Part II: Acclimation

(Note: This is the second installation of a two-part short story. To read the first part, click here.)

You Never Forget Your First Time (in the Inland): A Deleted Scene from the Unexpected Inlander series

Part II: Acclimation

When Angelica returned to her hotel after leaving “Green is the Forest” during intermission, she went straight to the bar in the hotel’s restaurant. She was not at all surprised that she did not recognize any of the brands of vodka that were on the shelf. She figured this lack of surprise must be part of getting “acclimated” to the Inland.

The bartender was unusually tall, making her feel grateful that she and her husband had paid extra for cosmetic modifications to control height when they had their kids. Some physical features, like height, could not be changed with cosmetic surgery and were therefore the parents’ responsibility to correct before birth.

Poor guy, she thought. His parents probably couldn’t afford those modifications.

She gave him a sympathetic look and knew she would leave an extra large tip for him. It was the least she could do for this poor soul who had clearly had a tough life since he had to live in this place.

To her surprise, he was charming and sweet and kind, and it only made her heart break for him even more. He probably had too much pride to act as pathetic as his life was.

“Tom’s sweet, isn’t he?” the Coastal woman sitting next to her said.

“Who?” Angelica asked.

The Coastal woman motioned toward the tall bartender. “Tom. He’s nice, but don’t be fooled. I’ve seen him physically throw out a few rowdy ones. He can hold his own.”

Scared, Angelica looked around.

“Relax,” the Coastal woman said. “It’s rare that anything like that happens in the Coastal District. And when it does, it’s the Coastals who get into it. Trust me, I come here all the time.”

“You do?”

“My employer owns a few factories in the area, and I come every other week to hold a meeting with the managers.”

“Owns?” Angelica asked, impressed. With 95% of the businesses in The Sectors being owned by the government, she had never met anyone who worked for a private company.

The woman held out her hand. “Paola.”

Angelica shook Paola’s hand and introduced herself.

“Do you always stay in this hotel?” Angelica asked.

“Yes, it’s the best one here,” Paola answered. “I’ve stayed in most of them, including ones outside the Coastal District.”

Angelica’s eyes widened. “You’ve been outside the Coastal District?”

Paola leaned in and whispered, “I’ve even been to Lower Inland.”

Angelica’s jaw dropped. “What is it like?” she whispered.

“I have a contact who could show you. Taxi drivers won’t take Coastals outside the Coastal District except to the airport–it’s not allowed if you don’t have official business–but I know someone with a car who will. She could even drive you by the Purebred Community or the prison, if you’re feeling adventurous.”

After a moment of just staring at Paola, hardly believing anyone could have such courage, Angelica said, simply, “No. No, I’m not adventurous at all. Why would anyone want to do that?”

“Thrill tourism.”

Angelica took a drink. She couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to leave the Coastal District, but then she thought of the Coastal she had seen at the restaurant and at “Green is the Forest.” She had wondered why he was with a Purebred Inlander, and now she wondered if that was a form of “thrill tourism,” getting some kind of thrill gambling with the risks that came with interacting with a Purebred Inlander.

Seeing the confused and worried look on Angelica’s face, Paola offered her assurance. “It’s perfectly safe,” she said. “You wouldn’t even have to get out of the car. And if you did, there are officers everywhere.”

There is an unusually high number of officers here, Angelica thought as she looked around.

“Oh no,” Paola said, as if reading Angelica’s thoughts. “There aren’t nearly as many here as compared to outside the Coastal District, especially as you get closer to the factories in Lower Inland.”

“Do they even know what they’re doing?” Angelica asked. These Inland police officers did not look like the ones on the Coasts.

“They know what they’re doing enough to get promoted to work in the Coastal District.”

“What does that mean?” Angelica asked.

“Working in the Coastal District is the highest level of promotion an Inlander can achieve. Next would be getting promoted to Coastal status and being redistributed to the Coasts. These Inlanders are trained and coached in Coastal customs. They know there are expectations Coastals have and a certain level of service and interaction that we are accustomed to. So these cops know they can’t treat us the way they treat Inlanders.”

“How does an Inlander get promoted to the Coasts?” Angelica asked.

Paola looked down at Angelica’s empty cup and motioned to the bartender to get his attention. “Hey, Tom. We’ll take another round, and I want to show her your file.”

Tom pulled an electronic notebook out from a drawer and handed it to her before making their drinks.

Paola handed the notebook to Angelica. On the screen was a form where she could write a review. Within a second, all of her information was filled in the “reviewer information” section, having accessed her details from Surveillance after using her biometric signatures to identify her. It included her name, address, citizen ID number, Societal Role, and how many were in her household. It also included details of her stay–such as the length of her stay, other staff members she had already interacted with at the hotel, how long she had been at the bar, what she had already ordered, and what services Tom had provided so far–that would be factored into the algorithms when analyzing the review and incorporating it into Tom’s permanent file.

Paola explained, “You, as a Coastal being served by this Inlander, can leave a note that goes in his permanent file. You can write anything. You could say something bad about him, which could get him demoted. You could contact his supervisor and make sure he is never allowed to step foot in the Coastal District ever again. As a Coastal customer, you have that power.”

Angelica looked at Paola and asked, “But how would that get him promoted?”

Tom set their drinks in front of them, and Paola winked at him before he walked away.

Turning back to Angelica, she answered, “You could also write something good. Eventually, with enough good reviews, an Inlander can be recommended for promotion. You, as a Coastal, could even ask to speak with his supervisor and say that you want to personally recommend him for a promotion, and that would go further than just leaving a note here.” As she said “here,” she tapped the notebook, encouraging Angelica to write something.

Angelica glanced at Tom, who was watching them from the other end of the bar while he waited. She couldn’t tell if he was nervous, but she assumed he was. She was nervous just holding access to his permanent file in her hands.

She wrote in the comment box, “Great job!” and submitted it.

Paola took the notebook from Angelica and wrote a comment, too, taking a much longer time to type it all out than Angelica had. After she submitted it, Paola put it back on the counter and shoved it toward Tom for him to take, which he did.

When he was gone, Angelica ventured to ask, “What did you write?”

“I said ‘I come to Des Moines all the time’–which they already know because of my travel history–’and this is the only bar I go to because of Tom. I don’t go anywhere else because he is the only bartender in the whole city who makes me feel like I am being served by a fellow Coastal. It’s time for him to get promoted.’”

“Oh,” Angelica said, seeing now how lame her comment was. “But won’t that just make him stay where he is? Won’t they want him here to make Coastals happy when they’re in Des Moines?”

“Happy Coastals are worth more on the Coasts. Not many come to the Inland, and when they do, they don’t spend a lot of money.”

It wasn’t that things cost less in the Inland. As far as bookkeeping was concerned, a burger was a burger and a shirt was a shirt; they cost the same across The Sectors, regardless of quality or where they were sold. The difference was that Inlanders spent little on what was not a necessity simply because they did not receive stipends that covered much more than what they needed to afford to live. Visiting Coastals did not spend much money in the Inland because the quality of everything was so low compared to what they were used to on the Coasts that it wasn’t worth buying unless they absolutely needed it. And they usually weren’t in the Inland long enough to need more than food and a place to stay. So she could see how Paola was right: at some point, they would see that his services would be best rendered on the Coasts and promote him.

Angelica thought about what it might be like for an Inlander like Tom to get promoted and become a Coastal. As hard as travel permits were to obtain, even for Coastals, and especially with how expensive they were, she knew he had probably never been outside of Des Moines. He probably didn’t know walls could be painted any color other than beige. Going to the Coasts would be mind-blowing for him, probably more so than coming to the Inland had been for her.

“Have you been to any other Inland cities?” Angelica asked Paola.

“A few,” she replied. “Before I was promoted to my current position, I did general factory inspections, so I got sent all over. Now, I’m in charge of operations for the ones here.”

“How do other Inland cities compare to Des Moines?”

“They’re all the same.”

“Yes, but what do they look like? Everything here is just a beige rectangle.”

“They’re all the same,” Paola repeated. “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”

All of them?”

“Yes,” Paola said. “After The War and the Great Redistribution, everything from the pre-War world that wasn’t destroyed in The War was demolished so every place would be equal and start afresh. It created jobs and order. Didn’t you learn that in school?”

Angelica remembered that she had learned that in school, but that was a long time ago and she had not grasped the reality of it back then. They had learned of the plans for structure and infrastructure of the new world, but it was just a concept on paper when she learned it in school. Now that she saw it in person, it was almost too much for her. It was easy and efficient–she would give them that–to plan one city and then just model all the others after that one plan. Making them all the same meant manufacturing and building would be fast. And it had been. The Inland cities in The Sectors had been completed within two years after The War’s end. They had not been changed since.

It was all becoming overwhelming. She was exhausted from the day and needed to sleep for her meeting tomorrow. She motioned to the tall bartender and told him she was ready to leave. She told him to add a hefty tip to the bill, and she was pleased by his genuine smile and “thank you” in response. He swiped her payment card and gave her a receipt.

Paola took the receipt from her and wrote her name and number on the back of it. “Call me if you need anything, okay?”

“Thank you, I will,” Angelica said.

“Seriously, call me if you need anything,” Paola reiterated. “If you have any questions or need any recommendations for where to eat or where to go or what to do in any situation, just give me a call. I’m happy to help.”

It was not until she was back in her hotel room that Angelica realized she had not even asked where Paola was from or if she had family or even what kind of products were manufactured in the factories of which she was in charge. Angelica had never acted so rudely in all her life. That Paola was still so nice to her despite her lack of Coastal manners indicated to Angelica that she was still way out of her element in the Inland. So out of her element that an experienced and cultured person like Paola had felt the need to take her in and help her.

She went to the bathroom to get ready for bed, and there was a puddle of water in the middle of the floor. First, she looked up at the ceiling, but the water did not seem to be coming from there. Then, she looked around the toilet, shower, and sink to see if the water was coming from any of those places. Unable to find the source, she called the front desk so they could send someone to address the issue. She repacked what few things she had taken out of her suitcase, assuming they would relocate her to a new room, and waited for help to come. After fifteen minutes, she called to make sure someone was coming.

When help finally arrived, it was someone who was part of the cleaning staff. The person handed her extra towels and started to leave.

“Wait!” Angelica said. “Aren’t you going to fix it?”

The person froze and said, “I don’t know how.”

“Well, isn’t there someone who can?”

“Maybe. You can call the front desk and ask them.”

Aghast at the behavior, Angelica watched the person walk away.

Angelica threw the towels over the puddle in her bathroom and called the front desk again. She thought about what Paola had said about writing in their permanent file to make sure they never worked in the Coastal District again, and she considered asking for the supervisor to do just that. But by the time someone at the front desk answered, Angelica had cooled off.

“Your file says you will check out tomorrow,” the front desk clerk said.

“Yes,” Angelica confirmed.

“We’ll have a plumber look at it, then, after you leave. Thank you for informing us of the issue.”

“Are there no other rooms available?” Angelica asked, figuring that was why they had not moved her to a new one.

“Why?”

After a moment’s shock, Angelica said, “No reason. Thank you.”

She hung up the phone and took her things out of her suitcase again. In the bathroom, she stepped around the soaked towels as she got ready for bed.

She found the least uncomfortable spot on the lumpy mattress and turned on the small TV. It didn’t work at first, and then when it did, there was a fuzziness to the sound, a static that was in the background every time someone talked. It was annoying, but she couldn’t get to sleep without the news playing. So, she just dealt with it, attributing this to just one more thing she needed to deal with to “acclimate,” as her husband and her boss had put it.

The next morning, the leak was still there in the bathroom, the puddle now extending beyond the soaked towels. She just stepped over it as she showered and got ready. She would take another shower as soon as she got home that afternoon, anyway.

Per her husband’s suggestion, she did not get room service for breakfast and instead ventured out to a diner down the road that the front desk clerk had suggested.

While she ate, she thought about Paola. There was a rough edginess to that woman that Angelica was not sure she wanted to have for herself. On the other hand, she thought about what her husband had said about getting acclimated so she didn’t look like an amateur and what her boss had said about getting acclimated so she would not be distracted at the meeting.

After breakfast, she had some time before the managers would meet with her at her hotel. Standing on the sidewalk outside the diner, she pulled out the map that the hotel had supplied and looked at it. It only showed the Coastal District. She found where she was and counted the number of blocks to the edge of the map.

Though she did not want to get so accustomed to the Inland that she turned into Paola, she also did not want her reactions to the Inland to mess up the meeting, nor did she want to just do the minimum to get through this and get home. That was not who she was.

She figured if she went beyond the Coastal District and exposed herself to more Inlanders, and therefore whatever customs and manners they had, then nothing would faze her during her meeting. She wouldn’t have to like it or get completely desensitised to it; she just needed to get used to it enough to not show any reactions to it.

She took a deep breath and started walking in the direction of the Coastal District border.

It was not a real border–there were no roadblocks or anything. She wasn’t sure what she had expected, maybe a gate or a security checkpoint at least. Instead, there were just signs on the street to delineate the Coastal District.

Standing at the intersection where her map ended, Angelica observed the rest of the Inland city. There were definitely more Inlanders. And a lot more cops. They carried batons and wore face shields. Some even had helmets and body shields for riot control. It made her shudder.

She took a step away from the Coastal District. And then another. And then another.

Her heart was racing.

“Lady, are you okay?” an Inlander asked her.

“Yes, I’m fine, thank you.”

“Do you need directions?” the Inlander asked, taking a step closer to her.

“No, thank you, I’m just going for a walk.”

“Will you write a recommendation for me to work in the Coastal District?”

Had this Inlander been standing here waiting for a Coastal to step beyond the boundaries of the Coastal District just so they could ask for a recommendation? She had half a mind to write a bad comment in his file for the harassment. “What would I say?” she asked. “I don’t even know you.”

“You could say I offered to help you.”

“I don’t need help. If anything, you’re bothering me.”

Seeing that he had upset her, the Inlander quickly ran away before she could say more–or worse, write something bad in his permanent file.

Angelica straightened. The encounter was not scary. It was empowering. She smiled to herself, feeling confident now, and walked further into the crowded city streets that were beyond the Coastal District.

Her newfound confidence, however, was short lived. Most Inlanders ignored her–the custom here was to not make eye contact or acknowledge anyone. The ones who didn’t ignore her either offered to help her in some way and then asked for a recommendation in their file or they snarled at her as if they detested her just for being a Coastal.

Still, she kept walking with her head held high, determined to do this until none of it fazed her.

One Inlander, out of the blue, asked Angelica to buy her lunch. After Angelica asked, “Why should I buy you lunch?” the Inlander walked away without responding.

One Inlander asked her to take him to the Coastal District because he’d “show her a good time for it.” She couldn’t tell if he was serious or if he was making fun of her. Per what she now understood to be a perfectly normal reaction in the Inland, she ignored him.

But it felt so weird and open-ended to just ignore someone! There was no closure to the encounter, and she played it in her mind over and over as she kept walking. Should she have said something? Anything? Or was that really okay to not acknowledge him in any way and pretend he didn’t exist and was not talking to her? Was this really normal to ignore everyone or was it just her they ignored?

Suddenly, she felt the strap of her purse tug at her arm. She looked down at her purse, and there was a hand grabbing it!

She screamed and looked at the Inlander whose hand had tried to snatch her purse just as she heard a gunshot and saw the Inlander go down.

Her entire body shaking, Angelica turned to see an officer pointing a gun at the Inlander who was now lying on the ground. The officer was shaking as much as she was.

Angelica screamed again, but this time with words. “WHY DID YOU DO THAT!?!?!”

Still shaking, the officer went pale. “I didn’t want you to give a bad report to my supervisor for not doing anything.”

Another officer, one who was calm, took the gun from the original officer’s shaking hand so it did not misfire.

“Well now I might,” Angelica said.

Quickly, both officers explained, talking at the same time, that the bullets were not strong enough to kill and would only cause enough damage to stop an ongoing crime.

All the other Inlanders in the area had scattered by this point, like this happened all the time. Meanwhile, Angelica started hyperventilating, which only made the officers more nervous.

As an ambulance pulled up, Angelica turned around and started walking away.

“See,” the calm officer called after her, pointing to the paramedics loading the Inlander into the ambulance, “she’ll be fine!”

WHY DID I GO OUTSIDE OF THE COASTAL DISTRICT?! She asked herself in her mind. What was the point of doing that??? That was such a stupid decision!!

There was no need to get “acclimated,” she told herself. She didn’t need to see any of that to be able to conduct her meeting.

A taxi pulled up next to her on the street, and the driver yelled out the window, “Lady, are you lost?”

Angelica got in and told the driver the name of her hotel as she handed him her card.

She wanted to be home, to hug and kiss her kids and do whatever she could to make sure they were never exposed to what she just went through. She tried to take deep breaths to calm her nerves, but she was still shaking.

Back in her hotel room, she ordered a cup of hot tea. She paced back and forth across the small room, unable to stop moving. When room service arrived, the hotel staff member poured the packet of powder–there was no option for different flavors–and mixed it in for her until it dissolved before leaving.

Alone now with a cup of hot tea in her hands, she finally began to calm down. She sat down on the bed and thought about the incident. And then she thought about breakfast, Paola, “Green is the Forest,” dinner at the restaurant, and everything else that had happened since she had arrived the previous day.

She took a sip of tea, which did not taste like tea but rather a chemical-like synthetic taste of tea. Then, she realized that she had not shown any outward physical reaction to the disgusting taste of that first sip. No reaction at all.

It occurred to her, then, that the real point of acclimating and why her boss had given her the Primer on Inland Culture was the same reason Paola had first explained how Angelica could make Tom’s life miserable before telling her how an Inlander could get promoted to the Coast. It was not so that she could learn what life was like in the Inland; it was so she could get used to how she would be perceived and treated in the Inland. It was so she could get acclimated to the power that accompanied her status as a Coastal citizen and the responsibility that came with that power.

That was what she had really learned going out of the Coastal District. She would never know what life was like for Inlanders, not truly; instead, she could only get a glimpse of what she was like to them.

As Poaula had explained, Inlanders had the opportunity to work their way up to being promoted to Coastal status if they wanted it. But she as a Coastal had the power to facilitate that promotion or prevent it. As such, her position in society made Inlanders choose between the desire to avoid her out of fear that she would put something bad in their permanent file or latch onto her out of desperate hope that she would offer a faster advancement.

Her little adventure outside the Coastal District also showed her that, for the most part, she was both hated and envied–not because of anything she had done or said but simply because of her Coastal status.

There was also an underlying curiosity Inlanders could not help but have when seeing her because as a Coastal she lived an unfathomable life. Even if they were satisfied with where they were, even if they did not want to get promoted to the Coasts, they could not help but wonder what it would be like to live as she did. It was her responsibility to not be mad at them for having that curiosity.

So when she received a mixture of all of those sentiments–fear, desperate hope, hate, envy, and curiosity–from the managers she met with at her meeting in the boardroom at her hotel, she was not perplexed in the slightest. She was not so accustomed to it that it was not noticeable, but she understood it enough to not show any reaction.

When one manager nearly literally fell over himself trying to impress her and do all sorts of little things to serve her–pulling out her chair, holding things for her, and making sure her cup of water was always full–she tried to politely allow him to do those things in a way that would not make him look like a fool. Then, when other managers started to follow his example, she politely took control to make sure the whole thing did not turn into a circus. When one manager was rude to a subordinate, she tried to let him know she did not approve in a way that would not scare him into thinking she was going to get him demoted.

By the end of the meeting, she was exhausted and very ready to go home. She gathered the materials the managers had given her and jotted down a few notes for her report before packing up her suitcase and calling the bellhop to retrieve her luggage.

Her husband and some of her friends had been on these trips, and she now understood why none of them had ever said anything about what it was like. How could she ever explain this to someone who had never been to the Inland?

If nothing else, even if she never returned to the Inland, she now had an extra measure of motivation to do her job well and keep her record clean to maintain her Coastal status. She would do anything to make sure she never got demoted to the Inland, and she would do everything she could to help her kids succeed so they would not get redistributed to the Inland when they turned eighteen.

When she checked out at the front desk, she was given the option to tip staff members individually and leave a note or just leave a sum that the hotel would divide amongst the staff who had assisted her. She chose the first option so she could leave a nice note about each of them for their files.

The program used the biometric surveillance data to identify her and each hotel staff member with whom she had interacted, and when she saw the list of all their names, job titles, and the descriptions of how they had served her appear on the screen, she had an idea.

She asked the front desk clerk, “Can you check to see if the lady who drove me here from the airport yesterday is available now? If so, I’d like to request her as my driver.”

“Certainly,” the clerk said and picked up the phone to call the cab service.

When the taxi arrived, the bellhop put her luggage in the trunk, and Angelica handed the driver her payment card as she got in the back seat. The ride was painfully silent, and the air was filled with an awkward bitter feeling.

She thought about the previous day, how this same Inlander had forced smiles and politeness and put in so much effort to impress her Coastal passenger. And how Angelica, in her ignorance, had trampled all over this Inlander with her rudeness and entirely unCoastal behavior. She was sure this Inland cab driver would have turned down the request to drive Angelica to the airport if she had been allowed to do so.

Angelica was unsure if the driver’s tense grip on the steering wheel was due to frustrated angst at having to waste time on this non-tipping Coastal who could more than afford to help her out or fear that this Coastal had specifically requested her so she could write something horrible in her permanent file. She did not blame the driver for feeling confused and afraid, what with how rude Angelica had been the previous day. She wondered how many–if any–Coastals abused their power that way on purpose.

Angelica did not try to make small talk or attempt to sway the Inlander’s opinion of her at all. The irreparable damage had already been done. But when they arrived at the airport and Angelica told her to add a tip that would more than cover both rides, all seemed to be forgiven.

*********************************************

The Unexpected Inlander is available at Amazon.

Add The Unexpected Inlander to your shelves on Goodreads, LibraryThing, and BookBub.

For more deleted scenes from the Unexpected Inlander series, visit https://kellynthompson.com/category/deleted-scenes/.

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