The Grey Destiny: Chapter Two

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During the Recovery, the societies began to appreciate how green the world could be.

The spray-painted walls of urbanity began to be covered in plants. Various cultivars, developed with a blend of utility and aesthetics, helped with various forms of pollution – The quicklime vine, for example, gained much popularity after it was found to eat up pre-war levels of greenhouse gases and use them to fix the soil.

Of course, like most things during this time, science and nature made interesting bedmates.

One of the major technological breakthroughs of the decade was bespoke gardening. It was not much of an idea to think about: plant a seed and then wait a few days to find a house in the making, then a day or so after that, and you would have a three-room building with arching ceilings and leafy walls. It was all of the programming that was tricky.

Thanks in part to society’s newly found drive for harmonious surroundings, during the mid-30s, the technology was perfected to input the necessary genetic programming to plants to make them do whatever the grower would want. Topiary mazes and statuary were suddenly back in fashion. Grasses were developed that grew swiftly across a field; new strains of assorted produce, now capable of growing into full maturity in days instead of weeks helped defeat starvation. It took a few more years to put it into seed form.

One of the stranger biological constructs was Florida Rooms.

If someone said that a seed could grow into the aforementioned building in the 2020s, they would have laughed at you. Nowadays, anyone with the proverbial green thumb could simply plant the said seed in the ground, drench it in water for a few minutes, and stand back as a shoot would appear. An hour or two later, and vines would show. A day more, and a full building would be there, ready for anyone wanting to use it. The only drawback was that the forms, due to stresses biological and environmental, lasted only a few days, quickly dying out into fragile forms. That did not matter to the public, who eagerly embraced the new natural forms, and the media, who coined the phrase because they were inspired by the discovery that the houses usually burst into cascades of flowers none seen in nature at the height of their growth.

The Rooms also inspired a new take on the classic garden party of yore as various partygoers used huge swaths of land, mostly in parks and abandoned plots, to create the temporary shelters. After the party was over, which usually lasted a night or two, the places would be left either to the elements or, more frequently, mulched, leaving the ground ready for another party to be grown.

Frederick drove down the road, his car purring gently as it sped on past the buildings. He saw the flashy 3D plasma advertisements, the tall glass and steel sculptures, the various acropolises, and leaned into his seat with a relaxed sigh. He was dressed formally, a sleek black tuxedo and tie, a white scarf, and a vintage plush silk top hat.

A quiet cough was heard. “If I may suggest sir,” the computer began.

“Yes?”

“According to my internal map, we are heading to Madame Percival Park.” There was a slight tone of hesitation in the voice.

“Out with it, Jeeves” he said, expecting what he was going to hear.

“The park, sir, has been the scene of various violent protests in the past month. I most humbly suggest that you decline the invitation and head back home.”

“I can’t go back on my word,” Frederick said. “The Duchess will be so disappointed.”

“Very well sir.”

It has been a long time since I have been there, he thought as he steered the car into the district. Last time I was here was when they were renovating area into parks. It was so old-circle then…

 

If anyone asked about the history of park, depending on who you would ask (the lounge lizards with their sharp, pristine suits; the manicured dog walkers of Eighth avenue; various doormen; and so forth), it would be a long, meandering history involving aliens, stone men, and, in some cases, a wooden chair. However, if you did something sensible and delved into the city histories, they would say that about thirty years ago, knowing of the abandoned buildings and the slums in the city, sent the police into the crumbling wreckages to gently pry the last of the inhabitants out. Most of them were aged drug dealers who babbled to themselves about the days when what they used to dole out was actually profitable – almost all of the drug market then was destroyed when a 2020 law was passed to decriminalize a majority of pre-war drugs and placing them instead as strictly traded commodities in various global markets.

Many left without a fuss while others, willing to make a statement for themselves, clung with a true limpet’s touch, both bothersome and hard to get out. A compromise was reached: if they left, they would not be put in jail for their previous crimes of drug trading. A few days later, the place was empty.

The idea to put the area as parkland came from various high-circle officials, who complained that the city, despite the all-over plant life, had very little open green spaces, something that was echoed by other officials. With the help of park designers, the city made Madame Percival park, a five-hundred acre recreation area filled with native plants and wildlife. No one knows exactly who Madame Percival was, but it did not really matter to the public, who, always looking for the novel, gleefully welcomed it into the city.

For years, the park has been used for parties, both minor and major. However, various environmental groups, fearful that the festivities would destroy the park, started protesting, some peacefully while others wrathfully went to rotten vegetables. In rare instances, rocks and stones would be used.

In a tactful response, the city sectioned off fifty acres strictly for parties, which was met with approval for most people. However, the stone throwers refused to back down, wanting instead absolutely nothing to be done there. The officials tried to make them see reason, but to no avail.

For months, the attacks kept up. Even now, the police would try to stop them with peaceful ways of stopping. Frederick thought that there would be people there with signs and projectiles.

Instead, he pulled into a place of festivity.

Tall, stately drones dressed in shimmering cloths hovered lightly above the ground, holding flutes of champagne and wine. People festooned the place as much as fluttering banners and ribbons, the guests dressed in fantastic forms of dress and costume. However, the rooms were truly breathtaking.

They were tall and spindly, bringing to mind cathedrals, certainly with their rose windows and Gothic arches. The pinnacles rose elegantly into the night sky, their flags flapping in the high breezes. Flowers of every color and style decorated almost all of them while their rich fragrances mixed with the ladies’ perfumes. Multicolored clouds of fog layered themselves around the higher levels of the rooms, adding a phantasmal air of splendor to the party.

He got out, amazed at the grandeur of the entire place. A drone came up to him, draped in green silk.

“Your invitation, please,” it intoned.

He pulled out the purple envelope and opened it, pulling out a cream-colored card shot with leaf green. He handed it over to the robot, which looked it over. It nodded and handed the invitation back. “A greeting, Mister McAuthur-McGillicuty. The Duchess presents her compliments and bids you to head into the Green Room for your costume.” It gestured to a path.

“Er, thank you,” He followed it to a small room done entirely of periwinkle vines and neon purple roses. A familiar person was coming out of it, bedecked in white flowers and black ribbons, her hair built up in complex curls.

“Sweetheart!” Frederick exclaimed as he embraced Reglatta. “What brings you here? Besides the obvious, of course.”

She smiled, sweetly. “I heard from the Duchess that you would be coming, and I just had to be here to make sure you do not get into any more mischief,” she said. “And to make sure of that, I brought someone else.” She gestured to the entrance.

“Oh dear,” Clarissa said as she stepped out of the building dressed in a bright pink micro singlet that hugged her luscious figure, exposing every single line and curve, “Looks like we have an uninvited guest here.” She smiled. “So, who did you have to bed to get here?”

“I was invited,” Frederick snapped. He fixed his face into a passable smile. “The Duchess and my parents are first-circle friends.”

“Really?” Clarissa, clearly impressed, looked at Reglatta, who nodded. “Well then, allow me to apologize for my error.” And with that, she went to him, pressed her exceptional torso and hips against him, and kissed him most passionately.

“Woah,” he said after a timeless moment, both lightheaded by the passionate embrace and her intoxicating scent of jasmine. He looked at his fiancée, who was paying close attention to the roses, then looked back at this exotic creature. “As much as I would like to court you, I shouldn’t”

“Of course not,” she said, drawing back and removing a shapely thigh that had somehow wedged itself in between his legs. “I am, after all, mid-circles with Reglatta. Such a breach in etiquette would be disastrous for both of us and might cause darling Reg to flee.” She paused. “Again.” Her lips curled in a slight smile.

He gently separated from her and went up to Reglatta, who he kissed on the cheek. She looked up at him and smiled briefly. “If I wasn’t so inclined, I might believe you now,” she murmured, glancing at Clarissa and playing with his scarf. “I never had any assumption that she could be tiresome until now,” she added, and then, smiling slightly, embraced him just as passionately as the other did.

“Woah!” Frederick said after another, much longer timeless moment. Reglatta smiled briefly and let him go.

“I will be seeing you later, darling Frederick,” she said, walking away, ribbons trailing after her frame. Clarissa followed her a moment later, but not before winking hugely at Frederick.

A bit dazzled by the dual attack, he shook his head in wonder, picked up his hat that fell from his head, and went into the room.

“A moment please,” a many armed droid said. Hands tipped with slender digits sprayed something onto the suit of another man. Gold and black stripes soon appeared around him while another set of fingers was applying make-up and hair color, making him look like a tiger straight from a picture book.

“Perfect,” he said, looking into a mirror that was fixed upon a wall, and walked out.

“Next?” the droid said, looking at Frederick, then did a slight double take. “Fred Astaire?”

He huffed out a laugh. “Not exactly,” he said.

“Hmm…” The droid reached up to pick up the hat and scarf, the hands delicate in their movements, and gently put them aside. “Please come closer.”

He did so, and the droid started spraying paint on his suit.

“Do not worry, the dye is temporary,” it said. “It should be gone by the time the party is over. And please stand still,” it continued when Frederick moved slightly. “It will ruin the effect.”

A few moments later, and it was done. “If you could look into the mirror, sir?” the droid said, motioning to a wall sized mirror.

He turned towards it, and his jaw dropped.

The suit was done in checkerboard, the squares in many different colors and sizes, giving him the look of a psychedelic harlequin. His face was done half black and half white. The hat was also done in the same design as the suit. The scarf was left unpainted, but it was folded into a complex geometric braid around his neck.

“Fantastic!” he said, turning around to get a better view of the suit. “Thanks!” And with that, he walked out into the night air.

Another droid was waiting for him at the entrance. “If you could follow me, sir. The Duchess would like to meet you personally.” Frederick nodded, and he went into the crowds and mingled with the people there, grabbing a rather large sherry from one of the many servitors, before being escorted into the largest of the rooms. The interior was swathed with layers of green silk and silver snowdrops that glittered like stars in unseen skies. Several people were inside, talking busily.

“Madam,” the droid said, hovering lower to the ground as a bow, “Frederick Alphonse McAuthur-McGillicuty.”

“Alfie!” one of the ladies squealed, standing up. She was petite and firmly built, her silver white hair done up in a two foot tall elaborate braid and coiffure encased in a silver web glittering with pale silver glass beads. Her face was a mix of age and youth; she was one of those his mother archly said who had ‘plenty of work on her’; although, whose work was yet to be contended. She was dressed as the White Queen of the book, a scalloped gown of fine, virgin white wool covered most of her while a shawl of white silk richly decorated in changing designs of dark grey draped across her. A golden scepter was firmly grasped in her left hand.

“Duchess,” Frederick said, taking off his hat and bowing to the company.

“You need a haircut,” she said bluntly, eyeing the tangle on his head.

“I know,” he said, slipping into his trained first-circle accents, “but it does get worse if it gets cut.” He ran his fingers through it, causing it to mess up even more, though it could be said to be a marked improvement by some. He straightened up, and then went up to the elderly woman and hugged her. “How are you doing tonight, if I may ask?”

“Terrible,” she hooted, clearly contradicting the response. “The doctor insisted, insisted mind you, not to do this tonight.” She waved the scepter in negation. “He said that the violence was too much in this district. I fired him in retribution.”

“And no doubt hired him back an hour later,” one of the other people said, to much general laughter.

Frederick smiled slightly. Aretha Phillipe von Klampt-Marglot-Arielstal, known to many first-circles simply as ‘The Duchess’, was one of the last of a dying breed. She had what the old-circle slang called ‘the Midas touch’: anything she put her fingers in turned to gold. Vast holdings in industrial and technological sectors, a heavy helping in copper and iron mines both on and off planet, leader non pareil in philanthropy, she usually gave as much as she earned, millions, if not more, of credits passing through her hands and her holdings, even with the days’ near flawless economy. Married into the high-circles when she was twenty, so the biography says; although, she neither agreed nor refuted it. It was also said that a good amount of the current techs were attributed to the staggering amounts of money she poured into them, also unconfirmed by her or any of her compatriots.

He took a sip of his sherry. “You look amazing tonight, madam.”

She grinned toothily. “As do you, Alfie.” She patted an empty cushion near her as she sat down. “Please be seated.”

He did so, taking the moment to look around the room. Five other people were there, no doubt her entourage, dressed simply in colorful peasant clothing, their appearance only adding more contrast to the Duchess’ fantastic dress. A low table, positioned to the back of the room, showed an old-circle phonograph player, the horn gently airing out the hushed crooning of Ella Fitzgerald, one of her favorite singers.

“How are you enjoying the party?” she said as a servitor came close to the two, presenting a salver filled with tasty tidbits. “Help yourself, if you want to.”

“Thank you.” He looked over at the canapés and took a plump shrimp puff, taking a bite and finding it stuffed with long, leafy strands of nori. “Hm, not bad.” He finished eating it before drinking the sherry again. “The party, yes. So far, so good. I met up with Reglatta, which I have to thank you for inviting.” She smiled. “So, if I may ask, why did you invite me? I am not one of the people who would be welcome here, I am sure.”

“Oh, can I not see how one of my favorite godchildren is doing?” She smiled again before gently patting him on the knee. “It has been a while since I last saw you, you know.”

“After the divorce,” he agreed.

She sighed and patted the knee again. “I am glad that you accepted the invitation, though. I need your opinion on something.”

“Oh?” he said, surprised.

She leaned closer, picking up a puff pastry shaped like a swan. “That fascinating girl, the avant garde Miss von Blanke is accompanying, told me of a most interesting invention earlier. A light suit? Simply fascinating.” She nodded in agreement and took a small nibble of the canapé. “Perhaps you can tell me more. I sent them off to the costume room before she could say anything more.”

“Ah. Well, it is something that her cousin is creating. He is, well, an inventor.”

She bristled a bit. “One of those time wasters? Surely not.”

“I knew you’d feel that way, Duchess,” he said, smiling faintly. “Not only is he an inventor, but he is also a well-known artist, rather famous in some mid-circles. Perhaps you know him. Conway Forrester Alazhar.”

Her eyebrows went up in surprise. “I happened to host one of his exhibitions a few weeks ago,” she murmured. “Quite remarkable. And they say he is color blind as well.”

The smile broadened. “He is.”

She nodded vigorously. “One of his works, simply fascinating. A holographic painting of a pulsating heart locked in a perpetual ion cube rhythm. I think it was titled ‘Liability of Love’ or such. I wanted to buy it, but seeing that I owned the museum, I thought it was a rather silly idea.”

“Duchess, you are incorrigible,” Frederick said, chuckling.

“I am, am I not?” she said, grinning.

“To shift the subject back, he is trying to invent the latest style in fashion, a holographic suit. I saw him wearing a prototype earlier today. It was not bad, to be honest. He is still trying to fix the shading, so he says.”

The Duchess tilted her head a bit, looking coy. “Do you think that he would accept a few thousand credits as collateral to help with its development?”

He smiled. “I think he wouldn’t mind at all. But, knowing him, he probably already fixed the problem.”

“Excellent.” She patted his knee again and gave him a grin. “You need not worry about him. I am sure that after the prototype is perfected, he will have a new circle to be in. But I am wasting your time.” She stood up, Frederick rising also, and she escorted him to the door. “Go on and enjoy the party. Dance. Drink! And do say hello to your mother, will you, Alphie?” She stood slightly on tiptoe to give Frederick a light peck on the cheek, and with that, shooed him out of the room.

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