So this past weekend was the second round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. When I first mentioned this challenge a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t say that this is a multi-part challenge. The first two rounds, everyone is in the ring, and everyone’s story is read by the judges and the top 15 stories are awarded points. Your points for the first two rounds are combined, and you have to score in the top five of your section to make it into the third round. I got my score last week for my story “Serum” … and I got second place! So I have 14 points to carry into this new round. I’m very happy with my second place finish.
And I was even happier with those points when I saw the prompt for round two: Science Fiction – A luxury hotel – Caviar. So somehow I managed to write action/adventure for round one … and it was kind of sci-fi-ish, and I was pretty sure I’d used up all my sci-fi skill on that story. But I spent Saturday and Sunday trying hard to make something happen. It was looking iffy, but I finally got my act together and got my story submitted. I’m thinking I’m going to need every one of the 14 points I earned in round one if I have any hope of making it to round three!
Okay, okay. Without further hemming and hawing, here’s my sci-fi entry:
Grace was staying at Master Suites South West, the colony closest to her grandmother’s house. Her suite was high enough that she could see past Buttermilk Channel, past the bays, all the way to the sea. It was a spectacular view over the tip of the island, but it seemed to subdue her grandmother with its opulence, and Grace thought she should have taken a more modest suite. How many more visits would she have with Maman, how long before Forrest Cities banned surface trips, banned surface people from the Suites.
Maman, tiny in the window seat, stared at the city. “You should stay with me ,” she said. “That is our family home.”
“I know, Maman.” Grace brought a tray to the table by the window, poured her grandmother a flute of champagne. “It’s my fault. I was late requesting an overnight surface stay.”
Maman scoffed. “Still convinced Forrest Cities is improving our lives?” she asked. She turned from the window and looked at Grace. “And still won’t consider living with me?”
Grace selected a toast point, buttered it slowly. This was their constant battle. Grace wanted her grandmother to give up the surface, move into a hotel tower, any hotel tower. Maman had no interest in the hotels — called them luxury slave pens. She wanted Grace with her on land.
“You know I can’t,” Grace said. “My work schedule is difficult enough.” She deftly loaded the toast with shiny black beads of Hackleback, her grandmother’s favorite caviar. She passed the treat to Maman, who popped it into her mouth, frowning.
“You know how I feel,” she said. “Forrest Cities is wrong. I know your towers upstate are smaller than these, but they are still wrong.” She waved at the chrome and white room. “This is a lovely room, of course —”
“And every possible amenity, Maman,” Grace interrupted. “You wouldn’t even have to cook if you lived here. Room service is included in the fee.”
“I like to cook,” Maman said. She reached for the mother-of-pearl spoon and another toast point. “I’m well aware of the hotel amenities.” She ate the caviar, shaking her head. “God, I used to love caviar. Real caviar, not this made-in-the-lab confection from room service.” She held up a hand against Grace’s protest. “Yes, dear, it’s delicious. Of course. Everything Master Suites provides is perfect.” She ate another toast point. “But perfect isn’t always best.”
It was in her voice, Grace realized. Something had changed, something Maman couldn’t fix.
“What is it, Maman? What’s happened.”
Her grandmother smiled. “I do like that in you,” she said. “You can always tell.” She looked back out at the city. “Master Suites,” she said. “We should have known they didn’t just want this city, that they wanted all cities, that they wanted all of us.”
Grace couldn’t deny what seemed, even to her, to be true in that. No one had understood the implications when Forrest Cities was granted rights to the Hudson and East Rivers. Then the Master Suites plans were unveiled — archipelagos of gleaming towers, one colony for each city quadrant, built to hover 100 feet above the water, each archipelago a colony of twenty 150-story towers. Pampered, luxury living for over a million people.
Grace had lived in the city then. She’d put her name on the waiting list immediately. She’d almost chosen North West for its views of the Palisades. When Forrest Cities announced plans for a new colony above the Mohawk River, the timing had matched perfectly a job transfer Grace had been coveting, and she’d moved to Master Suites Mohawk Basin.
“I’m leaving,” Maman said.
“You just arrived! I just arrived.” Grace joined her grandmother in the window seat. “We don’t have to talk about whatever’s bothering you, Maman. But don’t leave yet.”
Maman smiled. “No, dear. I meant leaving the city.”
“To come to Mohawk Basin? To live with me?”
Maman shook her head. “There’s a group of us, leaving for the mountains in Guatemala. Forrest Cities’ tentacles haven’t reached those smaller communities.”
“You’re talking about running away with a bunch of crazy, paranoid people —”
“Not crazy, Grace.” Maman took her hand, squeezed. “Your friends Tre and Zilla have already left. They’re settling a place for me.”
Grace shook her head. “Impossible. I saw Zilla this morning.”
“Synthdroid,” Maman said. “People leave them in the Suites to keep an eye out, buy themselves some freedom.”
“Synth—?” Grace shook her head again, harder. “Maman, I can’t let you run off to some mountain hovel.”
Her grandmother sat up, raised her head. “You don’t make decisions for me, child. I live where I choose. Fifty years ago, I could have stopped Forrest Cities. I didn’t see it then, and I’ve spent too long angry over old choices. Now it’s time to look after myself. Color of loam, darling. Color of loam.”
Grace looked into Maman’s beautiful, dark-as-earth face with its filigree of wrinkles. It was what she always said. “Color of loam. Grown from the soil, and that’s right where I’ll stay.”
“Tre and Zilla?”
“Forrest Cities hasn’t approved Zilla’s request to see her mother in over a year. From Guatemala, she can tap surface communication networks, find out what’s happened to her mother.”
“And just like that, she’s in Guatemala.”
“And just like that, I’m joining her. I’ve only been waiting for you.” She squeezed Grace’s hand again. “Leave the towers before Forrest Cities’ real plan for the Suites is unveiled,” she said. “Come with me.”