Still in heat 34. The prompts this time around:
Location: A hot-air balloon
Object: A Four-leave clover
Not very happy with this. Sci-Fi is hard anyway. It felt nearly impossible in just 1000 words.
Title: In Ordinary Time
Synopsis: A peacekeeper and a rogue storyteller meet again.
It should have been a quiet night. Coterie Juliet leaned that way most of the time, with its low census and most denizens three or more generations out from transmittal. It was a lucky draw for her—for anyone—especially at the end of Kermis.
“Tell me it’s chaos there.”
Redland’s voice punched into Dita’s skull. It startled her upright, the motion abrupt enough to trip the position lock on the observation pod.
“Knock,” she snapped. Aloud. It annoyed her. Unnecessary waves of sound disturbing the well-ordered silence. She bobbed in place until a familiar tug brought her back to center. “We’ve talked about knocking.”
“You’ve talked about knocking.” The volume inside Dita’s head increased as Redland let his sensory filters dip and the comparative roar of Coterie Victor rolled in. “I’ve pushed you the latest data from Median on spontaneous social engagement.”
“Spontaneous,” Dita shot back. “That’s what you’re calling it over there?”
“Exactly.” Redland chuckled and brought his filters back to full. "You know Victor. Especially after the fête's wound down."
Dita did know Victor, and not just by reputation. She knew its undulating streets during Kermis. The susurration of its discontent in ordinary time. She knew Victor, but Redland didn't need to know that. No one needed to know.
“I’m looking for sympathy here, D. Commiseration.”
“Sympathy, sure. Commiseration . . .” Dita gathered focus and lifted her gaze to the smoothly scrolling monitors. Natural ability warred with disuse. She tugged the neural tendril wider to give Redland field of view. “Afraid not.”
“Look at them,” he groaned. “Heavy-headed little lambs all tucked in. Empty streets. Is that limbic readout actually flat?”
“Coterie-wide.” She didn’t bother to check the satisfaction rolling off her. “Blips here and there. Kids mostly. No interventions.”
“Blips.” There was a pause. Silence on Redland’s end. An unpleasant sensation on Dita’s. “Swap with me.” His voice went low. Going for persuasive, but Dita heard the desperation. She felt it. The gravitational tug of yearning, though that wasn't how the tendril worked. It wasn’t at all how it was supposed to work. “One loop, D. I’m on four . . .”
“This is old, Redland.” Dita gave her tech a mental twist, abruptly narrowing to positive push only. “There’s no way, even if I wanted to.” She winced against the nasty aftershock of meaning stripped out in transfer. Revenants of emotion. “Doei.”
She queued up the barely polite sign-off, poised to snap the tendril entirely, but Redland was faster on the draw.
“He’ll show sooner or later.” It was nonsense at first. Implication alone wriggling its way into Dita’s mind. “Baker,” Redland added.
“He’s in Oscar,” she blurted. “Discipline, social cultivation . . .”
“Was in Oscar. Juliet transmittal, Kermis Day 1.” Dita felt the full force of his smugness, too off-kilter to adjust incomings. “New initiative. Way over my clearance—way over yours—but I saw.” He let it sink in. A final push before his voice smoothed out. “It’s a good swap, Dita.”
“Good,” she echoed, but it was already a lie.
Monitors vanished. Neat rows and columns gave way to a single frame. The Keeper had him immobilized. Frozen with his head cocked, just enough of a smile visible to make her lie again.
She ignored her full name. Pushed away the urge to wonder how he knew it. How he always knew far more than anyone should. His tricks of the trade were irrelevant. A relic of Victor.
“Denizen B-476. Late of Oscar. Late of Yankee, Papa, November. Newly arrived in Juliet for . . .” The incoming didn’t exactly end. It . . . thinned, too faint to sense.
“Baker,” he said. He always said. “That’ll be redacted.” The addition was gentle. A far different tack than he’d ever taken before.
“Inciting incident.” The cell barrier thrummed as Dita strode to the recovery slot. “Unauthorized, low-utility organic.”
She turned her palm up, and the item materialized. A scalloped head nodding on a slender stem. She recognized it. Remembered fields and fields and the taste of green.
“Four leaves.” He nodded toward it. “For luck.”
“Fallacy perpetuation.” Dita looked away as the clover winked into Evidence, just data in the Keeper’s stream now. “Your real problem, Denizen? Fabrication.”
“Fabrication? A story.” His eyes flashed. “You remember stories, don’t you?”
“Minor child involvement.” Dita frowned. Something tickled the edges of her mind, well beyond the troubling fact of it. “Escalation.”
“Escalation. Fuck.” He snorted. “A kid. A story. She wasn’t happy. Then she was.” His eyes flicked from side to side as though he could see the scroll of information flooding the tendril. As if he could fend it off. “But you know that already.”
She did know. A short-lived fluctuation in the limbic readout. A blip that was, then wasn’t. She knew without a doubt he’d smoothed over the only moment she might have been called to account for.
“You know the story.” He latched on to her hesitation. “You did Retro in school.” It was a guess. A shot in the dark, but it landed like always. He knew, like always. “You’d know this one. A tragedy, they say. A huckster and his hot air balloon. A left-behind little girl.”
“Recommending re-transmittal.” She spoke aloud. Unnecessary waves of sound.
“I always thought she was lucky.” His words came quickly. Desperately. “Before that bullshit with the shoes.”
“Fast-track per Section 41319, Universal Coterie Mandates.” Dita narrowed her outgoing to a filament hardly wide enough to carry the pronouncement out to Median. Not nearly wide enough to let anything more slip through. Anything troublesome. “Initiating.”
Baker’s eyes went wide in the end. He was afraid. He was always afraid. It gave her no satisfaction. None at all, but the cell charged soon enough. It filled her field of view with scorching white.
He hadn’t spoken. Hadn’t had the chance, but the would-have words lingered anyway. An unauthorized story in ordinary time.
I can’t come back. I don’t know how it works.