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The Smartphone Hour

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There were days when the weather was just right, allowing everyone to go do their own thing. Sometimes they’d all go out and get fresh air, but not always.

Jane had always found she preferred to explore twenty-first century London. Be it the new bridges or the historical museums, she could always find something to do outside the house. She tried to wake up early enough to get out, and she usually invited one or two other queens to go with her. Usually, they declined, but Cathy seemed to enjoy the outings when she went.

Although Jane quite liked museums, she much preferred the outdoors. Her favourite places to head were National Parks, but the best ones, in her opinion, were in the North. She’d driven four and a half hours with Cathy falling asleep in the passenger side just to get to the Lake District National Park. It had been worth it, but the two had been exhausted by the time they’d returned. At least it had been chilly.

Jane also preferred rain to direct sunlight, especially when exploring the outdoors. She wasn’t afraid to sweat, but she found it annoying when the heat was inescapable. What was the fun of gazing at flowers and wildlife when you felt as if your blood was boiling inside you?

The blazing heat also reminded her of fevers, but she preferred not to think of that.

On these days, she felt utterly useless, so she began to take up housework. She took over the job of cooking although the others protested. Jane would collect laundry and do it weekly, striving to feel more useful.

She didn’t feel entirely useless, though; she merely didn’t want to confront her other issue.

In her mind, though, it was there, waiting for her to acknowledge it. Jane felt stupid.

Now, that wasn’t uncommon for the queens. Having to be introduced to entirely different forms of language had been difficult enough - they found that compared to other modern people, they sounded quite weird when they spoke in what was now called Early Modern English. Every once in a while, one of them would slip up, and while it could be laughed about later, it was absolutely mortifying when it happened.

No one said “thou art” these days, it seemed.

Jane tried her best to learn as much as she could, striving to overcome the things she didn’t know, but she found it exceedingly difficult to adapt to one tiny thing: technology.

While Kitty was a video game master, Anne and Anna enjoyed social media and phones, and Catalina used a tablet for reading, Jane couldn’t figure out how to get the devices to work. Cathy used her laptop to write? Fabulous. But how could words appear on a screen? How was it simple to type when you could write the letter and actually know what you were writing? What happened if you hit the wrong button?

Besides, she couldn’t even surf the web on the tablet she’d been using recently. Every time she did so, the app told her that she wasn’t connected to the internet, or whatever that meant. Her phone worked just fine, loading most of the time, but there were moments when Lina pulled her aside and mentioned that she was running out of space on their service plan - whatever that meant.

Jane wasn’t one to get bored, but on hot days like this, everyone else seemed to be on their devices. Kitty was hosting a Mario Kart competition, and while everyone knew she would win, they were still trying. In between rounds, Jane noticed Cathy tapping away at her phone. Anna was narrowing her eyes at a video that had odd captions on it, and Anne was eyeing it over her shoulder. Even Lina had Cathy’s computer - likely proofreading.

Jane felt something twist inside her, and she knew she’d felt it before. It was that, actually, which made it so terrifying to feel it again. She was jealous of the others.

Jealousy had never been a good thing for her; it’d lead to quite a bit of death once upon a time. And while her jealousy was never intense - she’d only wished she could do one thing - the consequences were extreme.

So she kept to Mario Kart, leaving her phone at home so she didn’t use up any more precious space on their service plan, hardly contemplating how no one else seemed to have that same issue.

It didn’t help when Jane woke up one morning to an open window and a sticky room. It had rained, but it was also much warmer than the week prior had been, and she groaned as she felt her mouth was dry. Sitting up, the woman rolled up her sleeves and slipped out of bed, rubbing her eyes as she made her way to the door of her room. For once, she detested having a room on the ground floor - the air conditioning worked better the higher up you got, and they all knew Anne sometimes froze in the attic.

Right now, she’d have given anything to sleep in the attic.

Not only was it too hot to do remotely anything outdoorsy without feeling disgusting, but it was also one of the days which, and Jane knew from experience, had the worst television shows known to mankind. Although she might not have been the greatest at working handheld devices, Jane found herself to be quite apt with the telly.

She flipped through the channels, a coffee in hand, squinting a bit to see the programme names as she clicked through the guide. Absolutely nothing she wanted to watch was on; she didn’t particularly care for the news onscreen, preferring to read it on Lina’s tablet or Cathy’s laptop. She settled on turning the television off, standing up from the couch as she took another sip of coffee. They all, save for Kitty, had found that they relied on the substance in the mornings. Kitty didn’t quite like the bitter taste of it, but even she would still drink coffee if she felt the need to.

Jane grumbled to herself as she walked back to the kitchen, placing her mug on the counter and double-checking that the curtains were closed. With how hot it was today, and with the sun beating down relentlessly on the windows, she reckoned it’d be safer to keep the curtains closed.

There was a reason she hated July, and it only seemed to have gotten worse through the years.

Jane wasn’t the type of person to be bored by things, but as the day dragged on, she found that it was more and more difficult to keep her mind on anything she tried to do. She couldn’t use her phone because of the stupid service plan, she couldn’t go outside and work on her garden because she feared she’d die of heatstroke. Of course, it wasn’t as hot as it might have been in another country, but it was safe to say no one in the house was used to this type of heat.

“Dry heat would be fine,” Lina said to Jane during lunch, “But this? This makes my shirt stick to my skin.”

It was safe to say that the ground floor was fairly empty that day.

Jane felt some form of detachment from the rest of them, especially when Kitty started up a game of what she called Minecraft. It would have been just fine for her if Kitty was the only one playing it, but she scoffed slightly when Anne, Anna, and Cathy all scrambled to grab their devices and join in.

And yet Jane, although she had Minecraft downloaded on her phone, could not join in. Why? Because of the service plan. She was beginning to hate those two words.

She watched them play on what they called a ‘server’, battling other people for loot and whatnot. Jane wondered why they would enjoy a game so violent, but after hearing the “I got a diamond sword!” from Cathy, she began to understand that it wasn’t all about killing. There were other objectives in the game, and the women were trying to meet them.

Jane did feel glad when Anna left the server, setting down her phone and choosing to sit next to her instead. She smiled at the German even though she knew it wouldn’t be reflected in her eyes. She was tired. Tired of this, tired of how she felt restricted, tired of how she didn’t know how to get around the damn service plan.

“You all right?”

Anna’s voice was soft, but it drew her out of wallowing in her misery. Jane grunted in response, giving a half-nod.

Anna chuckled, eyeing her as she did so. “You’re not,” she said, and it was a statement rather than a question. Anna didn’t question things much. She usually knew what was going on and felt no need to question it.

Jane admired that.

“You’re right,” she told Anna, keeping her voice low. “There’s hardly anything to do. I can’t go outside, none of the shows I like are on the telly, and I really, really don’t feel like reading.” She kept steady eye contact as she spoke with the German. “Plus,” she said dejectedly, “I can’t even use my phone to look up cat videos or join your Minecraft server.”

“I still think we should get a cat,” Anna replied, “But the cousins would die again if we did so. Best not to.” She sighed. “Why can’t you?”

Jane’s eyes widened, and she lifted her head to stare at Anna. “Are you kidding?” she asked, “You don’t know about the service plan?”

Anna frowned. “Of course I know about our cell service. What does that have to do with anything?” She paused, something changing in her eyes as she did so. “Oh,” she said, “You aren’t using the Wi-Fi, I don’t think.”

Wi-Fi. It was a term Jane was unfamiliar with, and she raised an eyebrow at the odd-sounding word. “Wi… Fi?” she asked, laughing softly. “That sounds so weird. What is it?”

Anna’s glower twisted into a grin as she laughed at Jane’s ignorance. “Oh, Jane… Wi-Fi’s how you access the internet without using cell service!” Although Jane despised being ridiculed, she couldn’t help but laugh along with Anna - the German’s humour was infectious.

Jane smiled widely, her stomach tensing as she laughed. “So… That’s what I’ve been missing?” Jane asked between laughs, “An odd contraption called Wi-Fi? How does Wi-Fi work?” She leaned back, resting her weight on her hands as she gazed at her friend curiously.

Anna narrowed her eyes at Jane, but the way she did it made them both burst into laughter once more. Jane swore she’d have a stomachache tonight, but it was worth it. She’d forget about it once she laughed again.

“I dunno,” Anna said, giving a shrug. “It works, through some sort of magic, and it saves us just a bit of money.” Clearly noticing the awe in Jane’s eyes, Anna smirked at the blonde and began to slide off the bed, ignoring the grumbles from those who had just gotten killed in Minecraft. “Want me to help get you connected?”

Jane stood, taking a deep breath as a wave of heat hit her, and she smiled softly, allowing Anna to pull her along. “Yeah,” she responded, “I think I’d like that.”