Breaking the Glass Slipper excerpt

apple design BGS

Hopeful

‘Wow! What a looker!’ – From an interview with Ralph K

 

Real News 2 March 2097 AD

Six-star resort set to reopen amid high expectations

In the shallow waters of picturesque Silver Bay, a six-star resort has undergone a Cinderella-like transformation after fire damage last year.

“Sweetheart Island will be more than just a luxury retreat,” the project’s co-owner John Carver tells us. “It’ll be a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience your fantasy in the most beautifully designed environment that this hemisphere has to offer.”

Now while the reclusive billionaire might be excused for being biased – this project has been underway for the last fifteen years in some shape or form – one can’t argue with the cost. It’s estimated that twenty billion credits went into the transformation of this sparsely populated island: rebuilding the hotel that closely resembles a castle, and with an entire village of boutique shops and charming cottages to round out the fantasy. But then when one considers the locals…

“A full half of them are AI,” Mr Carver tells us proudly, “created just for the set, and programmed to act out various characters as needs require. This is revolutionary technology, and I dare any customers to tell the difference between the AI and the human staff.”

But with a week’s accommodation costing six months of this journalist’s wages, it’s safe to say that only the ultra-rich and fanciful will ever face that particular-

 

…and the text cut off. I tapped at the bottom of the touchscreen inset in the coffee table in front of me, trying to pull more of the article into view, but the screen flickered then changed back to the same drinks menu all the other touchscreens showed.

“Chestnuts,” I muttered. “I was enjoying that.”

But I’d learned something new, and I studied the gleaming hotel foyer with fresh eyes. A fantasy-themed resort, hmm? Kingsley hadn’t mentioned that, and I couldn’t see it myself. Everything was…white. White, shining, and beautiful. Not a hint of destruction from the fire that the article had mentioned. I’d have to ask him about it…if he ever got here.

Forgetting the article, I looked up again towards the huge panes of weather-sensitive glass that made up the entryway of the White Hotel. It was late afternoon, the low sun dimming the glass to a soft pink. I could still see all the way from my secluded alcove off the side of the large foyer, right out to where the hotel guests came and went: bright patches of colour in the pristine white surroundings. Staff moved about too, unobtrusive and emotionless in matching white uniforms. No Kingsley.

I reached for my cinnamon latte, found it was cold, then set it back on the table with a grimace. I ordered another through the touchscreen menu, then leaned back into the comfortable couch, tapping my fingers impatiently on my knee. The large ruby on my ring finger perfectly matched the scarlet of my sundress, and at the sight of it a little burst of happiness fluttered through my belly. Engaged – again – but this time would be better than the last. Kingsley was better than the others. I’d be better, I vowed. I’d be selfless and charming and flawlessly beautiful as long as age allowed me to be, and he’d not regret a thing.

Just then a message flashed on my silver wristpiece. Hello, Fairest. I’m sorry I’m late. I can’t wait to see you again, but I was held up a little. I have a surprise for you…

I smiled to myself and reread the message. Didn’t he know that all I wanted was his undying affection? But gold – or chocolate – wouldn’t hurt either.

Just then, there was the sound of female laughter from the alcove next to mine. It was separated from me by an ornate white screen that blocked the view, but didn’t do a thing for noise. I smiled in response to their happiness: I was happy too, so the whole world should be.

The hushed whispers came through the screen, and then a woman said more loudly, “I know, right? Her dress is so trashy! I know this is going to be a themed hotel, but what does she think she’s trying to be? An escort droid?”

Ouch. My smile faltered at the thought of whichever poor girl these women were verbally tearing apart. Being compared to a robotic streetwalker was never flattering. I tried to distract myself by checking my lipstick in a small, handheld mirror, but I couldn’t block out their conversation.

“She’s clearly had work done,” a different female voice continued. “No one has a figure like that naturally. And her colouring – hasn’t she heard of tanner? Fish belly-white skin went out of fashion centuries ago!”

My own pale reflection frowned back at me from the mirror. Surely they didn’t mean me? Sure, I had a nice figure. Nature had been kind to me, and I’d done what I could to keep in shape. Not that it was hard when I was only twenty-one… And not everyone had to be tanned, right?

“Aren’t natural blondes supposed to be pale?” a new, male voice cut in, sounding a little defensive. “I don’t know what you ladies are talking about. I thought she looked very nice.”

“You would!” the first woman retorted, and there was another burst of feminine laughter. This time it sounded distinctly mocking.

“But what I don’t get,” the second woman said in a low voice, “is why she hasn’t had that mole removed. Lord, it must be the size of a pea! Can you imagine seeing that thing staring back at you all day? It makes me shudder!”

This time they were definitely talking about me. I snapped the mirror shut on my horrified reflection, complete with blonde hair, careful makeup, and a small, dark spot beside my nose.

“Beauty mark,” I said under my breath, feeling my face heat with embarrassment. “Not mole.” And it was flat, too; not at all pea-like. Kingsley had called it distinctive. He clearly didn’t mind it.

“Your cinnamon latte, Miss Redwell?”

I jumped a little, feeling as though I’d been caught eavesdropping. A blandly handsome server stood before me, dressed in the hotel’s compulsory white, and holding a tray with a tall, steaming silver glass. He smiled at me pleasantly.

Oh, it was only an android server, and it wouldn’t judge me for eavesdropping, or for having a mole. AI didn’t do anything that it wasn’t programmed to. I sighed, scrubbing a hand over my flushed cheeks. “On the table, thanks.”

BOOM.

Just as the server set the drink in front of me, a loud, sudden noise sounded from outside the hotel. It reminded me of an explosion from a movie, or perhaps a gunshot, and I gasped, throwing a hand to my chest then rising to my feet. I could hear a burst of startled chatter from the next alcove too, and I looked around anxiously. I couldn’t see anything wrong, not even through those big glass walls.

But the server continued as though nothing had happened, removing my old, cold drink and then moving as if to leave, and I set my arm on its sleeve. It looked back at me with polite curiosity – all programmed, of course. Being entirely robotic, androids were never curious about anything. Apparently not even suspicious explosions.

“What was that?” I asked it quietly, hearing the urgency in my tone. “That noise.”

“What noise, Miss Redwell?”

“That loud booming noise,” I snapped, a little agitated. “Don’t tell me I imagined it. Check your communications. Is there any kind of danger?”

The server just stared at me; its perfectly-shaped blue eyes unblinking.

The silence stretched on long enough that I was tempted to panic. Then I realised the issue. Privacy breach – perhaps it thought it couldn’t tell me, since I was a guest. “You know I’m Valentina Redwell,” I told it impatiently. “I’m going to marry the hotel’s owner, Kingsley White, in two days. You should know that already too. Soon enough I’ll co-own everything, so you can answer my question.”

There was a brief silence where the server must have been checking back with the main intelligence hub, then it replied, “There is no danger, Miss Redwell. The sound was just a car backfiring.”

I frowned. “What’s that?”

There was another silence, and I sighed. It didn’t matter what ‘backfiring’ was, because clearly there was no danger or the server would have said. That was the thing about AI – it couldn’t lie. It couldn’t pass for human either, I thought with some humour, even if it could be more flawlessly gorgeous than even the most beautiful human (and without moles, too). The android servers that kept the White Hotel running were a perfect example. They’d smile and say the right things (as long as the question wasn’t too hard), but they didn’t eat, and they didn’t drink. They also had no sense of humour, nor of subtlety.

“Never mind,” I said finally. “But it’s actually Mrs Redwell. I’m a widow.”

“Yes, Mrs Redwell.”

I sighed. Even coming from an android’s mouth, completely with unmoving tongue, that name sounded wrong. “Strike that. Call me Ms, will you? Mrs makes me feel like someone’s mother, and I’m way too young for that. Besides, I hate people asking about my first marriage, it’s embarrassing. Not that it’s any of their business…”

I petered into silence, realising I was babbling to what was essentially a toaster. It was those stupid people in the next alcove, I decided, who had shaken my confidence. “You’re not even alive,” I told the android with some humour. “You may as well call me ‘Your Supreme Highness’. It won’t make a difference to you either way.”

“Yes, Your Supreme Highness.”

I snickered to myself, now feeling a little better. I was so easily amused. “Thank you. You can go.”

“Yes, Your Supreme Highness.”

The server left, and I sipped slowly at my latte, trying to regain my sense of composure. The volume had dropped in the next alcove; perhaps the guests had overheard my conversation and realised that if they could hear me, then vice versa. And Kingsley was still late…

I looked up again towards the front of the hotel, and saw through its glass panels a familiar vehicle pulling up at the entrance. It was a white limousine, and that could only belong to one person.

My heart skipped in joy and anxiety, and I quickly pulled out the hand mirror again from my small purse. Teeth check: all clear. Hair: good enough. Mole…still there.

“Chestnuts to that,” I muttered under my breath, replacing the mirror in the purse. “It’s a beauty mark.” But in my excitement I fumbled and dropped the thing on the floor. I bent down to pick it up, and spotted something odd stuck underneath the table top. It was the size of an old coin, round and metallic grey, but it was otherwise completely plain. I tapped at it curiously, and it came off into my palm, like it had been waiting there for someone to collect.

I scolded myself for being fanciful and tried to stick the thing back under the table top. But whatever had held it there was gone, and it just fell back into my hand. Finally I stuffed it into my purse along with the mirror, then promptly forgot about it. I had more important things to think about – Kingsley was here!

Deep breath. Here we go…

I rose to my feet and strolled towards the entryway, ignoring what felt like burning stares from the neighbouring alcove. I returned the possibly-android doorman’s polite nod, then stepped out into the sunlight.

 

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