To be honest, I don't know where the idea for this story came from—it was one of those wonderful little pieces that essentially write themselves while you sit back and watch. It began as an essay for a standardized test (waaaaaaay back in high school) where the prompt was to write about 'something happening in the future'...ridiculously vague or wonderfully open-ended, depending on how you look at it. Committed theatre student that I am, this is what I ended up writing. Hope you enjoy!
IMPORTANT NOTE: For those of you who aren't familiar with theatrical terminology, 'places' is the time (usually 5 minutes before the curtain goes up) when actors need to be in their places for the beginning of the play (hence the name). It's customary for technicians to give a time 'heads up' to the actors at regular intervals, to which the actors respond by repeating back the time and saying 'thank you', or just saying 'thank you.' Aside from being a courteous response, this convention lets the technician know that the message was heard...well, provided that the techie is...erm, functioning properly....
"30 minutes to places."
The techie-bot hovered in the doorway, its photosensor "eyes" whirring as they adjusted to the bright lights of the actor’s dressing room. In a cursory glance, the bot took in the costume rack near the door, the open makeup kit on the table, and the room's sole occupant who sat at the mirror as he carefully applied something to his right eye. The man's powerful, sharply chiseled features bore a look of intense concentration, though to the bot, this merely registered as a tightening of the lines around his mouth. With its basic software struggling to explain the lack of verbal response, the techie concluded that the human had not understood, and repeated the message.
"30 minutes to places."
The actor sighed and carefully placed the eyeliner pencil back in the makeup kit. Twisting in his chair, he turned to the bot still hovering in the doorway.
"Thank you," he said, enunciating clearly. Techies tended to have low-quality audio-processing software, the robotic equivalent to being nearly deaf.
"I’m sorry sir, I do not understand. 30 minutes to places." The man groaned; he knew the bot would not leave until it received the customary "thank you" that meant its message had been delivered.
"30 minutes—thank you," he repeated, pitching his naturally light baritone lower. This was an attempt to aid the struggling audio-processors, which responded better to deeper voices. The robot’s photosensors blinked in response, and with a sigh, the man turned back to the mirror and picked up the eyeliner pencil again.
"I’m sorry sir, I do not understand. 29 minutes to places."
Swearing, the actor rose from his seat with a lithe grace to confront the bot, the pencil now lying forgotten on the countertop.
"I said, ‘thank you’!"
"I’m sorry sir, I do not under—"
"Dammit, I said ‘thank you’!"
"I’m sorry sir—"
The man was now standing only a yard or so away from the defective bot, his handsome face flushed a vibrant red. He was under enough stress already without having to deal with this stupid, malfunctioning machine. Taking a deep breath and drawing on his Raegessian vocal training, he spoke, his voice reverberating with basso tones that made the very walls vibrate.
The bot blinked again. Then it beeped and said, "You’re welcome, sir," before leaving the way it had come.
Cursing, the man kicked the doorframe as hard as he could, a decision he regretted almost instantly. He hobbled back to the mirror and collapsed into the chair, then began delicately pulling off his shoe and sock to inspect the damage. His toe wasn’t broken (thank God, or he’d have been out of the show for the whole run), but it was certainly bruised and had already begun to swell painfully. The actor stood and started towards the door, but then thought better of it.
"Bella!" he bellowed, his voice cracking from the evening’s vocal exertion. "Bella!"
Almost instantly, a young woman—clad in black from head to toe—popped her head around the edge of the doorway. Her petite frame, aquiline nose, and pixie-cut gave her a distinctly impish look, and her cheeky grin when she saw him bent over his injured foot did nothing to improve the man’s mood.
"You rang?" she asked. The actor scowled at her.
"An ice pack. Please," he added as an afterthought. The girl raised her eyebrows in mock surprise.
"Wow...‘please’? It must be serious. What happened, Will?" She started to move in for a closer look, but he held up his hands, vehemently motioning for her to go. Dear God...those investors were in the audience tonight! And if they sent David on instead of him—he winced as he remembered his understudy’s painfully bland Hamlet from a year ago—they could kiss their funding goodbye....
"NO! No, no, no really, it’s nothing, I...Bella, stop! I just...stubbed it. Really."
"Stubbed it?" She was unconvinced, and although he was a good ten years her senior, he squirmed under her suspicious gaze. "All the shouting and Raegessian vibrations up and down the hall...for a stubbed toe?"
He didn’t reply, but stared up at her defiantly. After a moment, she sniggered, shrugged, and trotted out of the room. With a feeling of great relief, Will picked up his eyeliner pencil again. He stretched from side to side, glanced at himself in the mirror, and taking a deep breath, began applying eyeliner to his other eye. After about a minute, he glanced up and saw Bella’s reflection in the doorway, holding a package of instant-ice. He swiveled around and reached for it as she approached, but she held the pack behind her back and out of his reach.
"What do you say?" she asked slyly.
"Bella," he pleaded, "Bella, please not now. I don’t—"
"Will," she snapped, "just be polite. You’ve already said ‘please’ today, and that's quite an improvement. Come on." The actor flushed with irritation.
"Thank. You." he said coldly. Bella grinned again, then skipped to the door.
"Oh, and by the way," she said, turning to face him in the doorway and glancing at her watch, "it’s about...30 minutes to places, just so you know." And without another word, she swung around the door and was gone.