Con looked at the items in front of him. He only had three moves left until the bomb went off. He took a deep breath, and made a move.
The pieces disappeared, causing the others to cascade down into striped candies, wrapped ones, and a small dark one with sprinkles. A vast, disembodied voice said, “Divine!”
“Yes!” Con said, punching the air. Fortunately, a green striped candy was next to the sprinkled one, and he used his next move to switch them. The playing field quickly filled with striped, green candies, which cleared row after column after row of candies around him. The score went higher with every candy cleared.
“Come on, come on . . .” he said, eyeing the numbers. “YES!” He punched the air again. “Another high score!” He put his online handle on the official scoreboard and waited for the next level to load up.
“Con? Con, baby?”
“I didn’t do it. You can’t prove it. Nobody saw me. The sheep are lying,” Con said.
“Knowing you, I would believe the sheep,” Billy said, prodding Con. “Are you listening?
Con swore when he saw the new playing field. “Oh come on! Nougat foils AND chocolate mechs?! Slag and black fire!”
“What!” He saved the game and turned off the grid. The holographic board smoothly faded away, leaving him in a chamber of layered mercury and shaved crystal. He took off his goggles of smoked glass and turned to find Billy playing at the controls.
“Wait, wait, wait!” Con said, going to him and trying to pull him away. “I have not perfected that section yet!”
“Sorry, but it has to be tested now,” Billy said, flipping switches and pushing a big yellow button clearly marked, “Do Not Push” in large friendly letters. “We have a call from one of Freddie’s friends.”
The one of the walls flickered, showing a scene into a room draped fantastically with sea green fabric and twinkling stars. In the room, a group of people in colorful clothes was talking and chatting amicably while a slightly elderly lady sat in the middle of the crowd like a queen. Certainly looked like one also with that dress.
Con blinked in surprise when he recognized the lady, and he prepared to bow.
“Do not bother, dear boy,” she said, waving a scepter around a bit. “We both know how much I stand, or shall I say ‘do not stand’, on formality.”
“Of course,” Con said, nodding with a wide grin.
“Babe,” Billy said, recognizing the lady, “is this who I think it is?”
Con nodded and motioned to the figure. “Billy, allow me to introduce you to one of the highest of high-circles, Miss Aretha Phillipe von Klampt-Marglot-Arielstal, known to many in those circles as ‘Duchess.’ One of her museums hosted an exhibition of my works a few weeks ago.”
Billy nodded. “A pleasure to meet you, ma’m,” he said respectively.
“And this,” Con gestured to Billy, “is my husband of two years, William Vane.”
Her eyes fastened sharply at Billy’s frame and tattoos, her face a stern mask. “William Vane, Junior, heir apparent to the Vane Diamond Manufactory? Surely not.”
Billy crumpled slightly at the thrust. “The same, ma’m. Er, if I may ask you not to mention that right now? Mom’s still a bit sore about the fact that I married an artist. A male one just added salt into the wound.”
The mask shifted to a toothy grin full of mischief. “And he such a talented artist also,” she said, eying Con. “You married well, regardless of anything else,” she added.
Billy shrugged. “That’s what Dad said,” he said.
“So, Duchess, why are you calling me of all people on this night?” Con asked. He wrapped his arm around Billy’s waist. “Isn’t tonight your birthday party?” He tried to keep a straight face as he felt a hand squeeze his butt.
Her grin grew mysterious. “As much as I dislike inventors, that avant garde girl told me of a creation of yours,” she said. She picked up a glass of bubbly fluid at her side and took a sip. “That light suit? Delicious. I would love to see it in action.”
“Avant garde?” Con said, puzzled. The hand started to softly massage the rump, and Con tried not to moan.
“Miss von Blanke introduced me to her earlier today. Clarissa, I think her name was.”
“Her?” Con said, his eyebrows rising in slight puzzlement. “What is she doing there?”
“I invited Miss von Blanke, and she came along as an extra guest. Frankly, I did not think that any of my costume creations would have suited her. What she wore was utterly delightful.”
“Knowing Bang, I would guess at something remarkably skimpy and clingy.” Duchess snorted in laughter. “So you want to see one of my inventions, ma’m? I finished tweaking it earlier. Also, I need an invitation if you are to see it.”
“Done,” she said, gesturing to a girl who quickly walked off-screen. “A car is going to pick you up in a few minutes. And when you are here, make sure to come here as quickly as possible.”
“Yes ma’m,” Con said, nodding farewell as the image faded back to translucent glass. He turned to Billy, grabbed his shirt, and brought him in for a passionate kiss.
Billy wrapped his arms around and returned the kiss. A moment or two passed before they separated.
“What was that for?” Billy said.
“That was for groping me when I was talking,”
Billy laughed. “She noticed, you know.”
“Really? And she did not even mention it or anything. What a nice old lady.” The two chuckled, and Con slapped his husband’s rump. “Now come on. We got a party to crash.”
A jazzy remix of Blondie and Sinatra blared across the plaza. Hybrid machines were blowing out thick clouds of bubbles filled with colored smoke into the sky, making wraiths of every form flying around the landscape. The rooms, some bare and some covered with cascades of flowers, were filled with various diversions, the guests enjoying themselves to the fullest. One room in particular had no entrance, but was instead a tall, slim minaret bedecked in small snow-white flowers. Topping it was a four-sided clock done in black and white mosaic glass tiles that were lit up from the inside.
At the end of the field, a gigantic buffet was set up, filled carte blanche. At one end of the table, a bar was set up where servitors would come in, communicate at the self-automated computer hovering in the middle, and leave with assorted drinks and cocktails. At the other, a crowd of ten-tiered cakes bedecked in swaths of frosting and edible gemstones stood waiting in beautiful expectation for the final hour; a small temperature regulator in the middle of the crowd prevented them from drooping in the warmth of the night. In the middle, an icy angel with her arms and wings spread out in majestic splendor shimmered under palm-sized balls of gentle light that floated around the area. The said lights provided most of the illumination, but the park’s old-fashioned lampposts and reflectors, both done in vintage Art Deco style, helped them.
In a towering concert dome done in diamond pillars and pale crystal ceilings, the orchestra, finely dressed in Baroque clothing, was zigzagging songs with a DJ dressed in urban 90’s costume – oversized pants and shirt, both done in green-on-green plaid, with a heavy pair of bright yellow polarized ski goggles perched on his head. He was grabbing music from the orchestra and mixed and sampled with other tunes all over the musical gamut: Holiday blended with Green Day, which was compounded with Phish, which was stirred with Garth Brooks, and kept on going into a strange, and yet fascinating, tapestry of sounds and rhythms that was as unsolvable as a Gordian knot.
With the music, the stadium led to a dancing floor inlaid of white and black marble. The pillars continued onward to the Rooms and the buffet table, their sublime heights draped with white silk cloths and gently flashing lights of a myriad colors.
While the band was playing, Frederick was dancing.
The dance was a mix of The Hustle and the Charleston, an intricate court dance. The steps were simple, just a combo of foot shuffles and turns, but soon turned into a complex set of moves that the crowd of dancers was doing. Each one was twisting and turning around each other, their costumes only adding to the eccentricity of the scene.
He saw Reglatta and Clarissa, and he edged closer to them. Reglatta had her ribbons surrounding her as if they were fluttering leaves while Clarissa freaked out anyone who looked at her, the micro halter doing nothing to impede her eye-popping movements.
The music rose to a crescendo, then stopped, making the dancers finish with a double twirl and a bow to their opposing partner. In the case of Frederick, it was Reglatta.
The band struck into motion, beginning to play softly, mournfully. A beautiful redhead dressed in a strapless, red sequined dress with elbow length gold gloves arrived and stood in front of the orchestra, a classic 20’s microphone cupped in her hands. The strings swelled gently along with the horns as she began to sing seductively about a foggy day in London.
“If I may have this dance, my lady?” Frederick said, extending a hand towards Reglatta.
She hesitated slightly, then nodded, slipping her hand into his.
“You know,” he said as they glided across the floor, “this is the first dance we had since we met.”
“The second,” she said. “The first was at my parents’ house.”
“Ah yes, of course.” He smiled faintly in memory. The lights, music, the endless rivers of champagne. He was waltzing with a pretty brunette, when he spied Reglatta at the drink table, looking bored. She was pure silver then; her dress modeled after the flapper gowns of the 1920s. After the dance finished, he went up to her and talked about many things about the party and their lives. They even did a few turns around the floor. The night after, they began dating. Almost a year after, he proposed.
However, his wandering eye got him into trouble. She often retreated when she found him gallivanting with another pretty girl, and leaving him, to prevent any high-circle talk, to chase her until he found her, usually giving her the chance to make a scene, usually with a slap to the face. Or worse, a foot stomp and a kick to the shins.
“What are you thinking about, darling?”
His revelries were broken as he focused on her smiling face.
“Nothing at all, sweetheart,” he said, bringing her in for a kiss.
As they kissed, the music sunk to drowsy strings and horns. The light balls dimmed almost to darkness, then fragmented to smaller ones that floated around and blinked occasionally.
Reglatta sighed and leaned against him, putting her head against his shoulder. “I am glad we are here, and that Clarissa is not here. Very glad.” With that, he brought his head down and kissed him on the cheek.
He smiled, and they kept dancing.
As Frederick and Reglatta whirled around the floor with the rest of the crowd, two other guests were making a scene somewhere else.
“Simply fascinating,” Duchess said, touching, or trying to touch, a sleeve of the suit that Con was wearing. It appeared to be a white cashmere wool blend twill coat and tails with matching trousers, but a touch at the suit said that was not so. Her fingers kept passing through and touching skin. “However did you accomplish this?”
“Pure holographic projection,” Con said proudly. “After creating ‘Babylonia’ I got to thinking that if one can put a holographic grid around people.” He waved an arm around, the movements doing nothing to shift the fine fit of the holographic suit. “This is the end result.”
“Ah, yes, Babylonia.” She smiled a bit. “Fascinating work for you,” she continued. “It is in the art gallery back at home. I had to buy it.”
“I would have gladly given it to you if you asked,” Con said, “It is the least I could do for you considering all of the help you, or should I say, your galleries, have given me, ma’m.”
She smiled and focused to the other guest. He was dressed in a skin tight, black wrestling singlet, showing off his thick bulk provocatively; his hands bound in heavy leather gloves. A white leather harness framed his torso, and his skin and beard was oiled. “If I did not know any better, Mister Vane,” Duchess said sternly, “I would think you would be headed to one of those naughty parades that flaunt everything to everyone else for bedding.”
“Well, m’am,” Billy said, rubbing the back of his head and blushing slightly in embarrassment, “I would remind you that the invitation was kind of short notice. I did not know what to wear, so I went with this.”
“I think the costume droid blew a few circuits when it saw him,” Con said, chuckling.
Duchess did not say anything. Instead, she reached over to cup Billy’s hefty bulge that was held in high relief due to the singlet and the under support. “Hm, not bad.”
“Satan’s thunder!” Billy stepped back, covering himself and blushing hugely. Con and the surrounding audience chortled. “What did you do that for?!”
“It is something we elderly ladies can do, mainly for the reason that we are old.” She beamed. “And that we like well-shaped young men like you.” The grin grew wider. “If I waved a credit or two at you, would you give me a lap dance?”
“Duchess!” Con said, shocked, while a man behind her spit out his drink, spraying it over his costume. “He is not a piece of meat for you to grope.”
“I don’t know, babe,” Billy said waggishly. “Knowing her, I might get a couple of hundreds out of this if I do that.”
Con sputtered while Duchess laughed uproariously. “I like this man,” she said a bit after, wiping tears from her eyes. “Very nice.” She leaned over to Con in confidentiality. “Did you know,” she murmured, “that when I met with that avant garde girl, I could not resist palming that fascinating front of hers? It was most firmly constructed, and I have known little few to have that said. Including mine, I might add.” She nodded knowingly.
Con could not believe what he was hearing. “Urhm…so, what happened afterwards?”
She chuckled. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” She rose from her seat and motioned every one, the couple and her crowd, to follow her outside.
“Mind me asking,” she said to Con, walking down the meandering paths, “just what are you color blind for?”
He gratefully put aside the image of this elderly lady groping his cousin. “Uhm, it’s a partial form of blue-yellow blindness. I can’t see some shades of blue, yellow, green, and red. I’m told it is rather rare. Thankfully, due the current technology, I can see perfectly. No, no, not gene therapy,” he said when Duchess opened her mouth. “My parents are Purists. They did not want any of that stuff floating in me, so they kept saying.”
She nodded. Purists have been always around, but they did not develop into a political movement until after the war. Pacifist in nature, they strove for purity in all forms, but as the years passed, they alloyed with various environmental ideals, claiming that ‘staying the way nature made them’ was the only way for anyone to be. They shunned all genetic modifications for the most part, except in cases where the person was suffering from extreme life-crippling disease or harm. They also pushed the Purity Act into law in 2019, which closed down all of the unregistered human modification offices that spread like wildfire after the war. The act also strove to regain what they called ‘genetic purity’ in plants and animals: no lab made modifications for either. However, due to agriculture advancements that helped destroy famine, the law was tweaked to allow them, much to the dismay of the Purist lawmakers. Still, nowadays, the Purists were still around, making news with their peaceful demonstrations and protests, always calling for more legislation and restrictions in human and animal modification.
“Anyway,” Con said, shifting Duchess out of her thoughts, “when they met Billy, they did not approve of his tattoos, calling them ‘modifications’,” he hooked two of his fingers when he said that word, “but other than that, they thought that he and I were to be a bright spark and fizzle.”
“And look at you two now,” Duchess said. “What a wonderful couple you are.”
Billy grinned. “Thanks.”
“Where are we headed to?” Con asked.
“To the dance floor,” she said.
They soon were there, the orchestra playing a slow tune containing swells of violins and horns. Someone was singing about songs of love that are not for her, her voice rising gently above the melody.
“One of my favorites,” Billy said, waving his hand a bit to the music. He grabbed Con’s hand and twirled him around, clasping him against his person and kissing gently. “May I have this dance?”
“Only one,” Duchess said, looking around and trying to find someone. “I have someone to introduce you to, but he is not here. I need to look for him, but…” She trailed off and shrugged. “If you can go to the casino after this; I am sure he is there. It is the room with the large, red spotted flowers in the front.”
“Yeah, sure,” Con said, looking deeply into Billy’s eyes. They began dancing gently to the music a moment after.
Duchess smiled and walked off, her entourage following after.