Ellie had been hired to clean the garden. That alone made little sense to her, but this was Isinglass City, where the richest and the Eternals lived. Those who had the most time and the most money spent both in fascinating ways.
There was a definite border to Isinglass City. Nothing ugly was permitted to exist, there. Not even the average was permitted to exist. It was like a giant play-park with no rides.
And even inside Isinglass City, there were the Estates. High-walled fondants of architecture, preserved under glass -no- plasma barriers in perfect soap-bubbles.
If Isinglass City was a play park, the Estates were enormous sculptures set with jewels.
At least her uniform was pressed and clean.
She arrived by the underground tunnel, and didn’t even see the garden until such time as a small staff had ‘fixed’ her every last physical detail. In the event that the Eternal who owned this place saw her, she would not offend their eye.
Ellie was given a sort of duster attached to a hose and pushed out of a small door and into what must have been the garden. It was like no garden the world had ever seen, nor likely ever would again. It was a fabricated springtime. Literally.
The cherry trees were made of muslin. The blossoms, chintz. The very grass was a giant terrycloth rug. The roses were eternally blooming velvet. and every bush held blooms of a different colour. This was a spring meant to last forever.
A garden that never grew. For an owner who never aged.
Ellie got to furious dusting, lest she be fired on her first day. Part of her catalogued everything. There was even a jewelry spider set decoratively in a web made of tulle.
And there she was. The Eternal. She was one of the Relics, from before Temporetain™ had been invented. Anyone who could afford to be Eternal now did so before they needed vanity surgery.
She, too, was a work of art. Her last surgeon had sculpted her perfectly. Except, perhaps, the lips. They were pulled so tight across her perfect face that they were almost ready to snap.
She strode barefoot across her toweling lawn, confident in the knowledge that nothing in her fabric garden would hurt her. Not even the padded robot noodling across the green expanse, eternally vacuuming the least speck of dust out of the spotless, plush and padded expanse.
Ellie worked harder. Worried that this Eternal had somehow taken offense, regardless of Ellie’s efforts.
She didn’t look up. She just concentrated on vacuuming the already spotless canvas leaves. Making sure she got every last square micron cleaner than clean.
“You’re rather prettier than the average maid,” said the Eternal.
And no others were here, so Ellie knew the Eternal was talking to her. “Thank you, m’m.”
“Do you sing?”
“It’s my job to clean the garden, m’m.” Not a denial. Not a confirmation. Just the facts as she was assigned them.
Ellie, still cleaning, sang the song her mother put her baby sibs to sleep with.
This did not impress the Eternal. “Needs work.”
Ellie watched her journey to the bar and pour herself a drink. A mocktail. Of course. Alcohol damaged the liver. Eternals dreaded any variety of damage; because in order to heal, they had to spend time off the Temporetain™.
“Tell me,” the Eternal shouted. “How would you like to live forever?”
Forever didn’t seem worth it to Ellie. But rather than offend, she said, “It’s my job to clean the garden, m’m.”
“They don’t hire me for the screen, any more,” said the Eternal as she sauntered to a (of course) padded lawn chair and arranged herself in it. “I make my money from spotting pretty little things like you… and sponsoring them on the way up. Fame, fortune. Medical cover for your relatives. All of them.”
Ellie paused, just for a moment. Medical cover. It was expensive to be poor. It cost a fortune to be poor and sick.
“Yes, I knew that would get you. Your kind are all the same. It’s all family first until you realize you don’t need them any more.”
Ellie felt nauseated at the very idea of not needing family. Then she realized. This woman had outlasted anyone who was close to her.
How could she stand to be that alone and that old?