Ivy ventures out on her own to the University, and gets more than she bargains for.
Ivy didn’t dream.
A kid who sat behind her in the physics classroom had told her it wasn’t possible and she had issues, but she hadn’t bothered to inform him that anyone who voluntarily took classes had issues.
She didn’t sleep enough to dream, or remember it at all.
As soon as she felt the warm sunlight against her face, Ivy’s eyes flew open, sitting right up in bed. She stretched the sleep off, shivering at the delightful sensation of the sun on her skin. She turned to the window beside her that overlooked the fall view of the Sycamore street. No autos were out, and a few people in suits, or spare children in tweed coats and buckled boots, ran by. The trees were bare, but she longed to see them in full bloom.
This was her room, her home, now.
She imagined waking up one day to a spring morning, the trees full in bloom with their enormous green leaves she’d always seen from her high dorm room in the OHS.
Ivy jumped, spinning around to see the jar sitting on her nightstand. Her heart leapt. “You’re still here,” she gasped, clambering off her bed to her knees, bringing her face to the glass.
The empty spots stared back at her.
She cocked her head. “You’re a strange little thing, aren’t you?”
Courtney didn’t respond.
Ivy laughed, patting the jar’s lid, making the creature jump. “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you. We’ll figure out what you are, and prove to Clive you aren’t dangerous. Sound like a good plan?”
Since Courtney didn’t seem to have the capacity to communicate, Ivy took that as an agreement. She sorted through her drawers, which she’d spent the usual time she couldn’t sleep organizing. While most of her OHS residents resented the surplus of cardigans and sweaters, which all probably belonged to an eldery woman and all had been donated after one died, Ivy took pride in them.
They were different than Sycamore’s popular beige tones, and thick sturdy fabrics. And she was excited to stick out in them. Perhaps it would make an impression with the University.
She picked up her bag from the doorknob, grabbing her botany tablet, the Comm Stedman had dropped off late last night…she hadn’t been too pleased to see Ivy up…and then finally carefully slid Courtney inside too. She winked to the curious creature and buckled up the bag. She slung it over her shoulder and opened her door out into the kitchen.
It was empty, and peaceful, as Ivy clicked on the music player. She opened the cupboards to find them empty, besides a generous loaf of bread, and over the stove, made a fine breakfast on its own.
Clive’s door banged open. Her brother trailed into the room, half alive, rubbing his face, not bothering to fix the hair stuck to his forehead and in his eyes.
“You look lovely,” Ivy said, tossing him a toasted piece of bread.
It hit him on the shoulder. He looked down at it, frowning, before looking back up at Ivy.
She shrugged. “Breakfast?”
“Oh, so this all wasn’t just a dream? Great,” he grumbled, picking up the bread, studying it with suspicion.
She sighed, clicking off the stove. “I have to be going soon.”
“Big plans for today?” Clive said dryly, plopping down into a seat at the table.
She’d be home to surprise him about the University. That would cheer him up. “Certainly.”
She walked to him, whacking the hair from his face. He rolled his eyes at her, and she gave him a pat on the head as she ran for the door. “Shower, you need it.”
He laughed hoarsely. “Don’t get lost.”
She laughed back, calling back to him before she closed the door. “I never get lost.”
She was lost.
This was the second time too.
She knew she shouldn’t have stopped to talk to Mr. Alvarez about the vines again. She was sure she’d stood with him for over half an hour, as he hurriedly took notes down on his tablet.
She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it.
He’d seemed tired, his hair unkempt, unlike yesterday when it had been gelled to perfection. She’d caught him off guard, but he seemed otherwise happy to answer questions.
“Were the vines always here?” Ivy asked as she stepped beside him, craning her neck to look up the enormous apartment building, and clasping her hands behind her back.
Mr. Alvarez picked up a coffee cup from the ground beside his feet. “I grew them myself.”
“You’re fond of botany?” Ivy said, trying to keep down her bubbling enthusiasm on the topic. Seeing how the complex was full of beautiful, and even exoctic, plants, she wouldn’t be surprised.
“As in a gardener?” Mr. Alvarez chuckled, taking a long sip from the cup. His large brown eyes looked up toward the building with a tight sigh. “In the recent years, I’ve tried to garden, young Bhasin, but I dare say I’m really no good at it.”
“In recent years?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
Ivy shrugged. She’d been told that before, but asking questions was the only way of getting answers. Why did that seem to be such a noteworthy comment?
“I studied something similar in university,” Alvarez said, after a pause. “Gardening is far more gentle. In recent times, the earth seems rageful.”
“You’re speaking of the forest,” Ivy said.
Everyone was speaking about it in one way or another. The mysterious woods that seemed to be growing at a rapid speed outside the city. Similar happenings were around the world. Theories were linked to more plant modification testing, and others made bizarre claims of the supernatural.
Either way, Ivy was intrigued by the situation, despite the fact her net time had been limited at the OHS.
“That is a good example,” he laughed softly. “Though I wouldn’t worry yourself over it. Far greater dangers exists, like Exil Libium and Wraith Weed.”
Familiar words made Ivy’s heart beat. “I see Exil Libium, but not Wraith Weed. It was a failed experiment based on the urban legends around the war.”
During the great war over three centuries ago, some believed people with bizarre supernatural abilities were a part of the conflict. While Ivy found it boring, Clive had gone through a phase of writing all his theories on the matter of them. They were well written and somewhat convincing, but she never admitted it.
“Exil Libium was created to harm humans, like Agent Reyna Wents. Took her out for months.” Ivy knew of the Curatrix Member, now ten years deceased after being murdered. But she didn’t know the deadly plant had been used on her. “But Wraith Weed was always intended of a kind…more sinister.”
“If such a thing exists,” Ivy said, shrugging her heavy bag over her shoulder.
Mr. Alvarez turned to Ivy, looking at her for a long moment. “Skeptical, Bhasin?”
She smiled. “Hopeful,” she corrected.
Mr. Alvarez laughed. The beeping of his watch cut him off. He tapped it, his smile falling from his face.
“I should be going,” he said with a long sigh. “Another time, Miss Bhasin?”
She returned it with a small nod.
And now five hours later, she felt like she’d looked and visited every site that wasn’t the University.
All the streets were pretty, but also looked exactly the same, so her method of using trees as landmarks was proving to be very ineffective. More people began crowding the streets, making it even harder to recognize the grass patches in the sidewalk, and not get distracted by the woman in the curious red bowl hat with a large white tulip pinned to the side, or a young teenage boy zooming past on a hovercycle.
Ivy tried to move with the crowd, tugging on a man’s sleeve. He wrenched it out of her grip, scowling at her. “What do you want?”
Ivy tried her best to smile brightly despite his ugly glower. “I just need some directions.”
“Don’t you have a Comm, kid?”
“I-I do, but I’m not entirely sure how to use---”
“I don’t have time for this,” the man sighed, trying to move back into the flow with a glare to Ivy, who stood still as the crowds moved around her.
She waved to a woman with copper hair, trimmer short to curl around her kind face. “Hello?”
The woman moved quicker.
What was she doing wrong?
Her stomach sank, and she held her sweater close to her chest, moving quickly through the crowd. She swore she remembered where the University had been. It was an enormous building. Not hard to miss.
She wished she was as tall as Clive. There was a reason people always thought he was much older. His mature, however disappointing, outlook on life and his height.
Ivy straightened, squeezing between two people, straining her eyes for any sort of landmark.
Someone brushed up against her. She jumped, whirling around to see a boy in a cap startled to meet her eye. He dashed away.
She frowned. Odd.
She sighed, ignoring it. Maybe it was time to call Clive and admit defeat for the day. Her heart dropped.
Her hand met an empty pocket.
It was gone.
She was sure she’d put it there that morning, along with the daisy growing through the cracks of the sidewalks.
“Hey!” Ivy cried out, breaking out into a run after him. She spotted him dashing around the door. She shoved past a confused businessman, shouting an apology as she darted around the corner.
Why had he stolen her Comm? It had no use for him. That was just a plain nasty thing to do.
“You’re awful!” she shouted after him.
The boy didn’t seem to care, or even bother to look over his shoulder with a single sorry. How could someone with human decency steal without even saying sorry for it?
Ivy nearly collided with two women leaving a store that exploded with fragrance. She scrambled back, her senses tempted to turn and become absorbed with the fascinating scents in the bottles.
Flowers in bottles. She wanted one.
No. She had priorities.
“Sorry!” She called back to the women.
The boy ran into a roadblock. The crosswalk bot signaled red. This was Ivy’s moment. She ducked behind a man, who had an interesting yellow hat with a large brim, and was completely engrossed in his tablet.
The boy looked over his shoulder, his eyes darting around for her. His shoulders relaxed, not spotting her. He moved with confidence over the crosswalk as Ivy quickened her pace. She was now at his pace. And his chin was as high as his pride. Too high to see her.
Ivy jumped out, slamming into the boy. He cried out, tripping over the step to the small office building, landing backwards on the small staircase; in between the steps was a concrete ramp. He wore a well stitched coat, and his shoes even had a shine to them. He looked in no way needy.
“Hand over my Comm!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, girl!” The fact his entire chubby freckled face was bright red made it quite hard to believe that statement.
“Stealing is—” Ivy scrambled for a word. “Wrong!”
Did he not know that?
“Help!” he screeched. “I’m getting robbed!”
Ivy blinked. “What? You robbed me--”
He continued shouting regardless. “Help! Someone send her back to a camp. Ah—”
Before the boy had another moment to shout, he was whacked over the head with a stick. Ivy staggered back, bracing herself. Her eyes rose to the open office door, and noticed a man in a green velvet suit, his brown hair combed back neatly atop his handsome face…and sat in a wheelchair, with a cane firmly in his gloved hands. The crease in his brow shot straight at the cowering boy, rubbing his head.
“S-sir, she robbed—”
The man whacked him again. “Don’t try to fool me. I saw the whole ordeal from my window. An awful thief, especially if you get caught. Ruins the whole point and fun, which seems all you wanted of it, kid.”
Ivy’s heart hammered in her chest. The man in the chair was…on her side?
The man raised the stick, and the boy scrambled up to his feet, tearing the Comm out of his pocket and without even looking Ivy in the eyes, shoved it toward her. She took it back.
The man smiled, setting both of his hands atop his cane. “Now apologize for accusing the young lady wrongly.”
The boy frowned. “You’re not my—”
The man glanced at the cane, and the boy stammered a weak ‘sorry’ out, tugging at his sleeves.
“Now, leave. Before I find out who your father is.”
The boy didn’t wait around to see if the man acted well on his threat, dashing away, turning the closest corner.
Ivy was still catching her breath. She slowly turned to face the man, taking a small step forward. “Thank you, sir.” Her eyes instantly darted to the cane. The stairs now made sense, yet that didn’t line up.
“For the style,” he said, noticing her gaze. “You really ought to be more careful, Miss—”
“Bhasin,” Ivy said, with a small curtsy. “Ivy Bhasin.”
The man smiled brightly. “Kaden Pearce,” he said, with a small bow of his head.
“It’s lovely to meet you, sir,” Ivy said, her eyes trailing from him, her heart leaping upon seeing the glorious yellow vines reeling up the beige brick building. The windows were full of plants, some she had never seen before in full bloom.
Her eyes widened, looking to see an orange bud peeking out of its sharp, thin leafy cocoon. “Exil Libium,” she breathed, turning to Mr. Pearce. “You have modified plants?”
Mr. Pearce’s eyes widened with surprise. “You recognize it?”
“Yes, of course!” Ivy said, her heart flipping, trying not to rock excitedly on her feet. Clive said it was childish. “It’s an acidic creation, meant for killing internal targeted bacteria.”
Mr. Pearce’s bright green eyes glinted. “Fascinating,” he murmured. “You wouldn’t happen to be a transfer to the University, would you?”
There it was. The University.
He thought she already attended? Her face warmed as she shook it. “No, sir. I’m from the Orphan Housing System, but I am on my way to apply.”
“Ah, I see,” he said, his eyes narrowing with thought. “Before you were pickpocketed?”
“Well, I was lost even before then.” She dug her heel into the sidewalk.
“You need directions? My dear, I’d be happy to provide them. I have just the chip for you. It’d only be a moment.” He turned excitedly in his wheelchair, not giving Ivy a moment to consider what Clive would say about accepting help from a stranger.
She rushed up the steps, and the door opened with a tap of the man’s cane. The room flooded with the sweet scent of old pages, which she only knew from the Agent Zita Klirkpatrick memorial on the third floor. While the pictures of the infamous Curatrix team were interesting, the smell of the paper was always what brought Ivy back.
The man’s office…shop…whatever it was, was quite literally a heaven. Shelves full of real books and tablets, and pots full of curious plants. Ivy couldn’t blink as she spun, taking it all in.
The man wheeled quickly to his desk, pulling the drawer open. He sighed, pushing through the paper, tossing out a few floppy file transfers. “This’ll take a moment.”
“Take your time,” Ivy said, breathlessly walking slowly around the room.
The sunlight fell gently over the plants along the table. Some had price tags hovering at their base, while others had been recently potted.
Some she didn’t even recognize. Others she’d only seen in books, like the Viola Harpus, known for its purple veins, and its ability to soothe worry. It had been created to help with war trauma, but had quickly been decommissioned once the overdose was found to be deadly, driving its victim insane.
As long as you didn’t eat it, it was perfectly harmless.
Ping! Ping! Ping!
Ivy jumped, her bag jostling and moving about. She tore open the buckle. Courtney was going crazy in her jar, banging every which direction against the walls. What was going on? Was she just getting tired of being cooped up?
Ivy stepped back, and Courtney settled.
Ivy frowned, looking around. Was Courtney triggered by…a plant?
She glanced around with a frown. She stepped toward the Viola Harpus. Courtney moved to the plant for refuge. Ivy turned slowly, before her eyes widened, settling on a black pot on a nearby shelf, holding the pot overflowing with the familiar vines and sharp leaves of Wraith Weed. She stepped toward it, and Courtney began pinging again.
Ivy stepped back, blinking in surprise. Wraith Weed wasn’t even a successful experiment, based on superstition. Her stomach flipped.
Unless that’s exactly what Courtney was.
“I found it!” Mr. Pearce shouted, waving a small file insert in his hand.
Ivy tore her eyes from the display, and rushed to him. She’d deal with the matter later.
He handed it to her, and she stared at the blue chip that was her saving grace. “Thank you so much. You have no idea!”
“It’s nothing if it’s to help another OHS kid into the university,” he said with a wink.
Ivy paused halfway inserting the chip into her Comm. “Another? You were—”
He waved her off. “Yes, yes. Quite the sob story. A child born with a serious condition to neglect is never a good mix.” He sighed, seeming almost bored at the matter, as Ivy fought the impulse to ask more about what the disease was, and if he was a botanist, and perhaps also had a grumpy twin brother. “Your story have any similarities, Miss Bhasin?”
Ivy laughed shortly, shaking her head. “It’s just me and my brother. We don’t know the details, just that we weren’t born here.”
Why was she telling this to this man? She hardly knew him, yet she wanted to. This entire place was a dream come true. This was the future she wanted, and Mr. Pearce had achieved it.
Take that, Clive, who said it was impossible.
“You better hurry. The office closes early today,” Mr. Pearce said, rolling out from behind his desk, rushing with Ivy to the door.
She inserted her chip quickly, the coordinates lighting up her screen. She stepped out the door, turning to face Mr. Pearce, scrambling for the right words as she met his eyes. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll repay you soon.”
The man smiled with a hearty laugh. “I have no doubt you will, Bhasin.”
With that, Ivy raced down the steps and back out into the sidewalks of Sycamore. She followed the glowing blue dot on her screen, careful to not even loosen her grip on her Comm. She knew better than to ever trust boys with freckles ever again.
The crowds began to grow thinner. Her breath caught as the enormous, iconic Sycamore University dome rose within view. She could get there on her own now. She shut off her Comm and burst into a sprint.
She dashed across the street, jumping safely to the sidewalk. She caught her breath, looking up to the University towering above and around her. It was incredible. Her hands began to shake. She clenched them, forcing herself to take a deep breath. She had this.
She held her head high, and strode with confidence up the steps, and through the towering marble pillars. The glass doors opened automatically, and Ivy stepped inside, her heart stopping.
The room smelled of detergent, and rightfully so, as every surface glimmered from the shiny marble walls. The walls rose high, showing the second story as students and staff walked above. Elaborate carvings led up the ceiling and railing as intricately crafted lights lit the upstairs hall, casting dancing shadows down in the lobby below. Velvet couches were situated around the lobby, small bookshelves served as tables, carrying masses of tablets, and another held a carved bust of founding Defending Officer, Nominzol Kulug, labeled to have been commissioned by the Curatrix Defender Reyna Wents.
The heels of Ivy’s boots clicked against the shiny floor as she made her way to the large front desk, which made an entire circle in the center of the room, and was occupied by a woman with her hair up in a tight bun and glasses pinching the brim of her nose. She looked up, and upon seeing Ivy, let out a long sigh, letting the bag slip off her shoulder and into her chair.
“Can I help you?” she said, a curl of annoyance in her nose.
Ivy reached the desk, putting on a smile, for which she only got a raised eyebrow in return.
“I’d like to apply,” she said, standing straighter.
“And who are you?” the woman said, glancing at her screen. “I don’t see an application appointment.”
Ivy swallowed. “I’m Ivy Bhasin. Seventeen. Sycamore. I didn’t know I needed an appointment.”
The woman sighed…a little too long for Ivy’s comfort. She pulled open a Scroll device on her desk. “What part of Sycamore?”
Ivy frowned. What part? “Uh…maybe the middle?”
The woman looked up, with another sigh. “You don’t know what part of your home region you’re from?”
Ivy scrambled for an answer, clasping her hands behind her back to keep the woman from seeing them shake. “I wasn’t born here, but it’s my registered region if that’s what you mean, ma’am?”
The woman pinched the bridge of her nose. “Just…where did you come from this morning?”
“The Edwardian Complex.”
The woman’s hand dropped to the counter, her eyes widening. She stood up straighter, adjusting her tie. “Now, that’s a lovely place.”
“Yes it is,” Ivy said, her shoulders relaxing. So it wasn’t as bad as she thought. One mention of the Complex. “Much better than the OHS.”
The woman’s face faltered. “E-excuse me. The-the OHS?”
“Yes?” Ivy said, biting her lip. “I just left yesterday.”
The woman’s face paled, with a groan. “And you intend to apply?”
What had Ivy said wrong?
The woman snapped her Scroll shut, immediately turning from Ivy to pack her bag.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Ivy said, leaning over the desk. “I-I have qualifications. I was educated, just ask Ms. Sapphira at OHS. Specifically scientifically engineered botany. I can tell you exactly the effects of Exil Libium and—”
The woman turned, slamming her bag against the desk, exasperated.
Ivy stepped back in surprise.
“The question isn’t whether you have an education. It’s whether you have the funds.”
Ivy blinked, struggling to form words. “But a University is an institute for learning.”
“Which you must pay for.” The woman took up her bag over her shoulder. “And I can tell from your little face, I think our conversation is over.”
A small door in the desk slid open, and the woman clicked away on her heels out the door.
Ivy couldn’t breathe. Just like that…it was over?
Her Comm went off, but she ignored it.
She clenched the strap of her bag, forcing herself to swallow. But Mr. Pearce had gotten into the University, and he was OHS. How? They hadn’t even heard her out. Let her talk to a professor.
A giggle caught her off guard.
She turned to see a small group of girls standing on the side of the circular front desk, avoiding her gaze as one signed a hologram on the desk.
Ivy waved awkwardly.
The laughter ceased. The girl slammed down her stylus, fluffed her curls, and cast Ivy a side eye before ushering the other girls off. One, with her left knee sock scrunched to her ankle, hesitated. She cast Ivy a shy look before tucking a braid behind her ear, and tapping the counter. A flat hologram appeared, and with a quick swipe, she sent it flying in Ivy’s direction.
“It’s not impossible,” she said, quietly, before rushing off after the group of flustered girls.
Ivy frowned, stopping the hologram gliding under her hand.
She looked down.
FINANCIAL AIDE PROGRAM FOR EXCEPTIONAL CASES
For those looking for a higher experience from lower situations, we are happy to provide a unique opportunity to a select number of applicants.
1400 POUND UPFRONT
That was more than triple the amount Ivy and Clive had…which could even be more than 100 pounds with what they’d been provided, but it certainly was doable.
Letter of Reference
A score of over 4.0 on ES Histories
EarthShaker wasn’t her speciality, but she’d take it. She copied the contact information into her Comm, and swiped away the document. Perhaps Mr. Pearce or even Alvarez could get her a letter, and studying wasn’t exactly something she struggled with.
It was still the 1400 upfront that was stopping her.
She’d find a way. She always did.
She moved quickly out the glass doors. The sky had grown darker, and a light drop of rain met her face. Lovely. Rain was a good sign. It was nourishment, life, and a sign life would keep going.
But it didn’t mean she really wanted to get soaked in it.
She hurried along the cobblestone sidewalk, clutching her sweater, feeling bad as she ran jostling Courtney up and down in her jar. Her Comm vibrated against her side, as it was tucked in the waist of her skirt. She ignored it as she skirted around the slow crowd.
People around her began to stop as she passed. She frowned, but their eyes weren’t on her. Some hurried into the nearest shop and others stepped forward in excited whispers.
And then Ivy heard it.
An odd wailing…a familiar one. Ivy’s ears perked in shock, whirling around, seeing a blank tinted auto turn the street.
She’d never seen one quite like it before so close. She pressed forward, hoping to watch it pass when the Defender auto began to…slow.
The window rolled down. Ivy held her breath as a female officer with black painted lips, cropped short black hair, and tanned skin, held a small rectangular announcer to her mouth.
“Step out with your hands raised, Bhasin.”
Ivy frowned. Her?
She staggered back. She hadn’t been out long enough to break the law. Had the University woman called the Defenders on her?
The woman scowled, slamming open the door. The crowd gasped back. The woman looked down at her device, sighing as she pushed her way through. Ivy froze. Maybe if she didn’t move--
The Defender’s gaze landed on Ivy, her eyes hardening. “You certainly do look like him. What are you hiding, Bhasin?”
“N-nothing.” Ivy could feel everyone looking at her now, her mind itching to run.
The woman stormed toward her. “You were sent direct emergency messages, and seeing as no reply was received, the only conclusion can be made that you were running from—”
“What emergency messages?” Ivy said, stepping back, but not before the Defender quickly grabbed her arm. Ivy could see her eyes clearly now, a soft light brown with flecks of green. Very angry, and not that old. “I-I didn’t.”
“Where is your Comm?”
“In—” Ivy began to reach for it, but the officer smacked her hand away, pulling out the Comm herself.
She clicked it on.
Ivy held her breath.
The woman's brow raised. “Oh.” She looked at Ivy. “So you really didn’t see them.”
Ivy swallowed hard and nodded, though she couldn’t keep her thoughts from spiraling and her hands from trembling in the tight grip.
The woman threw Ivy’s hand down, not handing back the Comm. “Then perhaps it’s best I tell you.”
Was she being arrested? Sent to the labor camp Clive fretted about?
“There’s been a kidnapping.”