The rabbit fussed, fidgeting slightly as their suit jacket was adjusted, ever so slightly. They felt trapped, imprisoned by stuffy clothing and dressed to the nines. “Do I really have to wear this? Why can’t I just wear my normal clothes?”
“Because,” The tailor tutted, tapping the end of the rabbit’s nose with a finger. “The Starlight Ballet is one of the most prestigious events in the Republic. Nobility from across the stars will be visiting, tonight – including, I might remind you, those from your own Capellan League. So please be on your best behavior?”
Cai sighed, allowing the suit to be properly fitted and tailored. Honestly, they preferred… literally anything other than this, truth be told. When they’d signed up for the Duke Manache’s security detail they’d been expecting… well, security. Action. Instead they’d been shunted off into the care of one of the Duke’s many underlings, a small-time noble from the world of Olesia – the Countess Marie Lagonne. She was nice enough, he supposed, but…
“There. This is as nice as I can make you.”
“You can only do so much,” The tailor tutted again, starting to re-pack her things. “The Countess expects you to look the part, and I managed. Barely.”
With that, she left – leaving the rabbit slightly bewildered, staring after her.
And so it went.
New London, the crown jewel of the Centauri Republic, glittered and sparkled beneath the early Autumn night sky. Dazzling arrays of colored ferroglass, glinting in ever-changing sparkling patterns, shifted above the great hall’s yawning entrance as they slowly made his way through the shifting, gossipping crowd. Nobility from across the Confederacy mingled, here – and some from beyond, a quiet trade magnate discussing his holdings in the Shoals sliding by the rabbit as gracefully as he could manage. It was dizzying, and they almost felt like a ship on a storm-tossed sea.
“Out of your element?” A voice crackled in their ear, full of mirth.
“A bit,” The rabbit sighed, sliding by a pair of Centauri men idly surveying the crowd. “I’m not a fan of crowds.”
“It’s usually less,” The voice shrugged. “This is by far the busiest I’ve seen this place in years.”
Cai scoffed. “Lucky me.”
“Look, just get to the atrium, okay? The Countess is due any minute.”
They tapped their earpiece once – the little click it made the “agree” signal they and the other member of the security detail, a tall, lithe puma by the name of Janos Locke, had agreed on.
The atrium – formally called the “Star Gallery” – was packed full of people, the floor having been cleared for the ball days prior. The First Citizen, a short, stern man by the name of Gallas Quinelle, sat on the far side of the room in his rose-adorned throne, watching the mingling crowds with a detached disinterest. A number of scions drifted around him, vying for conversation with the single most powerful man in the Republic.
The Marquis deLande, strutting onto the central stage with the flair of a self-assured rooster, cleared his throat loudly into a microphone until the room quieted down. The few remaining conversations Cai could hear as they slid into their assigned guard spot regarded the Marquis himself, about some ridiculous rumor that deLande was of Terran birth.
“The world of Taion bids you all welcome, on this night of the Starlight Ballet,” deLande rumbled, his deep, bassy voice accentuating the quiet violins being played by the omnipresent holographic orchestra as the lights dimmed, the domed ceiling of the great atrium becoming speckled with holographic starlight. “At the behest of our august First Citizen, the Republic holds this event on the Decennial – a tradition as old as the Centauri Republic. For four hundred years our Republic has seen peace, prosperity, and ascension without end – a credit to both the people of the Republic, and the steady hand of House Quinelle. And so, as the twin moons of Taion rise in the star-studded sky above, I formally declare the fortieth Starlight Ballet… begun.”
He bowed as applause filled the room, swiftly exiting the stage as a pair of familiar faces slid through the crowd, ignoring their courtiers that drifted after them like lost ducklings. The pale, well-kept features of the Count and Countess Lagonne, dressed in matching, immaculately tailored outfits, traded a nod with both Cai and Janos as they glanced from left to right. The Count and Countess shared a quick, whispered conversation, before deciding to part ways from each other – and their small crowd of courtiers, suddenly forced to choose between the two as the Count crossed the floor to the Centauri nobility that gathered around the First Citizen.
Still, Cai couldn’t help but be surprised as the Countess detached from her small crowd of courtiers, drifting over to where the rabbit stood watching the rest of the room as the first dances began.
“Ah, Kellen. Your first Starlight Ballet, is it?”
The rabbit nodded. “Yes, milady.”
“What do you think?”
“It’s…” They searched for a word. “…intriguing.”
“It’s okay to say you don’t like it,” She chuckled, looking him over. “It’s clear you’d rather be in battle dress than fancy dress.”
“That obvious, huh?”
She nodded, sipping from the crystal decanter she held. “Some men are made for this, some are not. There’s no shame in admitting you’re out of your element.”
“I… suppose so, milady.”
“Bah. Supposition is a weak man’s game, Kellen. You know so. I myself inspected you upon your assignment to my security detail, you are not a weak man.”
“And as such… you may call me Marie, if you so wish.”
The rabbit stood a little straighter, processing the statement. A noble’s first name was a right few were given – and being on a first name basis was… unheard of. They supposed their job as her protector made it less rigidly stratified, but still…
“I’ll keep it in mind, milady.”
The Countess chuckled, finally deeming her time spent with the obviously uncomfortable rabbit as drawing to an end. “Do enjoy yourself, Mr. Kellen. Have a drink. I sincerely doubt security is needed, tonight.”
She tapped her earpiece. “The same applies to you, Mr. Locke.”
The channel crackled. “Yes, milady.”
With that, she vanished into the crowd, leaving the bemused rabbit to wonder how to spend the rest of their evening.
The rest of the Ballet passed with relative ease, though at the tail end of the night a courtier needed to be calmed down as their alcohol got the better of them. They’d tried being nice, but once a fist slammed into their chin for telling the man he’d had enough the poor courtier had seen just how it felt to be thrown out on one’s head.
Now, with the last of the guests filing out of the Star Gallery, Cai finished their last glass of imported Capellan whiskey, sitting it neatly on the catering cart as the drone slowly whirred it away.
“Told you it’d be easy.”
“You didn’t say that.”
Janos chuckled. “Well, I thought it would be. These nobles are all the same – though being relieved for the night was new.”
“I wonder why she did that.”
“Who knows?” The puma cast a quick glance around, before lighting a cigarette. “Maybe she was tired of acting? Bored? Curious how you’d react? It’s hard to tell with the Countess, easier to just go with it.”
Janos took a long, drawn-out drag of his cigarette, exhaling smoke into the crisp air of the atrium, before seemingly remembering there was someone else there and offering a second.
“I should probably head back, anyway,” Cai yawned, checking the time on their holopad. Nearly midnight Taion standard, meaning their shift had truthfully ended an hour ago. Oh, well. Overtime, right?
“Catch you next time.”
Cai nodded, before starting the long walk out of the Gallery into the bustling metropolitan nightscape that was New London.
They had the feeling tonight was the beginning of something, but…
They weren’t sure what, just yet.