Portions may be NSFW.
Johann woke up on the rug on the floor of Eloise’s room, knowing a few things. Principally, that they had made love, for the first and only time.
He was spineless and weak that way, especially about her. But he was dazed and drunk on her voice and her skin touching him, and she was dazed and drunk on his voice filling her. Her voice filled his brain until he could not properly think, and he whispered to her for more, and more, and more.
He did not remember much. He knew that there were moments when he was over her and her legs wrapped around him. He knew there were times she was on top and her breasts touched his chest and her breath was in his mouth. He knew his member was straight for a long time, that she had fondled it. He knew that sometime in that hazy fog of voices he touched her between her legs and she asked for more and he circled his fingers around it as she asked for more. He knew there was quite a while that he was in her and she in him, their tongues together, their parts together, as they moved together and moaned together.
He knew that he reached the edge of the sky, then rushed down in an ecstatic descent to the depths of the earth, losing all control of his body as he relaxed, then lost consciousness in a deep slumber.
He woke on the rug, a blanket over him and nothing else, his clothes piled in a heap at his feet. He was alone over the rug. It was already midday then, almost noon, on the day of his big performance. The performance would be that evening. He could not believe he had been left that exhausted, or that drunk and dazed on Eloise.
And yet a part of him also knew, knew very well: there would only be that time, and there would be none other after that.
Johann will perform for the largest crowd he will ever play for yet. He should be excited, he wanted to be. He was not.
He drew open one curtain, and opened a window, hoping a little fresh air would help him think. Eloise had kept them closed, to keep prying eyes from looking into the room. But she was at the first floor for the moment, talking with sub-leaders, getting news from the outside. Rowan was hidden under a blanket again, a little huddled mound.
The street below was busy, as usual, but the police patrolling it were gone now. Off to more important affairs, he guessed. After all, the music program recital concert was always a highly anticipated yearly affair, and many people attended.
Without Eloise’s help, it would still be next year, or two years, before Johann should play for that recital. With her pulling strings, it would be this year. It was not too disputed, anyway, because he did play well, better than some of those at the higher levels. The exposure the concert would give him now will open up opportunities for him to have his own solo concerts, where he could earn money, an audience, a little celebrity.
What good would it do, if he could not brag about his performance to his worst critic? He sighed.
He stood at the foot of the bed. He watched his redhaired friend, helplessly tranced to be asleep, to be harmless.
He raised his oboe. Just one note. He only needed to play one note to deactivate the trance code he placed over her. One quick moment, one quick note. Yet he could not play it.
He wanted to perform at the concert. He desperately wanted it. He had dreamed for years for that moment, that moment when he lifted his eyes to a packed music hall, all listening to him play, all admiring his skill. He was ready to do anything for that chance. Now that chance had come; there was no way he would give it up. Not even for Rowan. There was no way he would annoy Eloise and thus make her cancel his slot.
He lowered the oboe.
“I’m sorry, Ro. I really am. I’ll make it up to you. I promise.”
He hated how false those words sounded in his lips.
Johann noticed a faint warm glow filling the room, pulsing in a gentle rhythm. It was brightest at the bed, under the blanket.
He pulled away the blanket. He gulped.
Rowan’s body glowed, It showed even through the thin frilly nightgown the redhead would never choose for herself. Program lines streaked through her arms and legs, and over her torso. All of them pulsed with a red, warm light. Her hair shifted its shades to a fiery color. She turned onto her back. She sweated and panted. The glowing grew brighter. She seemed ready to scream.
Johann axiously came up to her. “Sleep, Rowan. Go back to sleep. I promise I’ll get you out of this mess I made, when I get the chance. Please calm down. Please sleep. Alright?”
“Sleep. Yes.” The redhead answered him.
“That’s right, Ro. Go back to sleep. You can punch me later. Go sleep, and do whatever she says. Just for a little longer.”
The panting began to even out into deep breaths. The program lines slowly faded back into her limbs. The hair returned to its original shade of rusty-brown.
And just in time, for Eloise entered the room. Her hair was damp from a shower. She was still in her bathrobe.
“We’re leaving in two hours. Be ready then.”
“With her?” he asked.
She nodded. Then she turned to face Rowan. “Come. Take a shower with me. Please me again.”
The redhead sat up on the bed, the nightgown outlining her small breasts. “Yes.”
Ren could feel all the electric charge within his program codes, coursing through the lifecodes in the arms and legs, eager to be released.
Besides planning placement of Chie’s little army of helpless program and scholar trainees throughout the music hall, he read a few more things that night. Particularly he pored over a book he borrowed from the grand library, on the day the Metalworks spread the flyers. The book was a treatise on the lifecodes. It was a book for advanced licensed heal programmers, but he could understand enough of the medical language to make sense of it.
The book had several articles on the effects of electric program codes on the body and its lifecodes.
He intended to use them.
This, he did not tell anyone, not Chie, not Soji, definitely not Beika who was aware of that book. It was his own program codes, and it was his own revenge to give.
The amount of charge he used to move his legs would not be enough. Too much charge would kill more than one person. Just enough can stun, just enough will kill.
He would position himself within that audience so that, wherever she would place herself, he would have a good shot, and he would take down only her.
To him, she was not a girl, she was not a female. She was a threat that had to be eliminated, once and for all.
He did not ask much of life. He just wanted to have a nice education as a scholar, have a good quiet job to care for his parents eventually, maybe as a teacher in the capital at best, even in his home town would be alright. It was taken away because he saw her when she did not want to be seen, and she had thrown him off a bridge to silence him.
He had to fight for the education he had, had to strive for it in a way most did not have to do. He had to force himself to walk, when others found it easy. Even then he was denied the scholar training halls, because he had become a programmer because of her.
Now she had stolen yet another person’s chances, one of the many she had already stolen.
Not anymore. He will take her down, with his own hands. He will do it, and no one will stop him.
He headed to the music hall alone with his thoughts and his rage.
A cacophony of sounds met him as he arrived at the music hall. Various music programmers practiced their pieces on stage in different places. The orchestra for the opening presentation were positioning themselves and tuning their instruments. Amplifiers and speakers were being tested.
The main music hall was open-air with colliseum-type seating built in and some shielding from heat and rain overhead. It projected its seating toward the capital’s center, which could then deal with the spillover crowd, as it was expected to happen in such events as this, the recital concert of the music programming guild’s trainees.
The seats were still mostly empty, but people had begun to arrive. The more distant seats were filling first, for these were the cheaper tickets and the ones bought by trainees and civilians.
Ren recognized the arrival of some trainees from the programming and scholar halls, members of Chie’s group. Easily identifiable as he was with his crutches, he kept it that way and positioned himself in an obvious location, in the handicapped sections of the upper levels.
Today the stigma brought by being in that section did not bother him much. The area gave him a good vantage point of the entire music hall, and gave him a good view of the first few rows, where the dignitaries were supposed to sit, where Ely and her subleaders were expected to have wrenched tickets for.
The trainees looked up to him, either smiled or nodded. They scattered throughout the audience, in all seating levels, one offensive programmer, one futuretell or pure trance programmer, and one scholar to each area.
Chie was pretty, her hair brought down in gentle waves, in a straight gown that covered her neck and her legs but revealed her arms. She walked throughout the assembling crowd, checking positions and talking with people. She was pretty, even beautiful, with those pearl drop earrings…but he could not be distracted. He had to focus on the task at hand.
Beika arrived with assistant Lan. They had seats in the middle section. With the way Beika was all jumpy and happy, Ren could tell that those good tickets had been given to her and him.
Marceau of the defense committee arrived and strutted toward the first few rows along with her family. Her green hair was pulled back with a gold-tiara ensemble. A gold chain and locket were emphasized over her neck and chest by a black gown that plunged down to her cleavage and sliced up to mid-thigh.
He looked around for the chief. Sure enough, Soji was in one of the higher seats, his head held up by his hands as he stared dreamily at the green-haired beauty below.
He had not seen Johann yet, but Johann was part of the billing, he would probably be backstage.
A man came out in front of the curtain that had fallen over the practicing orchestra. He gave the first warning that the concert was about to start.
All their people were in place.
Chie was in position.
He knew where Soji’s friends were.
He did not know where Ely was.
It was about the time the man appeared again that a platinum-haired young lady came in. She was not in ponytails today. She kept her curls loose in torrents around the silvery-black dress that fell to midthigh. She came in with another young woman whose head was covered by a shawl. She had a simple scarlet dress. Her head drooped by the seat.
Eloise allowed the young woman’s head to lean on her shoulder. The shawl fell to the shoulders, and for a few moments Ren saw that the shawl covered cropped red-brown hair, in a boyish cut, before Eloise pulled up the shawl again over her head.
Ren cursed and planned for a straight bolt of electric charge, to hit Eloise and avoid Rowan.
He did not dislike music or music trances, but he had gotten sick of it back when he was stuck in the northwest’s infirmary. Individuals or groups of music programmers visited the infirmary and played music codes as volunteer work, or upon paid request for music trances. Music of any kind now just made him remember those times when he was stuck in a bed, stuck listening to Beika prattle about anything and everything.
It was her fault, that girl with the platinum hair, her back to him, many rows down, but a clear target.
The orchestra performed, and the audience applauded. The sequence of individual performers was given. Many in the audience sat back comfortably in their seats.
Ren glanced through their allies. Most of them kept vigilance. Some of them plugged their ears, to avoid trance codes. Others had weakened toward the music trances. But since they were encoded by pure music programmers, Ren was not too worried.
Beika’s head bobbed to the music. Beside her Lan’s head was rested on the back of the seat, his eyes closed. He seemed already lost in a deep music trance. That would be a problem, Ren considered, if anything fast was needed out of the Crimson Master. He had to keep some power for a general deactivate.
Soji was not paying attention to the music at all, but kept his eyes moving through the crowd then back to the green-haired futuretell in the front rows.
Chie was also distracted, her eyes darting here and there, but mostly, for some reason, watching him.
He smirked. She had good reason to be concerned, but he was not going to change his mind, no matter what she felt about it.
She did not see what he saw in the black memory ruby. She did not know, besides seeing his legs, what happened to him.
Rowan was still leaned on Eloise’s shoulder, like they were old friends. The fact that it was far from true made him seethe.
He resumed calculating the distance between himself and her, estimating the amount of electric charge he need, thinking how he would arc the blast to avoid innocent persons and Rowan.
There would be no mistakes.
But as he was calculating and estimating, he saw Eloise jerk away from the head on her shoulder. She repositioned the girl, such that the head leaned on the seat instead of her shoulder. She quickly withdrew her hands, as if they were scalded. Ren saw some lines brighten Rowan’s arms. From beneath the shawl, the head glowed somewhat, visible not just to him.
But only two other people had noticed this: Soji, and Beika, who thus started to shake at Lan. Soji was too far away, Beika would only be useful after what he planned to do, and Lan was still music-tranced too deep to be useful.
After many music programmers had performed, Johann of southwest was introduced. He came out oboe in one hand, with only one other performer who sat a piano. The female trainees squealed. His dark hair was braided and styled away from his elegant face. His narrow hips were emphasized by the black suit and the pants that emphasized his legs.
Soji sat in attention and plugged his ears. Chie also focused. Lan was still not responding to Beika.
Ren raised his right hand and directed his index finger like a pistol at Eloise’s back.
“Encode. Set voltage. Set direction: straight line. Set distance: 20 meters.”
The program codes aligned themselves within him. The charge readied inside him. From one point to another point, like lightning, in one steady bolt of energy.
He had not done it before. He just knew how.
He steadied his hand, ready to activate.
Johann stood before the assembly, humbled. Many citizens of the capital filled those seats. He could recognize almost all the people in the front rows. He was sure he knew many of those in the upper rows, even if he could not see them. He knew a good number of those filling the middle rows.
He had wanted to stand in front of a crowd like this for such a long time, but when the time arrived, he could not feel anything besides humbled. Suddenly, he did not feel worthy to stand before them, to play before them.
But he had to.
On the second row from the stage, Eloise looked up at him, half-smiling, half-smirking. She was beautiful in that silver gown that shimmered with the stage lights. Her platinum hair, spilling over her shoulders in heavy waves, framed her face, made him focus on it.
Leaned on one shoulder was another pretty face, her eyes closed, bangs of her red hair covering them. The scarlet silk dress suited her lithe frame and emphasized her slender arms.
The girls in his life, together in a way he never wanted them to be. He sighed.
He had to satisfy one of them. He had to save the other. He admired them both. He wanted them both. He felt confused by himself.
He nodded to the accompanist. He raised his instrument to his lips.
The agreement was simple. He would first play normally, slowly establish a harmless music trance over the audience. In the unaccompanied section of the piece, he would suddenly change pieces and encode pure trance codes. Once he had the attention and the command of the assembly, Eloise would say what she wanted, to make the people of Pendi obey her will and whim. The end of it would deactivate the trance over Rowan.
But once he began, he forgot the people who watched him, as he lost himself in the music.
He told them about himself, a boy who thought of no one but himself and his music, a person who did not care about others. A young man with dreams, impossible of a boy from the southwest. But he made them listen, made them pay attention.
He told them about Rowan, as a little girl, more like a boy than most, more fearless than many grown-ups. She fought for everyone who needed it, whether she liked them or not, as long as she knew they were in the right. She did not ask for anything in return, but she got away with taking away fruit from the stalls of grateful parents.
He told them about Eloise, a force of nature that he had never seen before. He was blown away by her. He was not scared away by her reputation, he was drawn closer to her by it. She dared do what he never imagined, and people bowed to her. So did he. And even when she began to hurt him, he could not stay way.
He told them about what he saw over the last few days, in the only way he knew how. He hated himself for being so cowardly. He hated himself for not doing anything. He hated himself for not fighting for Rowan, after all the times she had fought for him. He hated himself for not knowing what to do, knowing that what Eloise did was wrong, but knowing that he could make himself go against her.
He asked them what he should do. He could not give up the girl he had known all his life. He could not give up the girl he had just met but consumed him. He had to make a choice, he knew that. He did not know what it was to be. He asked the crowd.
But most of the crowd was now deep in a trance program he had set, and could not answer.
He saw Eloise release Rowan and rest her on the seat. He saw Eloise smile at him, appreciation and simple love in it.
He melted. He wanted to do anything she asked. He wanted to go on with the plan.
But he was distracted by a pulse of light.
He saw a quick blast of light, starting from the higher rows, sparking down across the music hall. It sped toward the front rows.
It ended at Eloise.
Electric shocks coursed through her.
She arched forward. She toppled. She fell back onto the seat.
People screamed. Those at the nearby seats jumped up and stood and backed away.
His heart skipped several beats. He almost dropped the oboe. But he did not, and instead gasped and blew one single, loud, shrill, high, off-key note.
He dropped the oboe from his trembling hands. The instrument shattered into its pieces on the stage floor.
He forced himself to look up. But he saw something worse.
Rowan was awake.
That note, that single note of shock. The deactivate code. Why did he have to find that terrible note now.
Her eyes were clear, untranced, and panicked. Her arms glowed with flame lines. The lines filled her chest, face, and neck. Her hair flared brightly. She screamed in pain.
He stared at his broken oboe, stared again at the confusion in the audience. People ran in all directions. Shouts came from all points. The access gates had been opened, and people rushed to them, pressed their way to them.
Johann looked up and saw a young man at the higher rows, not running like the rest of them. The young man had silver hair, a face filled with triumph, but now filling with fear, as the crowd scattered around him. He stood with his forearm crutches, watching the stage and the front rows, watching Eloise, Rowan, himself, seeing nothing else.
The flame lines grew brighter.
He forced himself to open his mouth, to speak, to shout.
“Get away from the front rows! She’s going to explode!”
It was drowned out by the shouts and screams.
He shouted desperately now. “Explosion! Get down!”
No one heard him. The lame kid at the higher rows remained standing and watching, planted in place, smiling in satisfaction, but his eyes filled with terror.
He dropped to the floor as his red-haired friend was engulfed in a ball of fire while she screamed.
He hated being so useless, so powerless. He hated himself so much.
The fireball dispersed in a powerful blast of flame, in a terrible explosion of sound and debris.