This is the second last post and I promise, after excerpt 17 we will return to normal broadcasting. 😉
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The Armitage Fashion Ball was one of the highlights of the Innerscape social calendar. Residents of both sexes vied with each for the most glorious outfit, and of course their conveyances had to match their outfits, so Miira found herself riding to the Champs-Élysées in a translucent pearl that floated through the sky on a froth of ‘waves’. The staffers went to the ball in an ordinary limousine, and were all waiting for her when her giant pearl floated down out of the sky.
For this one special occasion, the AI had replaced the chill of mid-November with the balmy warmth of high summer so the festivities could take place out of doors.
Miira was grateful for the warmth as it stopped her nipples from jutting with cold. Other than that there was little else she was happy about. As Jason’s latest protégé, she was scheduled to arrive last – to make the grandest entrance possible – but the longer she waited the more terrified she became.
Emily and Jane had both said she looked lovely, but the words ‘magestic’ and ‘regal’ had done little to boost her confidence. The makeup Keith had applied had been incredibly subtle so she had had no trouble recognizing her face in the mirror, but the overall effect was still disconcerting. He had turned the flaws of her face into features that humanized the good bits, so she looked more beautiful than she had ever done in her life, but also utterly human and vulnerable. His skill had turned her face into a work of art that she could not destroy, but now she would have to step from her pearl and face the world with her vulnerability exposed for all to see.
As the pearl came to a stop at the foot of the Arc de Triomph, and slowly split open, a major domo in livery and white gloves extended his hand to help Miira alight. It was all over the top and yet she found herself grateful for the support as her legs had developed a strange rubbery quality. When her feet finally touched the pure white carpet that led to the Kings of the Ball waiting at the other end of the crowded reception area, her face was frozen into a haughty mask but her knees were weak.
How was she going to walk all that way without tripping over her own feet? Or passing out?
“May I?” a friendly baritone called from the crowd. It was Kenneth Wu.
Miira had dreaded seeing him again, especially in this dress, and yet when she saw him standing there, resplendent in elegant black tails with a magnificent black cape draped over over shoulder, she almost cried with relief.
“Chin up,” he whispered. “Don’t ruin the mascara.”
And then he was holding one gloved, white hand towards her like a lifeline.
As Miira took his hand the jitters seemed to melt away. It was like magic. She smiled at him and he smiled back like an old friend and suddenly all was well with her world. Turning to the front, she let him lead her down that long, long carpet like a queen. She felt as light as a feather and acknowledged the cheers of the crowd without feeling at all like an imposter.
When Kenneth drew her to a halt in front of the dais on which Keith and Jason sat, Miira sank into a graceful curtsy as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Keith just smiled a knowing smile, but Jason hopped down and gave her an exuberant hug.
“You truly are the loveliest woman here,” he said. “You almost make me wish I was straight, or maybe bi.”
“Bullshit!” Keith snorted. “You like-…”
Miira did not hear the rest of what Keith said because Emily and Jane chose that moment to throw themselves at her. Buried in hugs though she was, she still felt the moment when Kenneth released her hand and disappeared back into the crowd.
No sooner had Emily and Jane released her than Charles stepped in. He did not try to hug her, but there was a decidedly predatory look in his eye as he bowed over her hand.
“Dear lady,” he murmured. “Would you give me the honour of the first dance?”
“Sorry old chap,” Keith drawled as he stepped off the dais. “Droit du seigneur and all that.”
Charles laughed but the sound had a hollow ring to it.
“The Tango!” Keith yelled. “Let’s dance!”
As the massive orchestra struck up the strains of El Tango de Roxanne, he swept Miira into his arms. She knew how to dance the tango but she wasn’t very good at it. Luckily Keith was. His touch was so sure she found herself matching him step for step as if they had been dancing together for years.
When the music ended he held her close for a moment longer as he whispered with a stage leer, “I really am bi you know.”
Miira was still laughing when Charles swept in and claimed her for the next dance. He turned out to be quite a good dancer, and she would have enjoyed the experience if his hand had not kept caressing the skin of her back. Was he coming on to her?
After Charles relinquished his hold on her, Miira found herself dancing with young David. The boy tried hard but his feet always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and after having her toes stepped on twice, she spent the rest of the dance just trying to avoid his feet.
Jason claimed her after David and spent the whole dance talking about the designs he was planning for his next collection. After Jason went off to dance with Keith, Miira pushed her way through the crowd and collapsed into a seat next to Emily, who was looking a little forlorn.
“Why aren’t you dancing Emily?” she asked as she sipped at something that looked like frozen sorbet but tasted like champagne.
“Not really in the mood,” Emily said with a tight smile. “But I’m having fun watching the rest of you.”
Just then a handsome man in a glittering one-piece approached their table and whispered something in Emily’s ear but she waved him away with disdain. Next, the man turned to Miira, but something about her must have put him off because instead of asking her to dance he shrugged and walked away.
“What was all that about?” Miira asked, surprised by his rudeness.
“He can tell you’re a resident and I’m not,” Emily said with a touch of bitterness.
“And they get their jollies off on outsiders.”
Shocked by the venom in Emily’s voice, Miira did not know what to say. Clearly sex was as much of a minefield in Innerscape as it was in the outside world.