Drip. Drip. Drip.
I glared up at the gutter making the offending noise. Half of me wanted to scream. The other half wanted to break down in tears.
I did neither. Instead I returned to gazing at my boots, watching the rivulets running off of them into the street. I was soaking wet, and it was way past curfew, but I didn’t care. Talk about a load of Fog-rock? That was nothing compared to the load of guilt in my heart.
I was still miserably justifying to myself all the reasons why I was right. It had become a sort of mantra by now: It’s not fair—I wasn’t ready—they don’t care—I ought to be able to choose.
“Violation of order 99B. You are breaking curfew,” interrupted a tinny, nasal voice. I jumped up in alarm, fear instantly replacing my muddled emotions. Two troubleshooters were facing me in the narrow alleyway, their fog-green eyes glowing eerily. I gulped.
“Uh, no sir…” Had I just contradicted an Automaton? And had I just called it ‘sir’? “No, I’m, uh… on my way to the theatre! And I’m late for a show and I lost my way! Please, I’ll be moving on, just let me go!” I held my breath, hoping the excuse would suffice. I could hear their difference engines ticking as the Troubleshooters processed my request.
“Order 99B is rescinded due to provision 99B-6,” the Troubleshooter on the left responded. With no further ado, they turned in sync and marched out of the dark alleyway, metal feet clanking away.
I let out a huge sigh of relief. That was too close. I might hate the Resistance right now, but I certainly didn’t want to be captured by the minions of Emperor Lucky. He was the most feared man in Evercity…Evercity…
“Evercity Theatre!” I said aloud. It had been my alibi, but I needed to go somewhere, and why not to the place I had dreamed of? Maybe I really could get a part…
And I would be free. I felt almost exhilarated, in a strange sort of way. Temporarily distracted from the thoughts that had been churning in my mind, I got to my feet. It had grown thoroughly dark by now, and the rain was still falling as I hurried through the streets, avoiding the dim green glow cast by lamplights. When I had run from the house earlier, I hadn’t noticed or cared where I was going. Now as I ran, I glanced up at the wooden signs marking each street: Rustheap Alley, Molliglass Row, Lumpyhall Lane, Cartbrick Street, Flatkettle Street… I was getting closer to the inner city now.
I slowed my rapid pace as I began passing well-dressed party goers returning home. It was at least eleven o’clock, but the curfew didn’t apply to the innermost rings of the city, where the rich people lived. They could stay out late, amidst the sights and sounds of the glorious capital. At least, the propaganda machines said “glorious.” Belonging to a Resistance family, I knew better. Fear and manipulation were the powers that moved the city, the steel threads that bound everyone into the Emperor's web of control, whether they wanted to admit it or not. The Resistance was meant to break that web, to bring love and peace and hope back to Aethasia. At least, so I’d thought. I wasn’t sure what I thought now, but one thing I did know—it hadn’t brought peace to my life.
I stopped beneath a shop awning, looking around me. What good was a Resistance, anyway? Lucky’s power was everywhere, unstoppable, unescapable, inevitable. Besides, as I watched the people passing by, they didn’t seem unhappy. In fact, they seemed joyful. Content.
“…troubleshooters should really get those urchins off the streets,” a voice close to me said, and I glanced to my left in time to catch the imperious looks of an elegantly attired couple as they swept past me.
Blushing furiously, I suddenly realized how out of place I looked. My dress was nice, but plain compared to their fancy ball gowns—and the flower gardens some people had for hats? I shook my head. I probably stood out like a sore thumb.
I’d better find the theatre before someone reports me, I thought. Hurrying quickly on, I read the street names once more: Lensmine Street, Blackspinner Street, Candlepiece Boulevard…
“Candlepiece Boulevard!” I said aloud. This was the street. And there it was, situated neatly at the intersection. Rising two stories, Evercity Theatre had two grand wooden doors leading to the pavement. Marble columns held up an extensive terrace on the second floor, where people sat eating and talking at tables, shaded from the rain by magnificently large green umbrellas. On the whitewashed brick walls were tacked posters of every size and color, advertisements for upcoming performances alongside Lucky’s ever-present propaganda posters. Theatregoers were still crowded upon the sidewalk beneath, and I saw that getting in that way would be impossible. Was there a side door?
I slipped into an alley behind the building. Here, the refuse of the adjoining lots gathered and overflowed. One of the rubbish bins had been knocked over, and rotting fruit cores and empty tin cans were scattered across the area. I held my breath against the stench, looking for a back way into the Theatre. Suddenly a door to my left opened, and a large, muscular man appeared, clutching garbage bags in both hands and wearing a decided scowl. It deepened at the sight of me.
“What are ya doin’ here? Get out, we’ve had enough of you scamps round here!” He set down the trash bags and glared at me.
I backed up a couple paces, eyeing his clenched hands. They looked like they could knock a Pacifier out of commission. “I’m not a scamp!” I stammered. “I’ve come to see—I mean if there’s a spot—I came to see the Theatre—the owner—”
He interrupted, one eyebrow raised. “So you’re looking for a job at the Theatre?” he asked, eyeing me doubtfully. “You’ve found the back door.” He didn’t seem quite so angry now, and I took courage.
“Yes, I’m looking for a job,” I replied, hesitantly. “I’m—” I stopped. I had been going to say Iliara Mustardtop. But if anyone who had known me was to come looking, I didn’t want to be found. No, that name held my old life, my old memories, my old secrets. It was time to put the past behind me. I took a deep breath and stepped forward.
“I’m Rowena Brokenlance,” I said. “Can I speak to the manager?”