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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4. Chapter 3.

The subtle automatic adjustment of the light inside the sleep pod wakes me up in the morning. I gently roll away from Cat’s who’s still asleep, and wrap the duvet tighter around her to replace any warmth that me leaving might have taken away. Slipping out of the pod, I pull the thick curtains across it, and switch on the daylight lights. It’s 6:15am. I slept for 16 hours. I go into the bathroom and turn on the shower. Warm water runs over me and washes any hints of sleep and leftovers from the previous day through the plug and into some place deep down in the Hotel. Feeling much better, I put my borrowed pyjamas back on and relax back onto the sofa. I’ll probably need to be back at Attendant HQ at 9, so I might as well enjoy the time I have to relax now. The large screen built into the wall flashes when I press the controls built into the arm of the sofa, and comes up with a very small number morning programmes. I turn the volume down and flick through them. A healthy cooking show, a documentary of the Before, and a show for children about counting. Sighing I turn it back off. If the Hotel didn’t have so many regulations about what they needed to show citizens in order to benefit them in the long run, we’d have a hundred times more exciting things to watch.

    I feel a rush of air next to me, and next thing I know Cat jumps down next to me, still wrapped in the duvet. 

“Morning!” I say cheerily and lean over to kiss her nose.

“Hiya Jenna. Are you feeling better now?” 

“Much. Wait here a sec.” 

She starts to get up, but I bundle her up in the duvet and nudge her back down onto the sofa, turning the TV onto the cooking show. Learning how to cook is kind of useful right? Even though the nutritionists do it all for us. Walking over to the counters situated in the corner on the open plan space, I face the food cupboard and do a quick once over of the controls. Easy. After a few minor electric shocks, I’ve temporarily reprogrammed it so that I can type in the food I want for today. Brushing over the touch screen, I input ‘BLUEBERRY PANCAKES’ and wait until I hear the familiar “pop.”

    Acting like a waiter, I glide back to the sofa and present the meal to Cat. “Your meal, Madame.”

Her face lights up and she grabs the plate from my hands. “Oh wow. You know Jenna, you’re only my girlfriend for your supreme computer skills. I’m using you for interesting food!”

I pretend to be hurt. She laughs. I make my eyes water like I’m about to cry. She laughs again, so I flop face up onto the sofa arm and stare like a lost child into the sky. A pancake eventually swims into view. I let out a triumphant yelp and snatch it from the air, breaking it into pieces so that it’ll last longer, and savouring every mouthful. Who on earth needs healthy food when you have pancakes? A blueberry that’s been carefully fashioned into ammo hits my temple, bouncing off and rolling onto the light grey tiles at our feet. Cat muffles a snicker through a mouthful of food. Pretending to ignore her, I plan my next attack. A warrior needs to keep their best cards closest to their chest. As she places the plate on the side table, I decide to make my move. Pouncing on her and pinning her to the sofa, I laugh evilly as she squirms underneath me and start to tickle the base of her neck, just under the right ear. If the cameras weren’t inanimate objects, it would be likely that they’d be vomiting at the cuteness right now, but luckily they are and so we don’t have that kind of problem on our hands. It’s kind of odd actually. Cat’s the only person that I can be mushy around and not feel stupid, which makes our time together so much more awesome. Now she’s laughing and yelling at me to stop. 

“AH HELP I-” she rolls off the sofa onto the floor, taking me with her and rolling in a pretty snazzy ninja manoeuvre so that now I’m pinned under her. We sit here laughing for a few minutes until the alarm which she must have set last night starts bleeping. 

    Sliding off me, she turns it off. I stand up and walk over to her as she opens her mouth to speak.

“I’m working until 9 today. I’ve been picked to help on a new project that we’re doing already! Will you be-”

I press a kiss to her mouth and cut her off mid sentence. 

“Cat, don’t worry about me…I’m fine now! Besides, wow. That’s brilliant that you’ve already kind of been pushed up the ranks in the engineers…imagine how amazingly you’ll be doing this time next year.”

The face that’s looking at me turns a deep red. “Cat Cardoe, the master engineer!”

A computer-generator voice starts speaking to remind us that we have to get going and we grimace. In about ten minutes we are both ready for our separate days work and we say goodbye at the door, Cat taking the lift on the right, and myself taking the lift on the left. Let’s get this show on the road.

    Any hint of apprehension that I start to feel is pushed aside by my conscious mind as I make the decision to keep my composure all throughout the day. Yesterday’s events seem to be like loose threads that I need to connect so that I can make sense of it, but instead they keep being blown up into the sky and further from my grasp. The doors slide open and the corridor of my floor comes into view. My mouth set in a determined line, and my hands clamped by my sides, I walk quickly to the door and ask to be let in. The receptionist stares up at me, “Matt’s in the office ready for you.”

I thank her quickly and walk through the open door. When I sit down opposite Matt, he smiles, “Nice to see you here again Jenna! Cat told me a little about yesterday, although I was in such a rush that I didn’t really comprehend. Care to recap for me?”

Oh. I’m going to have to tell him? A man that I’ve only known for a day? I mentally scold myself; if I want this taken care of, I’m going to have to stop being such a baby and get on with it. My voice shaky and quiet at first, but then building up in strength and emotion, I recount all of yesterday’s events and lay them flat on the table so that I won’t have to repeat anything. Matt’s face turns from on of mild interest to dismay as I describe, although not in tremendous detail, the encounter with Mr Priod, and conclude by telling of how I sat in the corridor for who knows how long afterwards. He shakes his head.

“Jenna, I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that on your first day. I offer my deepest regrets on behalf of the company. The behaviour that Mr Priod portrayed is not one that a member of the Society should have…it undermines the very concept of improvement that we’re built on. I only have one question for you though.”

Puzzled, I look up from twiddling my fingers, “What is it?”

“Do you want to take this to the Justice Room?”

My eyes widen. Matt is asking me if I want to stand and tell my story in front of a judge to punish Mr Priod for what he did. Even though he did those things to me, is it right to make a person’s life hell in return? Surely that’s just a more acceptable form of retaliation.

“Matt…” I begin, “I only would agree to taking Mr Priod into the Justice Room if it’s not for revenge, but rather to stop him doing it to anyone else. I mean, sure, I don’t know for certain that he will do it and the worst case scenario didn‘t happen to me, but I’d rather even the vaguest possibility was eliminated.”

Matt nods. “Stay here for a minute or two Jenna, I’ll message the Room right now and see when’s the earliest that you can visit.”

    I settle back into my seat and watch Matt as he types and sends the message. Feelings of guilt start to swim into my mind, but I push them aside…it’s the right thing to do. Just under a minute later, he comes back and stands opposite me with a smile on his face.

“They’ve booked you in for noon. You’ve got an hour to prepare, but arrive ten minutes before the session starts so that they can seat you and inform you about the rules of the Room.”

I nod.

“They’re notifying Mr Priod now, and will ensure that he is able to leave work to attend.”

“Where does he work?”

“I’m not entirely sure, but I believe he is a Watcher.”

A person who controls the cameras. Neat, if a little creepy. 

Matt sits down again and flicks through a few pages in his digibook. “Now Jenna, I don’t usually allow this, but under these special circumstances, I think it would be best if you don’t worry about your duties today and instead report here tomorrow for a full day of work. I hope that isn’t messing you around too much, but I don’t want our clients confused.”

Trying to disguise my happiness at not having to be an official Attendant for one more day I thank him profusely and leave again. 

    Back on my floor, I flash my key card against the laser and enter my rooms. Even though I’d only been gone for a day, the open plan space felt lonely and unlived in. Maybe Cat and I should apply for a larger room so that we could live together. I make a mental note of that for later. The clock on the wall says 11:30, which seems a bit late to be honest, but oh well; time flies when you’re having “fun.” In a rush, I quickly change out of my uniform and into a grey shirt and leggings, tying my hair up into the neatest bun I can manage and slipping my digibook into a bag along with my key card and a couple of tokens. Walking through the door and into the lift, I wonder how many times I’ve been back and forth between the same few floors in the past couple of days and contemplate exploring various areas of the Hotel in the future. After all, it’s so big and so complex that there could be whole areas left unexplored by the New.

    The doors open and two Guardians walk over to escort me into the Justice Room. They seem nice, if a little quiet and surly. When we enter, I have to squint a little in order to adjust my eyes to the glare of the walls and furniture. Instead of the common grey of the Hotel, the insides of this room are the purest white that I’ve ever seen in my life. The walls are white, the floors are white, the objects inside are white, and even the clothes of the Judges are white. The Judges themselves, a man and a woman, sit at a raised podium at the far end of the room, setting up various pieces of technology in preparation for the judging. The Guardians lead me over to a seat and a desk to the left of the podium and after one leaves, the other starts explaining the rules of the Room. Basically they’re common sense, but I make sure to pay attention just in case my accusation is withdrawn because of it. Once he’s finished listing actions that could possibly be taken as offensive or illegal, he gives me a curt nod and goes back to stand beside his colleague in the corner. There are a few seats that are occupied in the spectator’s block now; I guess if you’re not at work and are at all interested in the law of the Hotel, this would be a nice pass time. Unfortunately, I am not, and I start to feel tense as the clock ticks down to the start time.

    A quiet noise at the back of the room draws my attention, and I turn round to see Mr Priod enter, flanked by a different two Guardians to mine. His demeanour is casual and I see no hint of concern in his body language of his expression. Odd…he must be feeling something surely? Unless he knows that I won’t win somehow. As he is being given the same lecture as I had, his eyes flick to mine and the corner of his mouth curls into a slight smile. Not a friendly one though, one that is mocking me for even trying to get him in trouble. I leave my expression as neutral as I can and break eye contact. The hammer rapping down on the white of the podium brings the slight murmurings of the people in the Room to an end, and the female judge’s voice rings out across the room - magnified by the sound hologram in front of her. 

“ORDER!”

Everyone listens as she sets out why we are here and how the session will proceed. In the Hotel, as opposed to in some law documentaries I’ve watched of the Before, the two opposing people do not have anyone to speak for them, but rather speak a set of statements for themselves which the other person can agree or disagree with. It’s believed that not having to tell your own side of the story encourages lies, which are regarded as a poison to society - stealing someone’s right to the truth is as bad as any theft. 

    The male judge turns to me, I think I missed his name. 

“Would Jenna Zed please recount her memories of the event in question.”

I stand up and begin to speak, first telling about the actions of Mrs Priod leading up to the whole thing, and then starting on the second bit.

“When Mr Priod let me out of the sleep pod, the fact that he was acting strangely didn’t quite register in my mind, but I knew something was wrong and so tried to go back to Attendants HQ as quickly as possible.” I clear my throat. “As I turn away, he grabs my wrists and starts to kiss me, obviously noticing my attempts to escape as my struggling increased, but not making any move to stop. He then forced me against the wall and tried to take his advances a step further. It was then when I thought of a way to escape and then did, leaving Mr Priod on the floor.”

I sit back down, shaking, indicating that I’ve finished. 

The judge nods and turns to Mr Priod, “And what do you have to say to this?”

He stands up and I feel my stomach convulse.

“I did not carry out any of the actions aforementioned by Jenna Zed.”

The statement is spoken with such strength and conviction that it’s hard to doubt his honesty. 

The judges confer quickly.

“So, Mr Priod. What are your version of the events?”

In the same voice, he describes himself letting me out of the sleep pod, grabbing my wrist to stop me before I leave to apologise for his wife’s behaviour, and then letting me go. Wow, what a dick.

    “And do you have any proof or anything like that which can be used to back up your contradiction, Mr Priod?”

He nods. I gasp. 

“As I work as a Watcher, if I ask nicely, I have invaluable access to the recordings of any camera in the Hotel.” His body turns to me and his eyes hold mine as he says, “I have with me the video of the said event.”

I gasp along with several members of the audience. He can’t have! If the judges are foolish enough to believe him and his fabricated video, I’ll be the one to be punished for committing one of the Hotel’s most frowned upon offences; lying. My body stays rigid in my seat as a Guardian takes the digibook from Mr Priod’s hand and plugs it into a port on the podium. A moment later, a hologram of a screen appears in mid air with a freeze frame of the Priods’ room on. The female judge presses play. The recording starts by showing Mr Priod enter the room and walk over to the sleep pod where I must be in. It shows him release me, exactly like he did in real life, and then exchange a few words. Anyone watching can tell I’m slightly on edge, by my bordering on robotic movements. The recorded me turns away only to have her wrists snatched up my Mr Priod. This is it. This is where his lie will be revealed. Shocked, I let out a strangled noise as the hologram screen plays the rest of the scene just like Mr Priod described earlier in the session. How…? The judges stop the video and gesture for the digibook to be handed back to gleeful Mr Priod’s waiting hands.

    “After that evidence, our decision on the matter has been made very easy” the judges say in unison and slide their digibook to the side. 

“Jenna Zed, you have been shown to be lying, which is part of the offence that the Hotel finds most evil. You have stolen our right to the truth and we cannot risk you damaging the system on the Society by doing this any further.”

Restraints snap onto my wrists so that I become locked in place. 

“In two days you will have a trial deciding your punishment. This trial will be carried out without your presence and using the video recorded of today’s proceedings for evidence. You will wait out these two days in solitary confinement. You will be escorted to your cell immediately after leaving this room, and will not be permitted to exit until someone delivers the results of your trial.”

The judge stops speaking, obviously numbed to having to deliver verdicts and the room starts to clear of people. The same two Guardians who escorted my in earlier, come back and release me from the chair, holding an arm each in a firm grip. As I am leaving the Justice Room, I refuse to look back and see Mr Priod. Instead I look forward and keep my emotions under control when I see the judging faces of those we pass and hear the barely disguised mutters of disapproval. I know that I should feel more than I do right now, but a pleasant mist seems to have settled over my mind which is dampening my reaction and preventing me from feeling anything strongly. Revelling in it for now, because I suspect that it won’t last for long, I allow myself to be marched along the long corridors and up several floor to a place that I’m going to have to stay in for the next two days. Eventually, we reach the entrance room and the Guardians drop me off with two of the guards. 

    “Jenna Zed?” The enquire, looking me up and down and leading me through another set of doors.

My mouth is a bit dry, but my voice sounds strong as I answer.

“Yes.”

“Okay, we’re going to take you to your room now and check your pockets and clothes for anything that you might be hiding. We know that’s not entirely relevant for what you’ve been brought in for, but it’s a standard procedure.”

“That’s fine” I say as I walk between the two guards into a small, light grey room with a sleep pod, table, chair, curtain (which I assume can be pulled back to reveal a toilet), and sink. 

“Because you haven’t been charged with anything of yet, you’ve got one of the ‘softer’ rooms as we like to call it. Not as luxurious as living rooms in the Hotel, but not as harsh as the prison rooms” the taller one, who is speaking now, pauses and allows his friend to take over.

“We’re going to search you now and then leave you with the new set of uniform for a couple of minutes so that you can change. Be quick.”

The shorter one quickly and efficiently searches me and, of course finding nothing out of the ordinary that I am carrying, they both exit the room for a second so that I can put on the cell clothes. They’re nothing particularly extraordinary in that they don’t really have any good or bad points apart from their general dullness. I slip the light grey t-shirt over my head and pull on dark grey baggy trousers, folding my old clothes up and waiting for the two guards. My hands are still a bit shaky from the whole thing, and I have that slightly light headed feeling that you get when something makes you feel extremely nervous or like you’re about to cry. 

    True to their word, the guards re-enter in about three minutes, take my clothes and then leave again; sliding the transparent plastic door behind them. I hear the noise of the key card locking it, and let out a breath when they walk away. Two days in a room that has nothing to do. First thing’s first I guess. I walk over to the curtain and pull it back revealing, like I assumed, a toilet. How long did that take? Ten seconds at the most. Now I’m just going to need to find a whole bunch of other ten second activities that can keep me from withering away from boredom during the day. Going over to my sleep pod, I open the door and climb in, pleasantly surprised to find the same thickness blanket, pillow and cover that I have at home. At least I can sleep to pass the time, right? I embark on my next mission of trying to build a tent inside the pod with only the pillow and the duvet-thing - I end up with a very sad looking lump in the middle of the room. If it had eyes it would look at me with sad acceptance of the look that I created for it. Then I try and reprogramme the keypad that can be used to open the sleep pod from the inside. This takes about two hours of frustration and heavy concentration, but I eventually succeed in recreating the pattern and movement of the pixels in order to mimic one of those retro games that we see in documentaries about the Before to do with technology. “Angry Birds” is what it’s called I think. This entertains me for about an hour, but there are only so many ways one can win a single level of Angry Birds, and in about that period of time I’ve exhausted them all. I’m definitely not going to spend another two hours programming it so that I can make another level. I’m far too preoccupied with my nothingness to do that.

    The funny thing about being alone (and yes, I know I’ve only been in the same room for about four hours, but hear me out) is that when you have nothing to do, your mind starts going wild - especially when you are surrounded by block, monotonous colours. Right now, mine seems to be creating and recreating various scenes from the last year of my school and playing them back to me over and over. I lay back and let these scenes override my desire to actually do things, allowing my vision to go fuzzy and for my whole body to relax back into the covers. A few hours later, my vision refocuses itself, after having exhausted most of my memories and I look at the tiny built in clock at the side of the sleep pod. 8:30pm. What’s strange is that doing nothing actually makes you more tired than doing something in a weird roundabout way. I’ve got nothing else to do, so I decide to quickly wash my hands and go to bed. Once the lights have turned off, it’s pleasantly dark (because the head guards refuse to waste money on “nightlights”) and I find myself drifting off quite easily considering the time. A subtle high pitched tone reverberates around the insides of the room, probably coming from the technology of the guard HQ near by, and I pull my duvet-thing over my head to dull it a bit. Soon after becoming resistant to the irritating whine, I fall asleep.

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