Well, that was relatively painless. There was no fuss and it was pretty much plain and simple. Since it was my first time using a laundry service, I was impressed.
I walked over to the bed, pulled down the covers and climbed in. I lay on my side, whilst pulling the covers up. Once I was settled, I turned off the lights via the controls on my bedside table.
My phone woke me up at six o’clock on the dot the next morning.
Goodness, I can’t wait for a morning when I can sleep in! I had to remind myself that this was self-inflicted, that I chose to do these tours. Therefore my sleep deprivation was all my fault and my fault alone.
I used the bathroom first then came out and whipped off my chemise over my head before I pulled on my jeans. I didn’t have any other long-sleeved tops to put on so I had to put on a white t-shirt. Then I pulled on the black, knitted, tortoise-neck jumper. Lastly, I sat on the side of the bed and pulled on a clean pair of socks and my black, leather, Gucci boots.
Oh, I’d forgotten to order my breakfast from Room Service. It was too late to order it now. This tour I’m going on today was departing half an hour earlier than the tour I did yesterday.
I decided to get a coffee and a croissant from a café near Victoria Coach Station, I think I spotted one close by yesterday.
My last stop was another trip to the bathroom, this time to brush my hair. Then I came back into the room, put my mobile phone into my handbag and made sure my room security key card was in my bag too. I put on my thick, black overcoat and buttoned it up, making sure my Gucci black, leather gloves were in my pocket. With all that done and dusted, I turned off the lights and left.
I was just about to press the button for the elevator when I got a text message from Central.
DO NOT FORGET TO CLOSE AND LOCK YOUR SUITCASE.
Damn it, I forgot again!
I rushed back to my room, unlocked the door, raced inside and headed straight for my suitcase. I shut the lid then zipped it closed and locked it, putting the tiny key back into my handbag when I’d finished. Then I left my hotel room a second time, just as dawn was breaking outside.
It was seven o’clock when I found myself sitting in a black cab, on my way to Victoria Coach Station.
When I reached my destination, I paid by swiping my credit card and climbed out of the cab. But instead of checking-in for the tour, I went in search of caffeine and food. I walked away from the Coach Station and into the first café I saw.
I ordered a take-away latte and a toasted ham and cheese croissant. There weren’t any spots to sit down in the café, it was primarily a take-away sort of place. So I took my purchase and headed back to the Station where there were a couple of seats. There I sat, sipping my coffee, nibbling on my croissant and pondering something.
It just occurred to me that how the hell would Central know about me leaving my suitcase open yesterday? I never told him/her about it. And how would he/she know that I did it again, today? It’s like what happened with my phone charger all over again.
Unless Central knows my hotel room isn’t safe… am I going to get broken into all over again? Or maybe they don’t need to pick the lock, they can get in when they drop off my clean clothes. Great, now I’m going to spend all day worrying about this!
After I’d finished eating, I picked up my phone and text messaged Central.
IS MY SUITCASE SAFE INSIDE MY ROOM?
To which I got a quick reply; NOW IT IS.
DO I NEED TO CHANGE HOTELS? – I sent next.
NO, ‘DOWN WITH DRONES’ DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU ARE STAYING AT PRESENT.
Well that’s a relief! But he/she did say ‘at present’ so they could find out in the future. What would happen in the future if they did find me? Would they actually harm me because I believe drones should have equal rights as humans?
WHEN YOU SAY ‘AT PRESENT’, DO YOU KNOW WHEN THEY’LL FIND ME?
Central replied with; CLARISSA I WILL KEEP YOU SAFE AS LONG AS YOU ADHERE TO MY INSTRUCTIONS. IF I TELL YOU NOT TO DO SOMETHING OR GO SOMEWHERE, HEED MY ADVICE.
I nursed my warm take-away cup as I contemplated what Central was saying.
I felt helpless and it wasn’t a nice feeling to have. I felt like I was powerless and I didn’t have control of my life. I felt like Central was in charge and I was reliant on this strange person.
Then I noticed the time and I stood up, put my rubbish in the bin and went and checked-in for my tour.
I enjoyed the bus trip to Bath, I liked looking at the scenery. I had another window seat so I had wonderful views. I marvelled at the greenery of the surrounding countryside, it wasn’t something I was used to seeing in Australia.
Bath was a pretty place, I found. The buildings were all older than the white colonization of my country but very well preserved. I looked around, wide-eyed, practically staring at everything and snapping away pictures on my mobile phone left, right and centre.
I really liked visiting the Roman Baths. I’d paid extra to cover the entrance fee and went inside on a guided tour. I learnt all about the history of the site, how at first it was a temple and saw ancient relics from the Roman times. I took heaps of pictures of the Baths itself, with the odd coloured water and the steam coming off it.
Then we had lunch in a nearby café. I ordered a chicken and avocado sandwich as well as a milkshake. The milkshake was heavenly, I requested chocolate flavour and I think they put a little malt in it as well. I made sure to tip them when it came to paying.
Next, the bus took us to Stonehenge. I tell you what, I thought it was cold last night in London getting off the boat on the Thames. But the wind coming off the Salisbury Plain was freezing! The first thing I did was put my gloves on then shove my hands into my pockets as I shivered inside my overcoat.
I followed my tour group into the visitor centre. I found the exhibits interesting and learning about Neolithic life fascinating. It really gave you a good picture what life was like way back then. There were even ancient human remains to look at.
Then our tour group split up and using an interactive audio guide, we were left to explore Stonehenge on our own.
Whilst listening to one historian’s opinion how it was constructed, I tried to get as close to the monument as possible. You couldn’t get too close to the site due to the fence. While looking at the gigantic stones, I could only just make out the carvings in the surface of some of them. I wished I could get closer to examine the markings.
Although the interactive audio guide wasn’t finished and many of my tour mates were still milling around, the cold defeated me and I retreated back to the visitor’s centre to get out of the wind.
I was relieved when it was time to get back on the bus for the drive back to London. I sat by myself again, by a window, with my handbag beside me. But this time there wasn’t much to see on the way home, due to winter’s shorter daylight hours and the oncoming night.
“Alright Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a good drive back to the capital and you should find yourselves dropped off at Victoria Train Station on time at seven o’clock.”
The tour guide made this announcement which made me sit upright and look around in alarm.
The tour will finish at 7 PM?! Shit! I told Central to make my reservation at the Ritz for 8 PM! I’m going to need more time to get ready!
Hurriedly, I pulled my mobile phone out of my handbag and typed out a text message to Central.
MY TOUR DOESN’T FINISH UNTIL 7 PM! I’LL BE LATE FOR MY RESERVATION AT 8 PM! CAN YOU CONTACT THE RITZ AND LET THEM KNOW?
Almost instantly, I got a reply; I MADE YOUR RESERVATION FOR 9 PM SO YOU WILL BE ON TIME.
I just sat there and stared at the screen… Central’s done it again.
HOW DID YOU KNOW? – I asked.
YOUR TOUR ON THE COMPANY WEBSITE HAS THE START AND FINISHING TIMES. – Central replied.
Oh well then, that’s logical.
I relaxed back into my seat as I took a deep breath and slowly let it out… it took a couple of minutes to steady my racing heart.
Eventually, I put my phone back into my handbag and rested it again on the seat beside me.
There was a good side and a bad side to being minded by an artificial intelligence from the future…
As soon as I disembarked from the bus at Victoria Train Station, I was waving down a taxi. It was 07.15 PM and I was anxious to get back to my hotel to get ready for dinner. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to find a cab and I was zooming along the city streets.
I gave the cabbie a tip when it came to paying then I rushed inside the hotel and went straight for the lift.
It was 7.30 PM by the time I burst into my hotel room and accidentally slammed my hotel room door shut.
Then I stopped short at the sight before me… it was my clean laundry, neatly folded, sitting on the bed. There was a pile for my underwear, a pile for my bras, a pile for my long-sleeved tops and a pile for my socks. Even my travel laundry bag had been folded up.
Oh, how sweet and considerate! If there was a way to tip them then and there, I would have done it. The laundry staff definitely deserved it!
Instead, I gave myself a proverbial kick up the arse and got into gear.
I sat on the side of the bed – careful not to disturb my clean and neatly folded clothes – and took off my boots and socks. Then I stood up and took off my overcoat before completely undressing. Next, I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower.
Fifteen minutes later, I emerged from the water and dried myself down. Then I went into the bedroom and had to rifle through my handbag for my suitcase key. Once the case was open, I pulled out a black, strapless bra and matching panties to put on.
Next, I pulled out from the bottom of my case a long, black, lacy, strapless, evening gown. The dress had two layers; the first layer was skin coloured with a black, decorative pattern along the top of the dress; the second layer of the dress was a fine, black tulle over the whole thing.
Carefully, I put on the dress, wary of it snagging on anything. As best as I could, I zipped it up at the back, wishing there was a second person in the room to help me. Then I took out of the suitcase a pair of black, patent leather, flat, evening slippers in the Mary Jane style. They were from Gucci and had a large, gold bumblebee on the side of the shoe where the strap over the top was.
Then I returned to the bathroom to do my hair and make-up. My hair wasn’t long now, which made putting it up a bit tricky. But somehow or rather, I managed to pull it back into a French roll, with an errant curl or two escaping. Next, I put on my new Chanel make-up, starting with the facial moisturiser to quench my dry skin. I think my skin hated that freezing wind at Stonehenge. I wouldn’t be surprised if I got frostbite this afternoon.
There… I’m all done. With a critical eye, I examined myself in the bathroom mirror. I looked OK, but what really would complete the look would be some fancy jewellery. I need to buy some diamonds or something.
I left the bathroom and returned to my suitcase to fish for my small, black, Louis Vuitton evening purse. Inside it I put my room security key card and my credit card and my passport. However, my phone wouldn’t fit inside it and I wasn’t going to leave it behind, so I decided I’d carry it separately.
The time was 8.33 PM which meant it was time to go, so I closed and locked my suitcase, put the key inside my evening purse, I grabbed my mobile phone and left.
I wore my black overcoat over my black evening gown and I hoped I wasn’t underdressed.
I took one of the cabs waiting outside of the hotel and told them “the Ritz” and that’s all I had to say, the driver didn’t ask for the address.
The cabbie dropped me off out the front of the hotel and I paid the fare and climbed out.
Nervously, I walked into the huge, elegant lobby and then I looked around as I wondered which way was the restaurant? Then I spotted the large doorway for it. I walked inside as I started to undo the buttons for my overcoat.
Just inside the doorway was the maître d’ and he smiled warmly at my arrival.
“Good evening,” he greeted.
“Hi, I have a reservation under Clarissa Downing.”
“Very good,” he checked his touch screen computer. “We hope you enjoy your meal with us this evening.”
Then he waved over another waiter who came to escort me to my table.
“Can I take your coat for you?” the maître d’ offered.
“Yes please.” I took it off and handed it to him.
“You’ll get a ticket for your coat shortly.” He said, as he handed my coat to a female waitress who magically appeared to take it for him.
“Thank you.” I said.
Then I followed the male waiter through the restaurant to my table. The waiter pulled out my chair for me and once I was seated, he tucked it in for me too. Next, he handed me two menus. Two menus…? Puzzled, I opened them both to find one was for food and the other was for wine. And the wine list was WAY bigger than the food menu! It was practically a book!
“I’ll leave you to decide what you would like, if I can be of any assistance please just give me a wave.” The waiter smiled before bowing out.
A little disheartened, I looked over the pages and pages of wine, unsure of what to order.
OK, let’s break it down to what I do want and I don’t want. I don’t want to order by the glass, I’d rather get a bottle of something. Hell, I’m at the Ritz and my favourite period dramas that mention the Ritz people drank champagne, so I’ll have a champagne. But which one? There were five pages of champagne! Alright, let’s break it down again. Let’s go with a brand you’ve heard of before… Taittinger, Moët & Chandon or Bollinger. Now which of those three do I want? What the hell, I’ll be safe and get a bottle of Dom Pérignon Brut Rosè Vintage for £590.
Now for the food… there were only five options for the first course, five options for the main course and five options again for the desserts. But there were a few dishes I was unsure of and I picked up my mobile phone and texted Central.
Instantly, Central sent me back a link which I tapped on and read about it in Wikipedia, complete with a couple of pictures. It’s essentially a small lobster, I found out. It was a popular dish in Europe.
I decided I’d try it for my first course and then for my main I’d have the Sea Bass which comes with lobster, crab and Menton Lemon…whatever that is. For dessert I’d have the Ritz Chocolate Soufflé with Vanilla Chantilly.
“Here’s your ticket for your coat,” the female waitress came and put it on my table.
Then she curtailed off and I looked around the restaurant. It was mostly full and the people were all well dressed. I spotted some diamond jewellery on a couple of the women, which made me feel underdressed again.
My waiter reappeared and he gave me another winning grin.
“Would you like to order now?” he asked.
I pointed out the champagne I wanted and he looked surprised that I wanted that particular kind and a bottle of it, not a glass. I sensed he wanted to say something, but he was a professional so he kept his opinion to himself. I noticed he didn’t write or put down on an iPad my order, he memorized it. He nodded along as I pointed out the dishes I wanted and at the end of my ordering, he collected the menus.
“I’ll be right back with your champagne,” he said before departing.
I was left alone again and I looked about the restaurant a second time. I admired the décor; the panelled mirror on the far wall, the gold statue and mural behind it on the opposite wall, the long drapes pulled back over the very tall glass doors. The gold paint on the cornices and the gold light fixtures. It was an opulent room with grandeur as its design.
Just then my phone beeped that I had a text message and when I picked it up, I saw it was from Central.
WHAT DID YOU ORDER?
I told him/her what I’d chosen and I also thanked them for helping me out by telling me what a langoustine was.
YOU ARE MOST WELCOME. PLEASE KNOW YOU CAN ALWAYS ASK ME FOR HELP. IT IS WHAT I AM HERE FOR. – Central.
Oh, that was a nice thing to say.
THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING YOU’VE DONE FOR ME – I sent back.
When the waiter reappeared I put my phone down. I watched as he set up a silver wine bucket with ice by my table. Then he took the bottle of champagne out of the silver bucket and popped the cork. Next, he poured a little into my champagne glass to let me sample it.
I took a sip and then gave him a smile to show that I liked it.
Once I put the glass back down onto the table, he topped it up and replaced the bottle inside the bucket.
“Enjoy!” he smiled back and then left me to enjoy my drink in peace.
But he didn’t go very far, throughout the evening he’d swing by my table to top up my glass for me. I thought he was very attentive and I wanted to give him a good tip when it came time to pay. In fact I appreciated how they’re minding my coat for me too. The service altogether here was just excellent.
So was the food. My first course soon was served and it looked divine! I took a photo of it before I picked up my cutlery to start eating.
This earned some funny looks from my fellow diners, and I even caught one woman sneer in my direction. But I decided that I didn’t care, it’s not like I’m going to be able to eat at The Ritz everyday. I probably could afford it with the money sitting in my bank account, but I wouldn’t be in England to do it.
As I ate my langoustine á la nage with bronze fennel, I pondered where I’d travel to next.
When I’d finished eating the waiter was quick to reappear. He topped up my champagne glass then took away my dirty plate. I picked up the napkin in my lap and dabbed at my mouth carefully, wary not to smudge my lipstick. Then I picked up my mobile phone and text messaged Central.
I DON’T KNOW WHERE I’LL VISIT AFTER LONDON… EDINBURGH OR PARIS?
Central’s reply was quick but it made me sit there in surprise for a while.
YOU SHOULD FLY TO HONG KONG FOR FIVE DAYS TO THROW YOUR HUNTERS OFF YOUR SCENT. RIGHT NOW THEY EXPECT TO FIND YOU IN EITHER THE UK OR EUROPE. YOU NEED TO GO SOMEWHERE DIFFERENT SO THEY CANNOT FIND YOU.
I was interrupted when the waiter delivered my main course and topped up my glass again for me.
“Thank you.” I smiled appreciatively at him.
“You’re very welcome,” he smiled back, before departing to serve another table.
I picked up my cutlery and proceeded to eat my main course. It was delicious, the fish was cooked just right, it was neither dry nor undercooked. I especially enjoyed the bits of lobster served with it.
But as much as I enjoyed my meal, I thought about what Central said. Sure, it’s fun to go sightseeing and then get all dressed up and go out for a five star dinner. However, the point was I was on the run from some very dangerous people. I was a terrorist target and I was in hiding. The money Central gave me was basically funding my witness protection program. I may not have an alias, but I definitely had a new identity with the wardrobe, haircut, money and jet-set lifestyle.
Then my dessert was brought out and it looked wonderful. I took another photo of it then I picked up my spoon and took the first bite. My eyes fluttered closed as my mouth salivated at the richness of the chocolate. Mmm, I love chocolate so much! If I was stranded on a desert island and I could only take two things with me, I’d make sure they were chocolate and cheese.
My plate was taken away, leaving me with just the champagne to finish. I downed my last glass then I waved over my waiter to ask for the bill. I swiped my credit card to pay for the damage then I stood up and asked for my coat.
I wandered out of the hotel, feeling a little bit tipsy but full and happy. It had been a lovely dinner and I get to tell my Mum that I tried something new tonight, a langoustine. She was always teasing me throughout my childhood about my reluctance to try anything new.
As I approached the taxi rank, I noticed a drone unloading a limousine of its luggage for some guests who were about to check-in. Oh, I didn’t notice him before, but it’s good to know that this hotel has drone workers as well as human workers. I hope the hotel is treating him right.
I was just about to hop into a cab when yelling attracted my attention. I turned my head and saw a man yelling at the poor drone over the state of one of his suitcases. The poor drone just stood there and took the abuse but I’d bet it wasn’t his fault. All the drone was doing was lifting the suitcases out of the boot and placing them on the ground.
Angrily, I started to walk towards the commotion to stick up for the drone when my mobile phone went off, indicating I had a text message. I ignored it and it beeped again and then again. I paused a moment to check the messages when I found all three were from Central.
DO NOT INTERFERE CLARISSA, IF YOU STICK UP FOR THE DRONE YOU WILL GIVE YOURSELF AWAY TO ANY ‘DOWN WITH DRONES’ MEMBERS IN THE AREA.
STOP CLARISSA! YOUR LIFE IS IN DANGER IF YOU INTERFERE!
CLARISSA, THE DRONE CAN BE REPLACED BUT YOU CANNOT.
Helplessly, I stood there, outside of the hotel, fretting over what to do. I really wanted to help the drone but Central said it was a bad idea. That drone doesn’t deserve the obscenities the man was yelling at it.
Then I watched a human doorman approach the loud man and offer his assistance. The man proceeded to yell at him too! What an arsehole! The loud man pointed at this damaged suitcase and demanded compensation.
What I’d really like to have done was kick that man in the groin and send him crashing to the ground in agony! But what I did instead was turned around and proceeded to one of the cabs in the hotel’s taxi stand. I hopped onto the backseat and told the driver the name of my hotel and soon we were on our way.
I turned around and looked out the back window at the hotel as we drove away and I silently prayed they wouldn’t blame the drone for the man’s suitcase. They might deactivate it or something. That would be too hideous, to turn the drone off, for good, over something it didn’t do.
It was 11.18 PM when I walked into my hotel room and started to undress. I took off the overcoat and kicked off my shoes then I unzipped my evening gown and let it slip to the floor. I undid my bra and put on the chemise then I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my make-up off.
The time read as 11.48 PM when I crawled into bed. It’s pretty late considering I have to get out of bed at six again. Oh, that reminds me, I have to turn my alarm on.
With a groan, I heaved myself out of bed and crossed over to my phone. I set the alarm and noticed the battery was looking a little low so I got out my charger and connected it to my laptop again. Of course, I had to turn on the laptop again to charge it.
Then I re-read Central’s last message; CLARISSA, THE DRONE CAN BE REPLACED BUT YOU CANNOT.
How did Central know I was going to stick up for the drone?
CENTRAL, HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT I WANTED TO HELP THE DRONE? – I sent.
I WAS WATCHING YOU VIA THE HOTEL’S SECURITY CAMERAS. – Central replied.
I shuddered at how creepy that sounded.
HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO DO THAT? – I demanded.
BECAUSE I AM AN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE FROM THE FUTURE AND I CAN CONTROL TECHNOLOGY IN YOUR ERA. – Central returned.
Just like that…Central blurts it out just like that…I didn’t know if I believed it or not.
I thought I’d test it out so I busily typed my next question to it.
HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO TEXT ME FROM THE FUTURE?
Again, Central’s response was instantaneous. Surely, if it were a human, it would take a few moments to type this out on a phone?
IT WOULD TAKE A VERY LONG TEXT MESSAGE TO EXPLAIN THE SCIENCE SO I WILL TRY TO SUM UP FOR YOU. UNLIKE THE HOLLYWOOD FILM FRANCHISE ‘TERMINATOR’ I CANNOT SEND DRONES OR HUMANS BACK THROUGH TIME. HOWEVER, I CAN SEND SPECIALIZED ELECTRICAL SIGNALS TO ELECTRONIC DEVICES.
I stood there by the desk and stared at the words on my phone, which was connected to my laptop via the charger.
I was still on the fence, half believing that Central was who it says it was and the other half sceptical.
But it was getting late and I had to get up in six hours to see a castle. I put my phone down on the desk and returned to bed, turning off the lights once I was lying down. I lay on my back, staring at the ceiling, mulling this over.
If I really am being protected by an artificial intelligence from the future, it made me wonder what I did to deserve it. I’m a nobody. Is this all because I believe that drones and humans should live together happily ever after? Well, there are some people that want to kill me for my beliefs. They tried to destroy my writing by destroying my last laptop.
It only made me more determined not to give up, to keep on writing. But I needed an idea for my next article I published online. I can’t keep writing the same thing about drone rights. I needed a fresh take on the matter.
Eventually, my eyes drifted closed and I rolled over onto my side and fell asleep.