"Aro, your hair is a mess!" my mother exclaimed. "You really should fix it, even if you don't have work today." I glared at her, reminded of the fate I was handed the day I was born: the fate of never-ending work.
"Just tell me the story!" I whined as my sister, Cashe, entered the room, a ruined, frayed blanket clutched in her small hand. She looked like me: dark, messy hair, big brown eyes, and pale skin. "Well, not me, but Cashe. She wants to hear it, don't you?" Cashe smiled childishly and nodded her head. The truth was, I wanted to hear it too, but I'd never let anyone think that.
My mother smiled, patting the bed for my sister to sit on. "Once upon a time, there was a war." She paused, bright blue eyes boring into my skin. "The people of California and Nevada came together, allying with those they had once fought release from: the British. The war of Scotland's breakage and downfall had caused them great difficulty. Despite the Britons' protests, they had left the rest of their country, and consequentially caused their own defeat.
"They were wild with anger at the British citizens for not helping them, and so began the Disunited Kingdom - the opposite of what it had been before. There was an outbreak of war, and the people of California and Nevada - the kind states - had saved the rest of Britain from their deaths. We were cut off from everyone else: even our sky was different. We don't have stars, or a moon. We can't even see Venus.
"The British were taken here, to our City, where they could live without fear. But, over time, food began to run out, and people had to get jobs. Those people were the Publics - us. We were responsible for our children's own education, whereas the Privates, who we worked for, had their own schools and friendships.
"After a while, they brought in Casualties of the war, saving those who fought for us. But they were rebellious, and soon would have to work, too. So they were Peasants."
Mum paused for a moment, before saying, "And that will be you."
I shake wildly as I awake with the sun. Just a dream, I told myself, Just a dream.
I begin to prepare for the day, slipping on my boring Public uniform. Quickly, I scurry about cleaning everything in sight. I am late waking. That is never a good thing. Still, it's only once: I might get away with it.
My head throbs from where Master hit it. The pain is agonising, spreading around me, tightening. I grimace and bite my lip as I try not to scream. It is difficult. The girl, Alene, brushes past me, looking back at me slightly, with a soft smile. I wish I could smile back, but shows of emotion are forbidden to Publics. The Privates, such as my master and his daughter, rule us, and as their rules are harsh, so are our lives. Still, we are not in the lowest class. Though Public days are tiresome, and the wage minimum, at least we have one.
It was around a year ago when they brought in the Peasants. They are our slaves, bound by a brainwashing serum to serve even the Publics for no pay, if we are willing to have such flea-ridden creatures in our home. Most of us are, unfortunately.
My family have a Peasant always with us at home, a girl named Jarmina from Outside. She was brought in with the first lot, with ideas of freedom from their society still rebuilding from the war many years ago. Our society is fortunate that we have a system at all, that we have any food to live on.
Jarmina was a nice girl, excitable, cheerful even in this dull, hard life. She was good to my little sister, too, always cheered her up when her spirits were low. Sometimes, after a long day of work, I think of them, tossing and turning on the hard floor of our home, warmed only by a thin grey blanket. I left eleven months ago, on my fifteenth birthday, to prepare for my Integration. If I work hard, my master may allow for me to be a Private, surrounded by luxury. Then I could marry Alene, and never have to perform a tiresome task again.
If my master does not give consent, I shall have to continue my work for him, and marry another Public when the time comes for Break, a two-year period of rest. It is a hard gamble to wager, but better than the alternative: stay and be a Peasant.
"Aro!" my master calls from below. "Get the drinks!" I sigh and obey his command. I was hoping he would tell me I would be Private. No, that will never happen. My luck is far too rotten for that.
As I walk to the kitchen, I pass Alene's mother, Mrs. Harvell, and she bows her head to me, a sign of respect only given by Publics to one another. We are told never to perform it in front of a Private, least of all those who we work for. I wonder where she learnt it.
The glass bottles chink as I carry them through, freezing my arms. The men gathered in the function room are laughing, their rumbling chuckles a thundercloud of drunkenness. That is never a good sign.
I lay the bottles down gently on the mahogany table, careful not to make any sound to startle the baby sleeping in the corner. "Do you require anything else, Master?" I ask quietly. He does not acknowledge me. "Do you require anything else, Master?" I repeat. Still he does not answer. After asking one more time, I leave the room, closing the door softly behind me.
Mrs. Harvell is waiting for me. "Gather your things," she says quietly, and my heart leaps. "You are dismissed."
"Early?" I ask breathlessly. This is fantastic. It is an extremely rare occurrence for one to become Private early.
"No," she replies. Dread sweeps over me. "Peasant." Her voice should be filled with spite, but it is not.
I have been downgraded. This never happens. It has never been documented, and everything is documented here. "How?"
She stares at me, unblinking, for a moment, before replying, "You have five minutes. I will be at the foot of the stairs."
She disappears, and I hurriedly gather my clothes together, piling the few strange objects I have managed to acquire - a small golden sphere, a pear-shaped ruby and a piece of aged paper - on top of them in a small box.
I run downstairs to where Mrs. Garvell is waiting. "Come on." She leads me outside, to a metal gate. "Go." I know what I have to do.