thus did immortal jealousy
quell divine generosity,
thus reason vanquished instinct and
matter became the slave of mind;
thus virtue triumphed over vice
and beauty bowed to ugliness
and logic thwarted life:and thus—
but look around you,friends and foes
my tragic tale concludes herewith:
soldier,beware of mrs smith
Mrs. Smith had changed her name so many times she wondered if she perhaps might now have come full circle: Had she been Mrs. Smith once before, at a prior Performance? Cycling through the ledger of acceptable identities could make one forget, as one forgot the seasons in a world of perpetual darkness.
An extremely busy schedule, a dearth of free time, and blind panic in the end had necessitated that she assume the most readily available name, which as always, was Mrs. Smith. She thought about this on her way to the Performance, this lack of options. I didn’t seem fair, somehow.
She had been to the Gilded Flats before under different guises and on different errands-she was fortunate enough to possess a probationary pass-but the empty streets never ceased to amaze her. Here, there were no teeming masses with their sweat and blood and pounding hearts, as there were in the Lower Levels. Only a few Citizens walked the streets. In fact, the bulk of traffic was comprised of treaded BOIs™, trundling between building fronts carved directly from the stone and stained white in mimicry of marble. Against the black walls of the rift, these regal homes reached to the heights like teeth in a maw.
She decided she would try to enjoy her stint as Mrs. Smith this time. It was far better than being herself, a self that was now safely secreted away in an anonymous nook atop bedrock that served no longer as foundation, but one in a multitude of capstones.
A burnished plate at the entrance of her destination held the resident’s name etched in NewScript: “Mr. Alistair Masterson, Esq.” She knocked and in seconds, a CamMod™ had rolled out from a niche and sidled down the wall. She clutched her purse protectively: a spinster, a marm, a prude—these roles had informed her appearance, at the request of her host.
The metal sphincter that shuttered the eye spun open. She patted her head. Had she mussed her hair? There was no breeze to speak of, just the soughing of the thermals off the stone before her. But one never could be too careful.
“Mrs. Smith,” the CamMod™ spoke with the clipped proprietary accent of her patron.
“Yes sir, Mr. Masterson, ‘tis I.”
There was a long pause. “Well, at the very least you look the part. My BOI™ will be down to admit you. You shouldn’t be out in the open for so long.”
“Thank you, si—” But the machine had already begun its climb anew. From below, she could see the abdominal compartment that housed its armaments. Short shrift for the rabble, in the event that they should arrive unwanted.
On the boulevard, a pair of Citizens walked by in dusky clothes. They stared as they passed. The man muttered some remark under his breath. The woman covered her mouth, giggling. She shouldered a parasol and wore a long gown with a waist corsage.
“Mrs. Smith.” The voice startled her. As she swung around, her purse slipped from her shoulder, spilling its contents on the ground before a BOI™ that had appeared in the threshold. “Forgive me for startling you,” it rasped as tendrils snaked out to retrieve her affects. One held ÜDrops™ aloft, so its contents could be seen through the light. Mrs. Smith tried to snatch the vial from him, but the digit snaked away. “I’m afraid I’ve been instructed to hold onto this sort of thing.” Her medication promptly disappeared into a side compartment of its chassis.
“How I detest your like,” she hissed. “You think you can give us orders? We, who created you!”
The BOI™ dropped mirrored eyes in a pseudo-hominoid imitation of self-abasement. “I am only acting in the best interests of my master.” It rolled back into the building and swiveled at the mid-section: a bow.
She harrumphed in disapproval but entered nonetheless.
The hallway was accessible both horizontally and vertically, forming a three dimensional chamber as had been the rage in the heyday of Horowitz and Singh, Architectural Firm.
“I’ve been authorized to comport you to the remittance chamber,” a plate on a double-jointed lever slid out from the space between the BOI’s™ treads. “If you choose.”
“Keep your filthy tentacles off me, you… you… monster! It would be just like your kind to try and cop a feel off an old lady!” Her voice boomed out and up, filling the empty chamber, off key.
The BOI™ was still for a moment. They were like that, pausing and processing its instructions. Then it reversed towards the wall. Its treads locked into parallel grooves and with a whirring sound, it ascended. “You’ll find the Elepad at the end of the hallway.”
She hollered after it, “I can find it on my own, thank you very much!”
She hoped Masterson had been watching. That had been a good bit of histrionics and quite in role. Even he would have to admit that.