2419 words (9 minute read)

Chapter Two


"Oh no," Nicole muttered to herself upon hearing the time. She had minutes to arrive to the building at her appointment, and she had barely managed to crumple her drawings back into her portfolio. There was no way she’d have time to organize them beforehand!

She should have left earlier. She should have been more prepared.

It wasn’t like she didn’t take this interview seriously. She just had a lot on her mind all the time.

Any confusion about where the familiarity of the boy in front of her came from was quickly pushed aside as she scrambled to her feet and ran off, not noticing the awkwardness of the boy who’d just given her the time. She had other things on her mind.

"Thank you!" she called back to him, glancing over her shoulder once more, her pastel pink hair billowing behind her as the wind pushed it back. She saw so many faces in this city all the time; his was probably just another one she’d seen on the street as she walked about. No big deal.

The tall, glass skyscraper glinted in front of Nicole as she rounded the corner and pushed through the revolving doors. "I’m here!" she called out, completely unprofessional as she set her portfolio onto the black, smooth, granite counter top before her and grinned back at the sour-faced receptionist.

"You’re the 3:15 appointment?" she asked, obviously disappointed.

The disappointment did not hinder Nicole in any form. She’d been through this so many times that she let negative emotions like that of the receptionist slide right off of her back. "Yes, I am. I apologize if I am late." Glancing at the clock behind the receptionist, however, it seemed she’d actually made it on time.

Now if only she had time to organize her portfolio once more...

"Down the hall to the elevators, and take a ride up to the fourth floor. Mr. Century is waiting for you."

The words brought Nicole out of her thoughts, and she grabbed her portfolio to make her way to the elevator. "Thank you!" she told her just as she had called back to the boy she ran into earlier.

It was a shame her interview wasn’t on a higher floor. She could use the spare seconds to organize at least some things in her folder...

Still, it wasn’t until Nicole stepped onto the fourth floor commotion of people walking to a fro from room to room, carrying shirts and dresses and coats and shoes, and following after those guiding them or sternly speaking to understudies, that her excitement changed into nervousness.

Swallowing back the lump in her throat, she made her way to the desk in the entry way and asked to be directed to Mr. Century’s office.

"Back down from where you came. His office is the first door after you step off the elevators, sweetie." This receptionist was kinder than the one on the first floor, but seemed even busier. Nicole did not have time to ask another question before the woman picked up the ringing phone beside her, turning her attention away from the girl who stood in front of her desk.

That was fine. Nicole had an interview to make, anyways, even if she did have questions about what this level was all about.

Hopefully, she’d find out soon enough on her own.

Smiling to herself at the idea that she would get this job, Nicole knocked lightly on Mr. Century’s door before letting herself inside the room.

"Miss Anderson, come in, come in. I’ve been expecting you," the man behind the desk said pleasantly as Nicole shut the door behind her. She could only assume this man was Mr. Century himself, and was confirmed when he spoke again.

Holding out his hand to her to shake, he introduced himself. "My name is Mr. ’Eugene Century’, but you may call me ’Mr. Century’. My tagline for this place is to have it running ’on into the centuries!’, and I hope you know that whoever I hire has to be able to help me do just that."

"Yes sir," Nicole answered softly, wiping her hand off on her jeans after they shook hands. She knew her palms were a bit sweaty, and she’d hoped he hadn’t noticed.

Mr. Century was a silver haired man on the slender side. He wore a light blue suit and black shoes. Dressed for the job perfectly, she knew.

"So you are a designer?" he questioned, sitting back down in his desk chair as he motioned for Nicole to take a seat across from him in the chair on the other side of his desk.

"Well not-" Nicole stopped herself, swallowing back her statement of ’not quite’. Instead, she answered with, "Yes. Yes I am."

So what if she wasn’t known all over the world? So what is no one outside herself and her few friends wore her creations? She was still a designer.

"Good," Mr. Century answered, holding his hand out for her portfolio, "Let’s have a look at some of your creations, to see if you are well suited for this job."

Nicole hesitated, knowing what the inside of her portfolio looked like after she’d dropped it outside. But she couldn’t very well keep it from the man; this was her only opportunity to shine.

Slowly, she handed it over to him, wanting to make an excuse for its messy insides but instead decided to tell him the truth. "I dropped it. On my way here," she added softly. "So I apologize for the mess inside."

Mr. Century had already taken it, looking inside at the different drawings. He did not comment on the wrinkled papers; simply smoothed them out as he looked through them, setting them neatly to the side before looking at another.

Nicole waited for him to make a comment on any of her designs, but instead all Mr. Century asked was, "Have you sold any?"

"Er... um, no sir. Not yet. I’m sort of the type that likes to perfect my work before I ship it out."

"I see." He looked up at her, folding his hands over her portfolio, "How much interest do you have in your designs?"

"Well... I know my friends enjoy wearing the creations, and-"

The man stopped her before she could continue, making Nicole blush deep red, "You are not a designer, Miss Anderson. You are a wanna be. My firm is more interested in clothing that has a following already - things we know that will sell and people will buy. We can’t make money off of ideas."

Nicole’s eyebrows pulled together, "Excuse me, sir?" she wasn’t quite sure she understood what he meant.

"You’re better off retracting your application and applying for a job as our coffee girl; start small. We’ll see if you can work your way up to something in the design firm later on in life, but you can’t just start out at the top, dear."

Nicole felt like her heart sunk into her stomach. Yet another rejection. How surprising.

"Stop at the front desk and Marilynn can set you up with another interview for coffee girl next week."

Closing her book he handed the portfolio back to her, "Thank you for coming by, Miss Anderson. But I’m afraid I have another interview to check in with now, so if you’ll excuse me."

Nicole took her portfolio from the man, standing slowly as she did. "Oh. Yes... Thanks," she said meekly.

He did not cut down her designs, nor did he praise them. Instead, he told her she needed experience before being able to do anything about them. It made no sense to her! Experience was why she was here! It was like applying for credit cards; you needed to have credit to get a credit card - but you couldn’t very well build credit without a credit card!

It was a conundrum that even she struggled to comprehend.

Leaving the office of Mr. Century, Nicole spotted who she could only guess was the next designer requesting the job she wanted. Except this girl was taller - she was sleek, and she was dressed in a much better outfit than Nicole was. Nicole also guessed that the portfolio the girl carried was neatly organized.

Darn it! She blew yet another opportunity.

With tears in her eyes and portfolio hugged to her chest, Nicole found the stairs instead of the reception desk that Marilynn sat behind, waiting to schedule Nicole’s other interview. Deciding against the recommendation of Eugene Century, Nicole needed time to think. What was it she really wanted to do?

The walk down the stairs to the main floor gave her time to process everything that’d just happened, and she avoided looking over at the sour-faced floor receptionist on her way outside. She could only imagine the smug look the woman would have in her eyes if she saw Nicole’s tears.

Tilting her face up to the sky, Nicole took a deep breath - something calming to most people - but quickly realized her mistake as she struggled to get her lungs to work after that.

Coughing and sputtering, Nicole dropped her portfolio once more as she brought her purse to her front, fishing around inside until she grabbed her inhaler, taking a puff of the medicine. In moments, she could breathe freely again, and she couldn’t help but breathe a silent ’thank you’ into the air.

She hated that feeling. The moment when it was hard to breathe; as if the air around her had become water, and she was drowning on her own two feet. She never did understand it, but it wasn’t like she was the only girl in the world with asthma. It wasn’t something she advertised, and the moments seemed to only hit her around a certain time of the day, the same time every day, oddly enough. She was still able to run in small measures, and do plenty of things without her condition hindering her. But just like most people, she wished she didn’t have even that problem to deal with.

It was partially the reason Nicole avoided swimming in water. She could take showers just fine, but anything where she needed to be immersed in water freaked her out. If air already tried to drown her, she was afraid what water would do.

She knew it was an irrational fear. It wasn’t like she’d had a bad water moment growing up or something; but even so, some people were afraid of spiders and Nicole Anderson was afraid of water. Simple as that.

Eyes red with stress and tears, Nicole dropped to the cement to pick up her portfolio again. This time, she organized it as she went, not having any other obligations for hours; she took her time, looking through each picture as she put it away. She thought her designs were great, and one day, others would know it, too. Mr. Century would be sorry he’d ever turned her away.

SKAA REBUBLIC- Unime, Day 5, 12:15

Gabriel’d been working with his father for a bit of time now, and for as nervous as he’d been on his first day, he seemed to have fallen into a routine now. Routines were always good; the Skaa enjoyed their routines as much as they enjoyed their traditions. Gabriel felt as if he belonged here; he was that good at his job. Months of training had paid off.

Gabriel remembered reading somewhere how on some planets, planets like Earth, the creatures inside hated routine. Some felt routine even drove them inside. After so many years of doing the same things over and over, some even had what they called a ’midlife crisis’; a breakdown of sorts. These were the sorts of things that Gabriel enjoyed reading, for he took pride in his species. He knew routine was a matter of life, not a burden. It helped one to be better.

He was opposed to taking the Repression, unlike the radicals and those in his area who took the drug. Why give himself the chance to think alone, and sway from tradition? From routine? This method of life had worked for as long as he could remember; it was when there were free-thinkers that problems arose.

No, Gabriel was not going to be a part of the problem; he was going to be part of the solution. And that included helping to destroy traces of the Repression as much as he could. Society needed their drones; without them, it could not be run.

True, he was a drone himself: one who helped to run the three Kingdoms at a higher society level than those below him. He knew not what it was like to live in a lower class, nor did he care. He was where he was in life, and he was comfortable with it. Others should be, too. If they could think for themselves, they would disrupt such uniformity - the uniformity and order his father had drilled into his head that was needed to keep everything the way it was. They did not want another war.

He’d proposed this regulation days ago, and it seemed to be accepted with open arms. It was his first step in the right direction, and now it was just a matter of acting it out. Proposing ideas were the quick part; it was completing them that took time. But this ’time’ would be worth spending on such a useful endeavor. He was proud to have been given the go-ahead.

"Gabriel," his father’s voice called from behind him, making Gabriel turn to look.

He’d been standing over the balcony of the trade building, overlooking the energy bubble that showed a window to the main hull of the planets; the Capital City.

"Yes, father?" he wondered what was needed.

"Come with me. There is someone I’d like you to meet. He has helped his daughter to learn the trade much like I have taught you. Very influential people; you’ll be lucky to have met them."