The Old in the New.

Earth as we know it is no more. Pollution and war have wiped out most of humanity, now only one community remain.
Jenna lives in the Hotel. After a series of events she finds herself sucked into an adventure, full of things that she could never have imagined.

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3. Chapter 2.

From behind my tightly closed eyelids, I can sense the lights in my room turning on gradually, indicating that it’s dawn. The wailing of the alarm cuts through the shear silence of the Hotel and wrenches the last bit of sleep from me. Groaning, I push the button to release the door of my sleeppod and slide down into my open plan house, shielding my eyes against the red flashing light on the ceiling. It stops when I jab my finger on it, but it’s too late, I’m awake. Something inside me stirs and I groan again when I realise that I have to be at the Attendant HQ in half an hour. Tears prickle at the corners of my eyes again, but I deepen my breath and push them away. If I’m going to be an Attendant for the rest of my life, I damn well better try and be a good one. The counters in the corner of my room are sparkling as I walk over and insert a token into the slot at the side of one of the cupboards. After a few seconds, it starts to make a slightly irritating buzzing noise, but just when it becomes too much to bear, the door opens with a pop and a breakfast of porridge and banana appear - picked out by the Hotel nutritionists to suit my personal needs.

    The sofa looks at me invitingly from it’s position in front of the large television screen and I sigh. Last weekend I ate my dinner on the sofa and spilt some weird sauce on it. Needless to say, the cameras in my room picked up on it and I got a stern message from the Leaders warning me that “only unproductive citizens” eat on anything other than the dinner table. Cool steel meets me as I pull out one of the chairs and quickly wolf down the slightly tasteless porridge. An Attendant needs all her strength for the job. Once done, I chuck it in the vague direction of the washing chute and go back to my sleep pod. My pyjamas are thrown carelessly onto my bed along with my suit from last night, and a grey cotton slip is pulled over my head, which is joined by grey leggings and - get this - grey boots. Eyes flickering towards the mirror, I take myself in: red hair cropped into a pixie cut, long limbs and a slightly down turned mouth. Hopefully the Attendants won’t mind about my current hair colour and re-dye it blonde so that I match the others.

    Taking one last quick look, I walk out into the hallway and into the large lift opposite, pressing the button for the 42nd floor. A few other people are going to work at the same time a me today - an elderly man in the uniform of the holo-creators, a middle aged woman in an engineer uniform, and one of the boys who was at the Ceremony last night dressed in the classic clothes of security. He flashes me a quick smirk when he sees me in my own dress, but then briskly walks out of the door when we reach floor 30. If he’s going to treat me like that everyday, I might have to find a new lift to take. Cat got a job as an engineer last night at the Ceremony. I haven’t seen her since then, but by the way her face lit up, it looked like she was pretty happy with it, so it kind of makes my day a little more bearable; knowing that she got a job that she’ll love.

    Floor 42. The lift doors slide open and I walk out into a brightly lit corridor that only leads to one door at the far right,  decorated with the engraved letters ‘ATTENDANT HQ.’ My fingers start unconsciously picking and scratching at each other, and become more frantic when I draw near to my job. I’d better make a good first impression. Sculpting my features into something which I hope resembles a pleasant smile, I press my finger into the block on the left of the door and turn to face the small camera when it buzzes into life and a chirpy voice sounds from the microphone.

“Hello, Attendant HQ. How may we help you today?”

I swallow. “Hi, it’s Jenna Zed. I’ve been told to report here this morning for my briefing.”

“Excellent! Step right inside please.”

Making some last adjustments to my shift dress, I step through the sliding door and into a large, square reception room with a lady in glasses sitting behind a tall desk. 

She looks me over once and beckons towards a door behind her. “Through there please. Matt will be waiting for you.”

    I flash a polite smile in her direction and walk into the room. It’s smaller than the main reception area, with a table in the very middle and two armchairs on either side. An office perhaps? A balding man stands up when I enter and extends his hand in greeting. “Hello Jenna! We’re happy to have you here today. Are you ready to start?”

No, I was not ready. Not one bit. I doubt I’ll ever be ready to be an Attendant, but I nod nonetheless and accept his outstretched hand, sitting backwards into the firm chair as I do so.

“Now, I bet you’ve heard your school friends talk about the job of an Attendant, am I right?”

I begin to open my mouth, but he gives me no time to answer before launching into a well rehearsed spiel.

“Well, I can assure you that they’re probably not right. Not right at all! In fact we, as a unit, are probably the most essential force in running and maintaining the Hotel. Without us, who do you think would care for everyone’s homes? That’s right, no one.” His chins wobble as he chuckles. “Now Jenna, I know you young ones are a little short in attention span, so I’ll leave it here for today and instead of giving you my normal instructional talk, I’ll just quickly transfer a manual to your digibook. Okay?”

Of course I agree and pull my digibook out of the front pocket of my shift. Tapping his once against mine, the manual is transferred and he beams up at me. “Fantastic! I can tell that you’re going to be an avid worker, Jenna. A real asset to the Attendants! Until you’ve had time to catch up on all the important points of your job, I’m going to leave you in the more than capable hands of Kit who will show you around for the first couple of days.” 

As if in a play, a boy; or rather a young man, walks through the opposite door right on cue. I thank Matt genuinely, because after all, he did seem awfully keen on his job and tried to make me feel better about it, and walk over to Kit. 

    Right when I reach his side, I can tell that the next couple of days are going to be only slightly better than hell itself. When I smile and reach to shake his hand, he meets my eyes with about the same animation as a steel wall, mutters something and turns away; the only interaction being the slight flick of his wrist to ask me to follow him. Biting back a sharp remark, I walk after him as we exit the HQ and go back into the labyrinthine corridors of the hotel. Somehow he managed to animate himself enough to pick up a trolley on the way, and now he was wheeling it ahead of himself, giving me instructions in a monotonous voice.

“This morning we’re going to visit Mr and Mrs Priod in room 431. They’re regulars, which means that you’ll have to go an attend to their room everyday without fail.” On the words “without fail” he shoots me a look which gives me the idea that a more appropriate term would be “or else”. 

We turn another corner into a thinner corridor. “ They’re both pretty average in terms of clients, not the worse I’ve had, but not the best either.” The corridor gets thinner and colder as we carry on. 

“I’ll tell you what you need to do when you get there, but just remember to always be polite, and that you’re the one helping them so do everything they ask you to do. Within reason of course.”

My feet take over from my mind and I drift off. The only problem with living in the Hotel is that it’s so big, that it takes quite a bit of time to get anywhere, especially as transpods are only allowed in designated areas. How much longer will it take? I sound miserable even to myself in my head right now and try to plaster a nice, but neutral expression on my face. 

    Luckily, as soon as I start making up stories in my mind about getting stranded in the middle of a corridor and never being able to find my way back to the main area, Kit stops abruptly and raps smartly on a door to our left. A man with bleached white hair and a silver and extremely well pressed suit on answers the door to us. Beady eyes survey me through the narrow, pink glasses and the purple dyed lips open to invite us in.

“Good, here at last! I was wondering what took you so long.”

I looked at Kit, who scowled at me and started pushing the trolley inside. 

“Sorry Mr Priod. We’ve got a new Attendant today” he waved his hand in my general direction, “she took a bit longer than usual to walk to your room.”

Mr Priod sniffs and shakes his head. “Well you’d better start coming on time young lady. I don’t want to wait around for you to get here and miss my shift, and I’m sure that you won’t want to be here for longer than necessary.”

Guilt pushes tentatively at the edge of my mind, even though I was sure I was walking fast enough. “Sorry Sir. I’ve never been this far to the edge of the hotel and the corridors were a bit overwhelming.”

He sniffs again. “I expect you on time tomorrow.” With that, he turns on his the heel of her unfathomably shiny shoes and struts out of the door, digibook in his hand and coat over his shoulder. 

    I turn apologetically to Kit, although I know that he should have really asked me to hurry if he was concerned about being late. 

“Well Jenna, I’d love to help you sort this room out on your first day, but I really need to get back to my own clients. You understand right?” The tone of his voice suggests the complete opposite and he seems to be fighting back a smug smile. I put on an obviously false voice, “Yes of course Kit. I know you are a very busy man and it would be rude to slow you down anymore.”

Eyes narrowing, he glares back at me. “Mr Priod left instructions on the counter. You need to be done here in two hours maximum. Report back to HQ when you’ve done.” With that, he walks out too, with a stride that so closely resembles the older man’s that I can’t tell if he is mimicking him for his own entertainment, or if he’s just being a pompous ass. As he walks through the open door, I turn round and start when I see Mr Priod still standing just in the corridor, starting at me with an unreadable look on my face. Shivering, I turn away and make a conscious decision to completely disregard that side of the room in terms of tending to for now.

    For the first time since I arrived in the room, I take a proper look around. The word messy would be a generous one to use, as I’m sure that no inch of floor is free of some item of rubbish. The counters in the kitchen are dirty, and…is that mould? First thing first, I pull a pair of plastic gloves off of the trolley and put them on. Who knows what’s in here that I don’t want to touch? The instructions now in hand, and a black apron on, I start with the floor. Whilst I sweep the various items into a pile, I think to myself about the prospect of doing this everyday for the rest of my life. Sweeping in this same room, on this same floor, for these same people every day without fail. I could make it fun right? I try to turn it into a game, but that just acts to frustrate me further. I’ll figure something out. I’m just putting the swept-up pile down the rubbish chute when I hear the familiar click of a sleep pod opening and spin round just in time to see a woman, maybe in her late 20s and with a red band round her wrist, walk out into the open-plan space. I freeze as she catches my eye.

“What are you doing here?” She starts towards me, “Where’s my regular Attendant?”

“He’s moved on to another set of clients now, so I’ve taken over your rooms.”

The woman, who I assume to be Mrs Priod, looks sceptical. “Right. And how far have you got?” She takes in the room quickly. “Impressive. That floor takes a lot of sweeping, congratulations.” 

I pretty certain that she’s being sarcastic, so I just nod in agreement. My left cheek starts stinging and it takes me a second to register that I’ve been slapped.

“How dare you ignore me? Do I look like the kind of person who expects a nod when I’m speaking to someone?”

Her eyes are glinting with an undisguised malice, so I choke out a reply. “No of course not. I apologise!”

Apparently my weak sorry was satisfactory, and she goes to sit on the sofa in front of the television screen.

    My hand finds the counter and I stand there in disbelief. That woman just slapped me. I touch the cheek and wince when I realise how tender it is. What am I meant to do? Take it? Walk out of there back to HQ? For now I think I’m just going to finish cleaning the room and tell Matt about it when I get back to him in a couple of hours. Yup, that’s what I’ll do. I’m not going to show a spiteful lady that she got to me. Touching the point at the base of the tap, I turn on the water and wet my cloth, wringing it out and turning back to the hideous countertop before me. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Mrs Priod watching me as I work, but I choose to ignore her (which may not be the best choice considering her previous words) and get on with trying to make the place look nice. After I’ve finished the countertops, I raise my eyes and find myself face to face with one of the cameras that survey every bit of the Hotel. I stare into the depths of it’s bright, metal eye intently as if I can see through to the watchers on the other side and sense what they’re thinking. Did they see the Mrs Priod slap me? My gaze drills harder into the small camera, but I see no hint of anything there. What was I expecting though? It’s an inanimate object.

    I start to throw my dirty bits of cloth down the rubbish chute, but I can’t wrench my mind from the camera. I wonder how much the cameras in the Hotel have seen whilst they’ve been here? I mean, yes they’ve seen everything, but if you start to think about what that everything holds it’s an entirely different and more insane notion. They saw the aftermath of the construction of the Hotel and the faces of the people who built it and have seen how the New have progressed as a society. If you transferred all the knowledge of all the cameras into a single human mind, what would that human be like? Would they explode from all the things that they held inside of them? Would their knowledge be so complex that they no longer had the ability to portray and retain emotion? I shake my head. I’m philosophising about a camera. Honestly…it doesn’t even breathe. With a contemptuous glance behind my shoulder as if to blame it for my irrational few minutes, I walk back to my trolley in the middle of the room.

    Unsettled by the intensity with which Mrs Priod is watching me with, I carefully look through my trolley without letting the tension that I can feel building up manifest itself in my actions. Standing up, a pile of clean sheets for the sleep pods in my hands, our eyes meet for a second. In that second, the amount of hate I can feel radiating from her almost flattens me onto the ground. Forehead crumpling, I can’t quite manage to break what feels like an energy channel between her mind and mine, so stay perfectly still until she blinks and looks to the sofa. Barely audible, I hear the words “stupid bitch” followed by a long stream of swear words, most of which I didn’t even know existed. A cough escapes my vaguely slack jaw and I collect myself before beginning the second to last task on a list that I know has been cut down for my benefit. Cute, Mrs Priod wanted to make things easier for me whilst she practically shot daggers into my skull. In order to dissolve some of the unease that I can feel settling in the room like an ambush settles in wait, I hum a quiet tune to myself as I remove the old sheets from the mattresses. I scratched my gloved finger on a stain on the far left one in a vain attempt to look like I’m making an effort to do a good job. Although freezing mid scratch, it dawns on me that I’m touching an unknown stain on a bed in a random strangers room and I stop, barely disguising the slight snicker that escapes. If I keep pretending to cough much more, all my clients will probably think I have some weird illness or something. That could be good actually.

    I lean into the same sleep pod and smooth out the wrinkles in the new sheet that I’ve just put on, taking extra care to make sure to leave nothing that Mrs Priod could hit me for again. As I begin to straighten up, the hairs on the back of my neck begin to prickle and I turn round, only to see her face inches from mine and her hand slamming into my sternum. I fall backwards halfway into the pod, and she yanks my legs fully inside with her hot grasp, and before I have time to react properly, she is closing the door and fiddling with the keypad on the outside. In shock, I scrabble with the inside release so that I can get out of this insane lady’s rooms, but realise my predicament as it fails to work. Unbelieving, I look up to meet her eyes again, and rather than the hate I felt like last time, feel a horrible smug satisfaction.

She mimes for me to come closer to the (unfortunately) industrial-strength glass and says, “That’s for trying to tear my husband away from me.” With that, she also turns on her heel and walks out of the door, in a manner such like her husband it draws my attention away from my current situation for about a nanosecond. The thick mattress envelops me as I lean back in dismay. How on earth could she think I was trying to steal her husband from her? I barely even talked to him for goodness sake! Suddenly it dawns on me. On my first day at my new job, I had been ordered to Attend to the rooms of a mentally unstable woman and her husband. That explains the red wristband then; how could I have disregarded it that much? In school we were taught what the different wristband colours correspond to: purple to physically ill, yellow to criminal past, red to mentally ill and so on. I let my head fall into my hands. I need to find a way out of here quickly…I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a trouble maker on my first day, or I might be kicked out of my Attendant position. Actually, now I come to think of it, being kicked out of my job might not be such a bad idea. However they’ll involve the Law Enforcers and something might be put on my social record, which is not something that I want. I groan. This is what I get for being so negative about the whole job thing.

    I sit in the same position trying various methods of getting out for what feels like an hour. Finally, when I resign myself to being found by Kit or someone equally condescending, I relax. At least I probably won’t have to come back here. A muffled noise sounds from out in the main room. Please don’t let it be Mrs Priod again. Pulling my face up to the glass, I feel a faint rush of relief when the not-so-unwelcome face of Mr Priod comes into my view. I thump my fist against the glass, and he looks round, expression startled and then morphed into one of pleasant surprise. He comes over and fiddles with the controls for a few minutes, until finally I’m free and I half stumble my way back into the main living space.

“Did my wife do this to you? I’m so sorry, it must be one of her bad days.” 

Warning bells go off when he voice lacks the sincerity of someone who is truly concerned. I decide to make a quick exit.

“Yes she did Sir. I’m going to have to go now. Thank you for helping me.” I flash a quick smile and turn to retrieve my trolley and get the hell out of there.

    As soon as I turned my back, he ensnares my wrist and spins me round, catching my other wrist so that now he is holding me facing him.

I feel bile rising in my throat and I force my voice to stay calm. “Excuse me Sir, I really need to go. The HQ will be waiting for me.” 

I try to pull my wrists free, but his grip is too tight and they remain where they are. Now I’m am truly scared and begin to struggle more, but he just looks down at me in a tranquil and thoughtful way. Without seeming at all deterred by my attempts at breaking lose, he leans down and presses his mouth into my fear-parted lips and starts to kiss me in time with my silenced protests. Somehow I’m still aware of what I’m doing and bite down on his tongue until I can taste the metallic tang of blood. This doesn’t deter him though, and he pushes me against the wall, crushing my ribcage with the sheer weight of his body, bringing his hand up under the hem of my dress and starting to work his way slowly upwards. Ignoring the suffocating weight of the fear, I sort through the warnings of my mind until I figure out what to do. Fighting down the urge to throw up, I pretend to go along with his advance and start to work my knee between his legs. Just as he realises, I bring my patella right into his groin with as much force as I can muster and grin in satisfaction when he reels backwards, and crumples into a heap on the floor, spitting out the same swear words as his wife did earlier.

    Spurred on by my success I sprint out of the room, thanking the adrenalin coursing through my veins, and dash at the same speed through the corridors in the vague direction of my rooms. As I run, I spit out everything in my mouth, but still don’t feel clean. I know I’m pretty near to where I live now (Kit would be proud of my speed), but invasive thoughts of Mr Priod’s gleeful face and harsh actions keep infiltrating my mind and I fall onto the floor against a steel rubbish chute at the edge of the corridor that I’m in. Crawling onto my hands and knees, I gag and retch until I vomit up my breakfast and whatever taste still remains on his mouth on mine. When I’m sure I’ve expelled all that I can from my stomach, I roll into a sitting position and start to sob into my hands. Damn adrenalin for not lasting longer. Damn me for being so stupid. I hate myself for not sensing that something was wrong and I hate myself for being so pathetic now. Tears roll freely over my grey leggings, only succeeding in making them darker and more uncomfortable to sit in. Eventually, I lose the ability to expel anymore water from my tears ducts and just sit curled up in silence in a corridor in the middle of the Hotel.

    A hand touches my shoulder and I snap my head up and stretch out my hand so that I can ward this new threat off. Instead of the menacing face of Mr Priod though, I see the concerned eyes of Cat become level with mine, as she sits down next to me. When I see her, I know I’m safe and my eyes overflow with a new set of tears. Her small fingers brush the hair out of my face and intertwine with mine as she helps me to my feet and leads me a few metres further down the hallway to where her room was. Again, I curse myself for not realising where I was and just let her take me into the small bathroom. I sit on the edge of the bath, and she sits opposite me. “Jenna, what do you need?”

I try and think, but I’m again overcome with the strong urge to vomit. Quickly, I lean over the toilet and probably empty the entire contents of my body into the basin. After all, I’d already rid myself of my breakfast. Cat pulls the hair back behind my shoulders and presses her cool hand to my forehead to try and cool me down. Once done, I sit up and rinse my mouth out. Cat hands me one of the spare toothbrushes and a couple of items of clothing, kisses my forehead and goes back into the main living space. I feel bad for not saying much to her, but for now I just watch the water and toothbrush spinning down the drain and listen to the quiet movements from outside. The items of clothing turn out to be a baggy t-shirt and a pair of shorts, so I quickly change out of my slip dress and leggings and go back into to join Cat. 

    She’s sitting cross legged in her open sleep pod when I come in, head bent over a book and hair pulled up into a quick messy bun. I walk over to her side and kiss her forehead. The clock says it’s 2pm. How it got that late, I don’t know.

“Hey.”

Still looking a bit concerned, she puts down her book and looks up at me. “ Hey Jenna, are you feeling any better now?”

I push down the unwanted feelings of nervousness and smile at her. “A little. I’m really tired though. Thank you so much, Cat. I don’t know when I would be back without you.”

Her hands wrap around my waist and mine wrap around hers, as she leans her head into my shoulder. “Why don’t you nap here for a bit?” She says. “I could send a message to the HQ and tell them that you’ll be in later today or tomorrow even.”

“I can do that if you want.”

She snorts softly and shoves me to the head-end of the bed. “Nope. Sleep. I’ll see you later.”

With that, she unfolds out of the pod and walks over to the message station on the wall. I cannot believe I’m so lucky to have her. Cheesy, I know; but true. The softness of the duvet engulfs me and I feel myself drifting off as I hear the soft bleeps of Cat typing a message to the HQ. My last thought before I become fully asleep is that I must thank her properly when I get up.

    Later that night, I wake up when a slight dip appears in the mattress and jogs me slightly. My eyes open slowly and I see Cat crawling into the sleep pod with me, pyjama bottoms rolled up to her knees and hair slightly damp from where she must have showered earlier. She looks questioningly at me and I laugh - or make a noise which was meant to be a laugh…giving my current sleepy state, it might have come out as more of a whale noise than first intended. Pulling her down under the duvet next to me, I hug her closer to me smile. 

I murmur, “Lights out” and then the sleep pod darkens until I can’t see anything through the inky blackness. 

Cat sighs and adjusts her position slightly, “Night Jen.” 

“Goodnight.”

And with that, we lay there together in bed, our skin touching and our breathing slowly becoming deeper and more synchronised. No sex, just cuddling and sleep.

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