Casual Play Astrogation

Omega Velm Delaney 17b (Lycaeus)

Almost the instant you drop out of between-space, you hear a laugh, feel a phantom hand tug at your arm. It's strange, disconcerting. The clink of glasses, a snatch of conversation, and then someone pulls you out of reality, leads you stumbling into the middle of a dance floor.

You hardly have time to react before the woman holding your arm stops in front of you, takes your hands and positions them for a waltz. Her smile is wide, infectious, but the strangeness of the whole thing, of finding yourself in the middle of a party, surrounded by men and women in hue-shifting mood tuxedos keeps you off balance.

And then the music begins.

It's old, vaguely familiar. Some more modern reinterpretation of an old electro-disco revival symphonic arrangement. Only the singer is live, present, and she sings in a husky, multiphonic kargyraa that rises and falls amidst the fractal lutings and brass blares of an integrated intelligence that's constantly trying to refine and expand the music. When the woman holding your hip and hand starts to lead, you follow automatically, try to keep up with every quick step and shift of some popular sequence she's taken the time to memorize.

“I'm so glad you popped in when you did,” she whispers in your ear, drops away again, grins as you fly together across a floor of black marble as dark and depthless as the void. When she closes the distance between you again, you cut her off before she can speak.

“Who are you? What is this?”

“I needed a dance partner,” she explains, that smile coming back again. “I have almost six hundred men and women waiting in my queue, but they're all so boring.” She grins wider, and you can feel a tickle in your brain, almost as if part of her is sifting through your thoughts, your memories. “Not you, though. I knew the moment you arrived in the system that you were exactly what I was looking for.”

Confused, you glance down as she leads you into another quick, complex series of dance steps. The body– it isn't your body that you're wearing. It's a clone of some kind, an illusory body, a swarm of nanites designed to congeal into the perfect dance partner, house the consciousness of the man or woman streamed in to wear it. Looking around, you realize you're probably the best-dressed dancer in the whole party, skin clear and toned, lines and curves in all the right places. The woman who stole you away and stashed you in the nanite body has good taste.

“Come on, at least pretend to enjoy yourself,” she smiles again, laughs. “I know I'm having fun. You've seen so much, traveled so widely and so freely. Your mind is a beautiful and fascinating place to explore.”

The music swells, and then she spins you out, spins you back. When the song finally ends, she wraps one arm around your waist, holds you in the fading coda. Her eyes are green, blue, shades of light and life, stare into you as if hunting your soul, your very being.

And when she sweeps you up as if to kiss you, her lips stop instead just beside your ear, part to breathe only a whisper.

“The word,” she says, and you can hear the mischievous smile in her voice, “is PYRITE.”

And then, as she draws back, grins at you again, you feel a tugging, watch reality dissolve into static. You wake up suddenly in your ship just as it turns, phasedrive flaring to life, and then the ship flings you back into between-space, carries you forward to your next destination.


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