The next morning I woke up early, awakened from my dreams by the rising sun shining through the window. I slid out from under the covers and tiptoed out of the room so that I wouldn’t wake Darren, who was sleeping peacefully. Even before the sun was fully up it was warm inside, and I didn’t mind walking along the floor in my bare feet. Mother was sitting at the table eating a piece of toast when I came in.
“Where’s Marca?” I asked quietly.
“She’s in my bed. Can you tell Darren where she is before you leave?”
“Sure.” I crossed the room to the counter, where I cut a slice of bread off the loaf that sat there. I joined her by the table and we ate in silence. “What time does your shift start?”
“In fifteen minutes.”
I looked up at the clock that was on the wall. It was six forty-five. She finished her breakfast then pulled on her cloak and hat.
“I’ll see you this evening!” She said as she pulled open the door and stepped into the crisp morning air.
I put the rest of my bread in my mouth and returned to my room, where I dressed in my nicest clothes, a dress that Mother had bought me before we had moved to the city. Darren began to stir, and soon he opened his eyes.
“Darren, Marca is in Mother’s room. I’m about to go to the Cutting Center, and Mother already left. I’ll make you some toast.”
He nodded sleepily, and I crept out of the room and back into the kitchen. I had just finished toasting and plating a slice of bread when he walked into the kitchen yawning.
“Thanks,” he said as I slid the plate across the table to him.
“Did you hear what I said?” I asked him.
“That Marca is in Mother’s room, and you are leaving for training?”
I nodded. “Mother said she’ll be back this evening. I don’t know when I’ll be home. Do you have the map?”
“It’s in my pocket.”
“Okay.” I stood up. “Have a good time at the Museum. I put my hat on my head and left through the front door, waiting a moment outside before I began walking the half-block to the Cutting Center.
The sun shone hot on my face, despite it being nearly hidden by the towers of the Princess’s Palace in the east. It reflected off the glass windows of the buildings, and made the whole city sparkle and glow. The sky was clear, a solid blue that faded to pink.
It didn’t take five minutes for me to reach the Cutting Center, which stood just down the road. The view had been blocked from the house, and this was the first time I’d gotten a proper look at it. My first impression was that it was big. Once you pass the last row of houses blocking it, the Cutting Center rose up formidably from the street. At first glance it seemed intimidating and grim, but I got closer I noticed that the bottom floor and the top floor had windows. Gardens wrapped around the entire building, helping it look safe and comforting. The front doors were made of wood and very large, big enough to fit many people through at once.
I entered through the doors, and made my way to the front counter in the middle of the room. On either side their were two smaller desks, with signs pointing to them saying register here. The area between the counter and door was used as a waiting area, with potted plants and soft chairs.
“Hello, how can I help you?”
My eyes jerked back to the woman at the counter. “I’m supposed to come here for training to become a Cutter.”
She peered at me suspiciously. “Really? You seem a bit young.”
My cheeks flushed. “My father was Mr. Alander, he was a Cutter before he died.”
“I’m sorry.” She said softly.
“It’s okay, I don’t remember him.” I inwardly kicked myself. Of course you don’t remember him, he died.
“Well, the training wing’s in that room. There’s a desk in front of you as soon as you walk in, that’s Mr. Teller’s assistant. He works in the training department, so that John can concentrate on the logistics of Cutting without ever coming into the Center.”
“Okay, thanks.” I had been wondering why Mr. Teller worked on Brook Avenue instead of at the Center.
The room I walked into was smaller than the lobby, but it had so many doors off of it that it seemed almost larger. The “desk” was an over-exaggeration; it was more like a tiny table that had a couple of drawers randomly built in.
“Miss Alander! Welcome to the Cutting Center training wing.” The man who had spoken was thin and wiry, with greasy black hair and a waxed mustache. “Fredrick Hillington, at your service. John warned me you were coming, and I must say I was excited. Anyone with the blood of James Alander in their veins must be an excellent Cutter!”
“Excuse me for asking sir, but how do you remember that about my father if he was cut?”
The man smiled. “Simple. We have all our employees documented, along with how every other employee ranked him.” He leaned across the desk and whispered loudly, “I gave him a great review, so he must have been good.”
I smiled uncomfortably. “ That’s…nice.”
He straightened up again. “So, the information part of the training is through that door, the procedure is through that one and the door over there is for the practice!” He pointed to the respective doors as he talked, and seemed as eager as anyone could be about the training wing. “If you have any questions or you don’t understand anything, feel free to come out here and ask me.” He grinned broadly. “Oh, and, after every session come out so I know you’re done. Wait a minute, you have to come out! It’s the only way to get to the next room!” He burst out laughing as if it was the best joke in the world.
“Thank you,” I said as I backed away and entered the first room. I’m not sure what I expected, perhaps a teacher or another clerk, but in the room their was a small table with a stack of paper on top of it, and a soft chair.
I sat down slowly, and pulled the quill and quire towards me. The first few pages were just stuff about Cutting that I already knew, and I skimmed through it. After that there was a series of questions that I answered with ease. The second set of pages was more interesting. It had information on the history of Cutting, which I’d never learn anything about before.
A long time ago, we were neighbors with a separate people, called Falantes. The Falantes were considered barbarians, and for that reason we enslaved many of them.
Even at that time we had the problem of soul-drag. We realized that the soul-string was only attached to those you knew well, and so we spread ourselves out into separate villages.
I stopped reading for a moment. “Soul-drag.” I muttered to myself. “Soul-string.” Both terms were new to me, but they made sense. I continued reading.
Children married young and the couple moved to a different town where they would raise the child in solitude. This worked relatively well, however the number of deaths due to soul-drag was still very high.
The Falantes were curious about this strange custom, and eventually one man told his slave why. The Falantes said that they had powerful mages that might be able to solve the problem. Our people agreed to try this, and allowed the slaves to contact the mages. The mages were brought to the most recent death, and instructed to try and prevent the soul-drag.
When the mage went into the trance, they saw the soul-string attached to the deceased. This confused them, as the Falantes themselves did not have soul-strings. They traced the line back up, and found it was connected to others who were still living.
That revelation influenced their decisions as far as stopping the soul-drag, and the mage brought a knife with him, promptly cutting the string and saving everyone else.
In gratitude, we released all slaves, and promised to remain peaceful with them in the future. Our people cross married with the Falantes so that we could have Cutters of our own, and the Falantes, being a nomadic people, moved on. We stayed and settled into the main city and smaller surrounding towns.
I looked up from the text and yawned, stretching my back and arms. The sun was already halfway up in the sky, and I momentarily panicked, worried that I wouldn’t have time for practice. I skim read the rest of the pages and quickly grabbed my answers from the middle of the booklet, shuffling the other pages into a rough pile.
I hurried out the door, closing it behind me, and approached Mr. Hillington’s desk.
“There you are!” He exclaimed, smiling. “I was beginning to think you’d never come out!”
“Unfortunately I have!” I smiled back at him. For all his eccentrics he was beginning to grow on me.
“Well then. The next part is the process, it’s much shorter than the history, but read it thoroughly and make sure you could repeat it back to me by heart if you needed to!”
I nodded, and placed the papers on his desk. “Excuse me for asking sir,” I began. “But how recent are those history sheets?”
“Glad you asked miss.” He shuffled my answers into a folder as he talked. “That last few pages I wrote myself! The old records were quite out of date, so when I signed on to be a Cutter, one of the first things I did was rewrite the history sheets. The others are about fifty years old, nothing new was discovered about them, and they’re pretty straightforward documents, so when we looked over all our papers and systems, we decided to keep those ones the same.”
“Is that the only thing that hasn’t been updated?” I asked curiously.
“No.” He replied. “The process sheets in there are over a hundred years old, well, a few of them anyways.”
I nodded to him as I said the customary thanks, and backed away into the other room.
Like he said, there were only a couple pages on the process. One of the sheets was a page of instructions that looked old and battered. I sat down at this desk and began reading, taking my time so that I could absorb every word.
The Cutting Process In Six Simple Steps