I had been slipping in and out of a clammy semi-consciousness for some time when the sound of a streaming morning news show brought a finality to this semi-sentience; I realized my new situation had given me a new problem: an excessively warm room. The bedroom I shared in Armitage with Seb, my brother, had no heating and frequently, no electrical power either. Thucydides, our ancient family cat, was an occasional welcome alternative, but only to the former.
My mind had by now fully rebooted and had switched back to the news report.
“The ceasefire in the Crimea is continuing to hold and the Praesidium has allowed water supplies to flow once more into the Ukraine. Meanwhile Princess Diana and Prince Alexey have returned from their vacation in Shanghai and will host a garden party for lucky VIP guests here in Historyland.’
‘How exciting. Lucky VIPs.’ I muttered and tried to find another content stream.
‘Can I help you with something, Robert Lyttelton?’
It was that female voice again, the ethereal one I had heard late last night when I had finally found my room having click-signed a million forms in exchange for a key. Despite feeling exhausted, I was startled by what seemed to be a woman in my bedsit telling me she was my Digital Assistant and Technology Valet -whatever that was. I said I was tired and asked politely if we could do this another time.
‘Sure. No problem, Rob Lyttleton,’ she said, ‘we can finish set-up later.’
And now this morning, she was telling me this was later.
‘So can I help you with something now, Robert Lyttelton?’ Somehow hearing my full name spoken like that seemed just a bit alien.
‘Perhaps I can stream to the vistel to your left?’
I looked at the wall and saw a full-sized female avatar who (or which?) seemed to be in her mid-20s, about the same age as me.
‘May I give you a simple advice? Just ask me something and I will do what I can to assist you.’
‘Well you could start with your name,’ I said.
‘My name is Alicia Zachery and I’m configured by default to be friendly, straightforward and submissive. Is that to your liking? Other genders and personality types are available to download.’
‘I see,’ I said, playing for time and began to perform a number of body lunges – the standard stretching routine for pike men in Bagot’s Regiment of Foote.
‘Can we talk about this later? For now, I have to get ready for my induction. Do you happen to know what’s in store with the weather today?’
‘If by “store” you mean what the weather outside will be like today, then absolutely, Robert Lyttelton. It is currently a dry, sunny and in fact typical January day. But please note: a frost alert! The minimum temperature will be -4°, and out of the sun you will need a warm coat, scarf and handware. Would you like me to propose a place for a warmful breakfast pause?”
‘Thank you, but no,’ I told her, ‘I am sure I can find my own place for breakfast,’ and smiling to myself I considered just for a moment the idea of ‘warmful handware’.
My next few minutes were spent considering the luxury of an ensuite shower complete with apparently unlimited hot water. A quarter of an hour later, scarfed up and wearing my Bagot Montero cap, I made my way towards the induction meeting. It was indeed a marvellous, crisp and sunny morning as I walked through the Big Cast Zone, the area of Historyland’s campus dedicated to employees and associates. There was already plenty of evidence that I was in a theme park dedicated to history. Just ahead of me, I saw two Native Americans in war paint eating sushi next to a gladiator, complete with trident and net, the latter thrown nonchalantly over his shoulder. To my right there was a larger group of what looked like Middle Kingdom Egyptian Warriors who were working out with a blue track-suited personal trainer whose T-shirt featured a bold letter H in blue.
I followed signs and walked along a dark connecting corridor out of the Cast Zone and into the Grand Piazza, a square lined with arcaded porticos where guests were seated in the sunshine taking breakfast or studying their Tabs. I was looking for Tudor Way. All the main routes in Historyland were named after the world’s great ruling dynasties and had distinctive colours. Tudor Way was the red path and it would take me directly to the Citadel, Historyland’s directorate and management centre. Soon I had found the red path and was walking through a shopping arcade which seemed to have mixed up historical eras in a very curious way, and there at the end of it, I saw the chimneys and gables of the Citadel: Hampton Court on the outside, and vibrant technology hub on the inside with café bar, box office, travel centre and guest waiting area. I noticed a sign to a Cast Zone space that had its own reception area. Here, sitting at a desk looking formidable was a woman called Prudence Piéton. I edged nervously towards her.
‘Good morning. My name is Rob Lyttelton… a new cast member.’ I was hesitating. ‘I arrived yesterday. I am here for my induction.’
Prudence looked at me, consulted her Tab and smiled.
‘Welcome Dr. Lyttelton. I see you arrived from the Pale yesterday and you are here to be our new Historian-in-Residence’
I nodded, which was an unnecessary gesture, because Prudence Pieton was not asking me a question.
‘I am sure you will find everything in Historyland will be very different to the Pale and most interesting for a keen student of history like you. Please take a seat,’ and pointed to a small waiting area. I sat nervously and regretted that I hadn’t taken Alicia’s advice about breakfast, as I was now feeling hungry and a little lightheaded. Then, as if taken in surprise by some bold ambuscade, I saw her for the first time and was completely captivated. It was her short copper hair, the cobalt eyes and that scarf poised so elegantly around her neck. I didn’t know anything then about scarves, but this one looked expensive and was also a proper Roundhead orange. Fortunately, I am glad to say that that the rest of her dress seemed definitely more Cavalier: she wore a corn linen jacket and carried a Tab cased in bronze. Then I noticed her delicate ivory hands and the lime green of her nails. The elevator doors closed and she was gone.