The sun shines down on a seam of fresh-turned earth, the wet dark and light grey of loam and clay steaming slightly in the sunlight as moisture evaporates.
This is the dance floor.
A foot presses down against the loose earth, its owner kneeling to push a hole in the furrow with one finger, drop in a seed, then cover it over with the swipe of a hand before standing again. Look to the left, look to the right; this is the secret plot of the Dylans, the field where they cultivate their entheogens, their hallucinogens, their narcotics, stimulants, depressants... any substance the student body has evinced desire for.
Each of the sowers is glassy-eyed and pale-faced; the black mark of the zombi-powder that frees their minds from the drudgery of their tasks can be clearly seen around their mouths. As they work, they sing, a dull slurred chant that serves to keep them apace of one another:
Oan' toak oarda'ine,
Oan' toak oarda'ine...
These are the dancers, at least some of them.
Around the edge of the field lie the hypoallergenic apiaries of the narcobees, each of their venom sacks turgid with specifically engineered pharmaceutical payloads. Except for one hive.
In this hive is a bee. By all means and measures, it is not a special bee in any inherent way, aside from being of the species Apis liekwhoadude; nevertheless, this bee is quite important.
This bee has brought back something new; if it thought, it might consider this new thing to be a kind of pollen. It is black, not yellow, and it comes from a decidedly strange flower... but there is something about the taste of it that compels.
Other members of the hive crowd around, drawn by the scent/feel/taste of something alien... and they go still and silent. More members are drawn by the silence, themselves falling silent as the cycle repeats itself, then again.
In one hive, silence reigns.
Our bee looks from hive-member to hive-member, then follows the bidding of instinct. She dances.
Silence holds for a moment longer, then releases as the hive begins to pulse in steady, insistent rhythm. A stream of bees surges from the hive, intent on scouring zombi-powder from the faces of the fieldhands. When they return, honey is brewed, combs crafted... eggs laid. They incubate, fermenting amidst dance and song. They are infused with samba, salsa, swing, acapella; and in the midst of drug-haze and drone-song and bee-dance, they mutate into something the world has never seen or heard before.
In the fields, the planting slows, then stops. The workers lift themselves to stand upright, look one way then the other, and begin to dance. Heads cock and jerk like the hammers of pistols; hips twist and cant, torquing the hot, damp air to a fever-hum of tension.
Chapped and cracked lips open like the maws of baby birds, regurgitating half-forgotten lyrics:
“Frill-ahhhh.... frillahh... frillah nigh'...”
This is the stately gavotte of fate.
***Two Weeks Later:***
The emergency lights had almost gone dark, and the stifling closeness of the barricaded room continued to press in on the boy and the girl.
“How long has he been gone?”
“You asked me that ten minutes ago.”
There was a grunt by way of reply, then a scuffle as a black-clad figure wearing a respirator stepped through the wall.
“Ayla!” The red-haired girl looked up at him, her smile lighting the room in a way that would have made the sun look like a tiny, dim thing. “Where's Bunny?”
Phase didn't meet her eyes as he unzipped the backpack across his chest and began to dump candybars on the table.
“Ayla?” Her smile had begun to fade. “W-where's...”
“Conga line.” His voice was curt, almost brusque as he pulled the backpack off and slapped it on the table in sharp contrast to the silence that now surrounded them.
Hank watched him. “What happened?”
“I... we'd just tried to get in to see Jobe again. Her and Loophole... they've got most of the workshop area secure, and Bunny-” He shook his head, fingers turning white where they gripped his mask. “She thought we could get some extra filters for my mask, maybe get something rigged so we could get you out of here.”
“We'd just gotten into the tunnels when I heard them coming. From both sides.”
The room was silent.
“I... left her there.”
“Phase-” Hank started, only to be interrupted by the sound of cracking wood as Ayla hammered a heavy fist against the table.
“I left her! I just... went light and jumped up a sublevel.” A hot tear splashed on the tabletop, followed by another. “I'm... I'm supposed to make things better...”
Ayla felt a large, warm hand slide over his shoulder, squeezing enough to provide comfort but not enough to hurt.
“Ayla...” Hank's voice was soft and warm. “It's not your fault. If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't even be here now. Remember how you got us out of Hawthorne after Fuub went all 'psychic hoedown' on us?”
There was a sniffle. “...lost Toni...”
“Yeah, but if it wasn't for that little shielding trick you were practicing, Nikki and I would still be stuck back there. We-” Hank gave Fey a warning glance, “-think you did good, Ayla.”
He gave Ayla's shoulder another squeeze, then took a step back to balance himself as two slender arms slid around his waist and a girlish body pressed against his.
“Uh-” Lancer looked over at Nikki in near-panic, then down at the top of Ayla's head as the other boy began to weep. Very, very carefully, Hank placed a hand on his back, murmuring quietly.
Nikki stared at them, eyes burning until she sat back against the wall with tears running down her cheeks.
Do not begrudge them their grief, child.
Why not? Nikki thought back at the Sidhe Queen. Everyone else is gone, and now Bunny-
Child, I have watched realms beyond your ken burn to ash and cinder. I know the loss you feel all too well; even the sidhe are no stranger to love.
So what, you're going to tell me to suck it up and carry on like you would?
Aung's thoughts lost their waspish tone. There is always a time for grief, dear heart. Yours, as well as theirs. Do not-
“Ayla?” Hank's voice was strained and tight. “Ayla, you're humming.”
Her reverie broken, Nikki looked back up at the other two. They hadn't moved; Ayla still had her arms wrapped around Hank's waist, but the expression on her face had changed, the lines of care and worry washed away by a look of placid contentment.
And even across the room, Nikki's perked ears could hear her humming the soft, wafting tones of something vaguely classical.
“Phase,” Hank grunted as he reached behind his back to pull her hands loose. “You need to let go, this isn't funny... oh, god.”
Nikki watched as Hank pulled Ayla's hands free – and only let go of one, his hand circling her waist as hers slid up his arm to his shoulder.
“Hank...” Nikki whispered, watching as his fingers twined with Ayla's and they began to sway, marking time to her soft humming. “No...”
Hank tore his gaze away, staring at Nikki with terror-filled eyes. “Run...” he crooned in a husky voice, harmonizing almost perfectly with Ayla.
Nikki pushed herself up the wall, fumbling blindly as she scrabbled at the barricaded door. Hank smiled at her, then looked down at his dance partner before joining her in soft, wordless song.
With a pulse of donated power from Aung, the barricade disintegrated and Nikki wrenched the door open, fleeing down the tunnel at a dead run without a single look back.
I am sorry.
Nikki skidded into an alcove, gasping for air. “Aung... it wasn't your fault...”
I need to tell you how I'm feeling.
I need to make you understand.
Her breath hitched in her throat. “Aung,” she moaned. “Aung, no...”
The Sidhe Queen continued, relentless.
I'm never going to give you up... never going to let you down...
“NOOOOOOOO!” Nikki screamed, pressing her hands against her ears.
The WARS radio bunker was dark and still; the radio equipment had gasped out their last distress call several days before. Greasy and Peeper sat under the cover of the main electronics console, the former sniffling quietly as the other guzzled the last bottle of water.
“Oh, come off it, minion!” Peeper snapped after coming up for air. He flung the empty bottle at the other boy, and Greasy flinched as droplets of backwash sprayed across his face. “You're good at figuring out things – figure me a way out of here!”
Greasy kicked the bottle away, letting the room fall into sullen silence once again. “You... you're always so mean,” he mumbled.
Peeper laughed, a sharp cruel bark. “No, I'm not! At
least, not more than I have to be to motivate your
“You make me cry. All the time.”
Eyes that glowed a cool blue watched the other boy, and Greasy jumped a little as a hand patted his knee.
“That's... that's what friends do, m'boy! We've always been friends, aye?”
Greasy pulled his leg free of the other boy's grasp. “...I guess you could call it that.”
Cool fingertips brushed his cheek, and before he could back away, Peeper's hand took hold of his chin, guiding him back to staring in the other boy's eyes, glowing and glinting in a truly hypnotic fashion.
“We could be lovers...” Peeper murmured, his harsh voice suddenly soft as he stroked Greasy's cheek, “...and that's a fact.”
Any further duets skipped vocalization and went straight to choreography.
Everything was proceeding in accordance with his plan.
Nimbus sat upon his cold throne, watching as news broadcasts across the world showed discord, unrest... chaos. He flipped from channel to channel, watching as jazz musicians and jiving panhandlers were quarantined and shot. VH1 had gone to static, as had C-SPAN after several heads of state began an improvised rhythm session and had to be put down.
Yessssss... music is the heart of man's resistance. Take away rhythm, and you take away order. Replace the beat with beating, and man loses all will to resist... indeed, and will gladly accept whatever order is posed upon him. All too soon, I will provide that ord-
“STEEEEEEEEEEEPHEN!” a voice shrilled. “IIIIIIIII'M HUUUUUUNGREEEEEEE!”
Nimbus aka Thuban aka Stephen sighed. “Coming, my love!” he called out, levering himself off his throne and heading out of his chamber.
He paused for a moment to collect a jar and spoon, then continued on, stopping in a room packed with dense golden honeycomb, each cell the size of a small oil drum. Warped humanoid figures stirred in the saffron murk as he passed by, heading for the pool in the center of the chamber.
The girl who floated there stirred as he came near, opening eyes blown black and full with psychotropic exposure.
“Sssssstephen...” she moaned.
Thuban knelt at the edge of the pool, uncapping the jar of royal jelly and starting to spoon lumps of living gold between her lips, pausing to let her swallow. “Is that better, my love?”
Jade licked her lips, staring up at him with vacuous hunger. “More...” she rasped. “MORE!”
He smiled down at her, watching her turgid belly flex and distend as something shifted inside her.
“Of course, my queen.” He smoothed back her hair and kissed her forehead, tasting the sweet honey that anointed her skin. “After all, your children are the future...”