Twins Ivy and Clive Bhasin leave the Orphan Care System completely unprepared into the real world to fend for themselves.
To many, it’s simply a number, which is fair. That’s all it really is anyway, but to a select unlucky individuals, it signifies the single most fantastic and terrifying event they will ever experience.
Clive was not being dramatic. He despised birthdays for that exact reason. No one celebrated them anyway. In fact, it was rare to really get to know someone long enough to care if the day rolled around. The only time anyone knew was that blasted seventeen, when your name was called through the speakers, and you had packed your bags that morning, and you gave your final glance around the room.
Or at least, that’s what Clive thought it would be like.
It was only a matter of minutes now.
He sat atop his suitcase, leaning against the white brick wall outside the stupid green door he was all too happy to get away from. He stared hard at his tablet. Why didn’t the words come easier today? He thought they would.
Was he really going to be one of the kids who chickened out when it rolled around? It would only prove them right, he supposed. A loud bang! thudded from the door, followed by a roar of laughter.
Clive scowled, adjusting his shirt collar, and clicking his precious tablet off as the door flew open and the group of bustling, red-faced-with-laughter boys stumbled out.
“‘Sup, Bhasin,” one said, as he crashed into the wall beside him.
“Prioritizing,” Clive said, clearing his throat. Dang it. Did the suitcase give him away? Maybe they thought he had gotten into another home? They seemed too distracted to think about it too hard.
“Hey, how about you get your fancy little self out into the court and fight me again!” A round boy from the crowd laughed.
“And win...again?” Clive shrugged coolly.
The boy’s face flashed red as the laughter grew. “That’s only because you cheated! You told me you had never fought before.”
“Not cheating. Lying. Learn the difference.” Clive picked up his suitcase, tucking the tablet under his arm, and with a little, unnoticed bow, left the crowded hall.
He strode down the stairs, the main building loud and crowded, full of voices of children and agitated instructors, the echoes of announcements joining them every so often. Holograms floated above, with mostly pointless positive sayings and class assignments, which were perceived as mandatory but never really were, and once you learned that, it was hard to have motivation to attend.
All unless you were his sister, who had some utter fascination with the classroom setting. He had no idea if she learned anything besides things that had to do with exploding plants. She talked as if the teachers were her friends and the classes were their get-togethers. He never dared to break her little bubble to remind her of reality.
Nobody cared about them.
He reached the bottom of the steps, searching around the floor. A group of what he assumed as new arrivals sat distanced on a bench. A small copper haired girl had puffy eyes, and she clenched a plastic bag as if it were her livelihood...which was probably true.
You’ve been there before.
He shoved the thought off. No. He hadn’t.
For him, it had been different. And no one would ever be able to relate.
Clive jumped, swiveling around.
Bounding down the steps from the east hall and waving her arms shamelessly in the air, was his sister. She had her short, dark brown hair in cared-for curls, and had as usual made the best of the donated clothing to something that looked somewhat decent.
Or he was biased.
Worn-out sweater over a striped top, with a skirt, leggings, and worn boots that she’d been wearing for years. She slammed herself into him, squeezing him with a hug till he was struggling away to breathe.
“Good to see you too,” he breathed.
She brushed herself off. “Did you hear your name called?”
She shook her head, her smile faltering a bit. “No class announcement at least. I got to say goodbye to Ms. Sapphira.”
“And how’d she like that?”
“I’m sure she loved it,” Ivy shrugged. “She was a little distracted, but I did get her to say ‘thank you’ so that was a plus.”
Clive sighed, moving past Ivy and through the crowd. “Whatever you say.”
“I know you think the classes are useless, but I’ve gotten so many files that we can use. They’re full of interesting things,” Ivy said, catching up to his pace, shoving her tablet to him.
Dictionary of Advanced Botanical Entities
He raised an eyebrow and looked at Ivy, who looked very proud of herself. “How can this be useful?”
“The plants from the EarthShaker? You know, the ones they made to have advanced abilities,” she said, taking back the tablet. “Like Phenomena Fleux. That one has advanced healing capabilities?”
“Didn’t those things like epically fail? And they tried putting them in humans and all of the humans died?”
Ivy blinked, looking back to her tablet. “Well,” she said, clearing her throat. “There has to be other uses.”
He thought the topic was over till he saw her scrolling through the tablet faster.
“What about Wraith Weed? It was supposed to enhance the person’s survival against the destruction of death forces.”
Clive frowned. “That’s gibberish.”
“Well, in the EarthShaker, they thought supernatural people were in the war, right? So it kinda makes sense.” Ivy shrugged. Clive rolled his eyes.
“How about Exil Libium? It’s a cleansing acid---”
A screeching beep caused the whole floor to cringe. A list of names began to blast from the speakers. Clive’s heart leapt. He looked to Ivy, whose eyes had lifted from her tablet. Her eyes were wide.
Clive held his breath. Come on. Please let this be it.
His chest twisted.
Clive drowned out the rest of the names. He and Ivy turned to each other. He almost smiled. “It’s time.”
She cast him an uneasy one in return. “Are you ready?”
Never in his entire life had he been more ready to get out of this despicable place.
“Clive, Ivy?” A woman poked her head out of her office door, her copper bob bouncing as her gaze swept over them with a raised brow. “Come in.”
Clive only glanced at Ivy for a moment before walking through the open door. The woman took a seat at her small desk, gesturing to the two hoverchairs in front of her. “Close the door, and take a seat.”
Ivy hesitantly stepped inside, taking a seat, and Clive closed the door behind her, eager to sit down and get it over with.
The woman studied her Scroll screen for a moment, before looking up and pressing her stylus to her lips. “A very unique circumstance brought you to Sycamore,” she said, an arc in her brow. “And this makes your circumstance on your Orphan Housing System departure a bit unique.”
Clive clenched his jaw, taking steady breaths. Unique circumstances that had given them first names issued by the government, and files marking them as their family only being government care services.
This would’ve been the moment Ivy would’ve elbowed him and reminded him about “how lucky we are to have each other.” It was true. Siblings didn’t usually make it through OHS together, but it was easier to sulk over the fact their life was and never would be complete.
“Are you aware of your aunt?” the woman asked.
Ivy nodded. “She sent us a care package a few years ago.”
“Seven years ago,” Clive clarified. And then they never heard from her again.
Ivy shook her head at him, mouthing “Knock it off” as she turned back to the woman with a smile. “What he means is, we’re not close. We’ve never met in person.”
“And she refused to take you in,” the woman added.
Clive already knew that. When they were eight and told they had an aunt, for the first time he’d been genuinely hopeful, but then she declined them, leaving them stranded in Sycamore far from their home region.
“But I do think you’ll be happy to know she has paid for rent of a month at a nearby apartment,” the woman said, straightening with a chuckle. “Quite unexpected. It’s called The Edwardian Complex, run by Horacio Alvarez. I made contact with him this morning, and he already knew you’d be arriving.”
Clive’s mind halted. Their stupid aunt had paid a month’s rent in an apartment for them? Should he be happy? Should he accuse the woman of bluffing? Why give them an apartment if she clearly didn’t want them?
But the surprised smile on his sister’s face scorned his suspicions. Who was he to be the one to dampen her mood? He’d seen her nerves beforehand. This was something good and he was really thinking of ruining it? With that, he did the best thing he could think of, and shut his mouth.
“How will we be arriving?” Ivy asked, excitedly. She scooted forward in her chair.
“We get tickets too?”
The woman laughed, and Ivy’s face faltered. “Oh no, child. We’ll pay, and the cost will be paid by you later, of course.”
“But-but we don’t have any money,” Clive said.
“You’ll figure it out, I’m sure,” the woman said, standing up. “I transferred the tickets to your tablets. You’ll find a Rail about a ten minutes’ walk down the block.”
Ivy and Clive exchanged glances. Clive turned to the woman. “Thank you,” he said coolly. He got to his feet, and with Ivy close behind, left the room.
They followed the other few seventeen year olds down the hall. Clive knew within two turns, they’d be out in the world.
Free, and entirely broke.
“We need jobs,” Ivy said, turning to Clive, struggling to keep up with his pace.
Clive shrugged. “Like that lady said, I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”
He lied. He had absolutely no idea.
“What about your writing?” Ivy said, her eyes sparking. “What if you submitted it somewhere?”
“It’s not that good, Ivy.”
She shrugged. “I think they’re some of the best stories I’ve ever heard.”
“They’re probably the only stories you’ve ever heard.”
Clive didn’t respond. The end of the hall was approaching. He couldn’t breathe as the security guard pushed it open, the old door creaking on its hinges.
It seemed as if the whole group was holding its breath.
The guard scowled. “Come on! Out, the lot of you!”
Everyone jumped and quickly shuffled out the door. Ivy grabbed Clive’s hand, and they rushed down the concrete steps. He took a deep breath of the crisp, cold air of the Sycamore region, and probably would’ve frozen in panic if Ivy hadn’t taken a harsh turn and jogged down the sidewalk.
“Ivy! Slow it!”
“We have nothing to slow for!”
He wrenched his hand from her grip and ran beside her. The world was alive, and it moved without any sort of order. The cubic shaped buildings stood at various sizes, and holographic signs, with brown shingles on each roof. Civilians bustled without a care across streets, autos driving through.
No one paid them the slightest notion.
Within seconds, they’d just been absorbed into the commotion of society.
Clive hated SpeedRails.
That’s what he decided when he stepped off his first one.
Way too many people crammed together. The seats were mostly full, so he stood in front of Ivy glaring at anyone who dared look at her. It was humid and dirty, and sent a weird feeling into his stomach. Ivy waved goodbye to a woman she’d engaged in conversation with the entire time.
“That was fun,” she said, turning to waltz up the steps and out of the station. Clive resisted groaning, and followed after her.
They pushed out the doors, and all of Clive’s fears of not being able to find the building were crushed. Right across the street was the tallest brick building he’d ever seen, covered in vines. The windows were trimmed in white, with black metal balconies. A gate circled around it, and a glowing sign above the door clearing indicated it as “The Edwardian Complex.”
Their aunt had sent them to live here? He shook it off. Maybe she only felt like she had to since they were her sibling’s children.
“Do you see those plants?”
“They’re green,” Clive blurted out, stupidly.
“Yes. That means they’re alive.” Ivy frowned at him. “Have you ever seen plants before?”
“Of course, I have,” Clive said, quickly. “Come on. Let’s go.”
He waited for the cluster of autos to pass as Ivy went on about the plants. “I think I’d want Avedro Uminos as vines if I had a building. They’re natural pest repellents, and deadly to certain blood types...though I don’t think that’d be helpful unless a robber tried to, you know, eat it---”
They were open. He grabbed Ivy’s arm and ran across the road in a heart racing moment, jumping to the opposite sidewalk, breathless.
Ivy looked rattled, blinking a few times before pulling away from him. “Warn me next time,” she grumbled.
“I didn’t want to interrupt your lesson.”
She punched him in the arm. He cracked a smile.
“The Bhasin siblings, I presume?”
Ivy and Clive spun around. Through the gate, a stern-faced woman stood. Her hair was an unnatural black, pulled tightly up in a slick wet bun, her eyes dark and stern. Her nose and chin were pointed, and her dark jacket made her shoulders look broad. Her figure demanded a sense of authority, which Clive had no doubt was given to her.
Somehow that fact made him want to do everything in his power to rebel, but he knew better. Another adult to control his every step. How lovely.
“Hello,” Ivy said, stepping forward. “We’re twins, actually.”
The woman’s expression hardly changed. “Alvarez is waiting for you.”
The gates suddenly opened. Clive’s eyes widened. How in the he--
“Hurry along,” the woman said, ushering them down the cobblestone path.
Ivy punched him again, and hurried after the woman. Clive rolled his eyes, and followed at a slower pace. They walked up the steps and through the enormous oak doors.
The inside was a startling difference from the exterior. The place smelled of a faint flower Clive only knew from Ivy’s hours in the greenhouse. The walls were covered in an elegant, but old, wallpaper, and an intricately carved desk stood in the middle.
A chandelier hung from the ceiling, the reflections of the lights dancing across the ceiling.
“Not what you expected?”
Clive jerked his head in the direction of the voice. In the corner stood a middle-aged man, a fine dark red suit standing out boldly in the room. His skin was a brown tone, a neatly cut beard on his face.
He stepped out from the shadows, his eyes reflecting the warmth of his kind smile.
“Most people are a bit startled to find the apartments decorated like a pre-earthshaker home,” he said, gesturing to a painting hung on the wall of a pale woman, her long golden locks falling along her shoulders, vines crawling along the base, the sun falling as the night sky just pierced the background. It wasn’t a hologram or a photograph. Clive’s eyes widened.
In such a style that hadn’t been popular for centuries. Where did someone even get something like that?
“I take pride in being a little diverse from the present. Going back to our history before the war.”
“It’s beautiful,” Ivy said, with a small nod. “Ms. Sapphira, my teacher, told us about them. Are the vines in the painting the same as the ones outside?”
Clive cringed at the question.
The woman scoffed, and Clive nearly turned to give her a piece of his mind when the man said, “They do hold a resemblance.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Do you have an interest in botany, Miss Bhasin?”
Ivy blinked in surprise. “I do. I want to go to University, actually, sir.”
“Highly unlikely,” the woman said. “Child, you might be better going back to the elementary levels.”
“Don’t talk to her like that.” Clive scowled.
“I’m Horacio Alvarez,” the man said, breaking through the tension.
“But Mr. Alvarez to you,” the woman said, raising her chin. “I am only Stedman.”
Ivy nodded obediently, as if she hadn’t just insulted her. Clive refused to acknowledge Stedman.
An uneasy silence settled among them.
Ivy cleared her throat. “We are-”
“Clive,” Mr. Alvarez nodded to Clive. “-And Ivy.” He nodded to his sister. “The OHS, as well as your aunt, informed us.”
“You know our aunt?” Ivy said.
“We’ve had our fair share of crossing paths,” Mr. Alvarez said, with a heavy breath.
Stedmanlooked up to them, tucked a stiff loose hair behind her ear, and strode to them. “I’ll show them to their apartment.”
“That would be lovely,” Mr. Alvarez said with a nod. “I hope to see you later, Ivy and Clive.”
Clive nodded to him, catching himself sort of hoping to actually see him later. He somewhat liked the man. However odd...he was kind.
Stedman tapped her foot. “Come now. We don’t have all afternoon.”
Ivy and Clive rushed after her as she pushed through the door. Clive wanted to thank Mr. Alvarez, but didn’t get a chance as once he stepped into the center of the building, his entire mind went blank. His jaw nearly fell. This place is insane.
Floors went up as high as the eye could see, doors lining the walls, on each floor, an open hallway overlooking the center they stood on.
“We don’t have elevators here,” Stedman said as they went for the metal grate stairs. “Alvarez is against them. It ruins the feel.” The stairs were in a spiral, rising higher and higher.
So far, they’d passed two floors. How was it possible for a place like this to exist? And for them to be permitted in such a building?
“If we hear any news of disturbance, you’ll be sent to the lower floors,” she said.
Clive didn’t like the sound of that.
“We prohibit the use of smoking, or large gatherings. All guests must be checked in with identification papers on hand. We have no tolerance for thieves. You cannot leave trash out in the halls. Too many interferences-”
Stedman stopped at floor nine.
“You’ll be evicted. And another group of OHS kids will be on the streets.”
“We’ve had a few others stay here,” she explained as she moved quickly, dodging a bot pushing a laundry cart. “A rowdy bunch of troubled children. You’re only permitted here due to a familiar relation.”
Ivy glanced at Clive nervously. He shrugged. They weren’t rowdy. Ivy was the most well-behaved orphan the OHS ever had, and Clive was good at staying out of the way.
“Room 039,” Stedman said, stopping at one of the green doors. She removed a card from her pocket. “I was able to convince Alvarez to at least install key scanners. So do not lose the card, or you will be locked from your room.”
She handed the key card to Clive. She unclipped a device from her belt. “Now I will take your Comm number.”
“Comm?” Ivy said, cringing.
“Yes a-” Stedman stopped. She groaned. “Don’t tell me neither of you have a Communicator?”
Clive shook his head. Tablets were cheaper to issue than Comms, but he knew tablets were terrible communication devices. They hadn’t really a need for them before. “Nope.”
Stedman scowled, scribbling something down on her pad. “I guess this means I’ll have to make another round today,” she snapped. She finished writing, put the device back on her belt.
“Now,” she snapped. “Behave yourselves. I’ll be back with your Comms tonight.”
She was going to get them Comms? Odd. She didn’t seem to want to, so why was she? The only answer that popped in his head was Mr. Alvarez.
The twins promised, and Stedman left in a hurry. Clive held the key card up in his hand and the door clicked open. He held his breath as he stepped inside.
The censors had the light burst on as they entered.
It was a snug room, with a velvet parlor couch, a hologram projector, a scrawny pair of chairs and a bedside table to be a dining table. A small kitchen was also in the wall. A bathroom, and two bedrooms.
Ivy was quick to claim the one with the window.
Clive stepped into his own. He flicked the lights on. The bed had no frame, only a mattress, though it was made neatly and welcoming. The closet was impossibly tiny, and the desk took up most of the room.
Clive set his bag down on the mattress and collapsed, staring at the ceiling.
No doubt the evening was fast approaching, but he didn’t have the energy or will to get up and join Ivy, who he heard clanging around in the basement. He heard her turn on music, most likely from her tablet. It was the old playlist they’d gathered when they were younger from their home region...a place they’d never visited, but was always nice to think it was home.
A home and culture that had been stolen from him and he desperately wanted to find any way to immerse himself.
He closed his eyes, trying to calm down his racing heart. He needed a job as soon as possible, and he knew his writing wouldn’t be able to support them. Would he have to force Ivy to get one too when she dreamt of a University career?
Who was he to tell her it was unrealistic?
A small thump burst his eyes open. His room was dark. The lights must have shut off. He sat up. “Ivy?”
Another thump. He turned to the dresser. The lamp shook on top.
He frowned, slowly sitting up. A small light seeped from under the dresser. What the heck?
He got to the ground, lying his face on the carpet, looking under. His heart skipped in his chest as a floating light stared at him with two transparent holes.
He most definitely screamed.
He flew back, slamming against the nightstand, something falling and crunching under his foot.
Ivy burst into the room, armed with a shoe. “What’s wrong?”
“There’s a thing?”
“I have no--IT’S MOVING.” The little glow hovered out from under the drawer. Clive cursed, jumping up onto the mattress, flattening himself against the wall. “Ivy! Save yourself!”
Ivy did the exact opposite. She crept toward it.
What was she doing? Was she insane?
She slowly crept over to his dresser, never lowering the shoe. She glanced at Clive, and then in one one swift movement, threw the shoe and grabbed the jar from his dresser, dumping out the flowers with a splash, and jumped for the light. It bounded out of the way.
“Don’t let it get away, Clive!”
Clive grabbed his bag, chucking it in the path of the glowy thing. It turned toward him, and he scrambled off the mattress. Ivy chased after it with the jar.
Clive grabbed Ivy’s shoe from off the floor, raising it as a shield. The glowy thing went right through. Clive cried out, and dropped to the floor.
With a slam, Ivy came down with the jar right next to Clive’s face, the glowy thing facing him.
“Ivy, it’s going to escape--”
The glowy thing clinked up against the side of the jar. Clive frowned, slowly sitting up, scooting away. “What the heck?”
“It’s kind of cute,” Ivy said, reaching for the jar’s lid.
“No. It’s terrifying.”
Ivy screwed the lid on top, holding it up, examining the glowy thing. “What is it?”
“I have no idea,” Clive said, his heart hammering. They weren’t out much. Maybe it was a creature they hadn’t heard about before? Okay, but how was it possible that it defied literal physical matter though? He shuddered.
“We need to get rid of it, Ivy.” Or at least tell some sort of security.
“No. I’m keeping it.”
“I already named it. We can’t get rid of it now,” she said, getting to her feet. “She’ll stay in my room with me.”
“It is not a she.”
“It’s a he?” she frowned.
Clive groaned. “No! Ivy, I don’t think it’s anything.”
She shrugged. “Well, its name is Courtney, and she is staying in my room. You won’t even see it.”
“Fine,” he grumbled. There was no arguing with her anyway. “But we’re finding out what it is once I tell Stedman tomorrow morning, and then getting rid of it.”
Ivy shrugged dismissively, and he doubted she was listening. “Whatever you say.”
With that, his twin sister walked out of his room with a glowing entity in a jar under her arm. Clive sat in the dark, dazed. His nerves felt like they were running on overtime. He felt too tired to unpack, but unable to even try to sleep, the horrifying glowing ball of light jumping out at him running over and over in his mind.
That wasn’t natural. It couldn’t be. He refused to believe it. He had other things to worry about, like paying the rent, and keeping his childish sister in check who was keeping…something as a pet and had a total of two skills and both were plant based.
They’d be out in the streets or in a Defender’s office for a youth unemployment camp.
He doubted their fantastic aunt was coming to save them.
It was all up to him.