Cecile La Cour quite enjoyed being a flirtatious girl, though she knew she wasn’t quite as flirtatious as Lucien Riviere hoped. His gaze barely wavered an inch from her rear end the entire way up the grand staircase. Even when she couldn’t see him, she felt those piercing blue eyes of his burning something fierce into her being. This would not have bothered her so much had she not grown romantically conflicted over the past month.
As it happened, it was not a boy, but a young girl who had recently zapped into her life and stolen her heart. She was not yet sure what to make of it. Marceau was a bit of an enigma in her own right, but Cecile had never before been attracted to a woman. Anyway, she hated to regard her love in such trivial terms as gender. All she knew was that for some reason which defied all logic, she had fallen quite madly for the tech-savvy traveler.
This presented a major problem. Marceau existed on a separate frequency altogether. Things were…complicated, to say the least. While it did work out well for hiding from the disapproval of Cecile’s father, it also made having a relationship that much more difficult—talking to an empty room was like talking to a ghost. To make matters worse, the Dispatchers had caught on to Marceau’s signal two weeks prior and promptly increased security for the welcome gala as a precaution. They thought she was an anomaly. Two units had thus been assigned to monitor the La Cour family at all times, which should have made her father sleep easier. Of course the man still insisted on commissioning Tesla for a phase unit. It all seemed poised for disaster.
From a practical standpoint, Cecile knew she should be with a young man like Lucien, if only he were born of wealth and privilege. Most of the finer points were there—charisma, passable intelligence, leadership qualities, pride, loyalty, and dashing good looks. Even better, he was a close friend of the family. Money, however, was a luxury he did not have. Not that she cared. So long as she was happy, Cecile was the kind of girl who could date someone with holes in their pockets. But all of her friends were courted by wealthy men. She had her reputation to consider. Besides, Lucien always managed to make her feel more than a bit uncomfortable.
“I’m going to do the talking here, yeah?” she heard him whisper to Bernard. “So you’d better linger far enough behind.”
Cecile sighed as she heard the boy’s footsteps coming up fast to match her pace. The other orphans trailed along seven feet behind. She wondered if Marceau was watching them, though the lights hadn’t flickered for some time now. Perhaps her lover was leading the Dispatchers on a chase to the opposite end of the building. The petit traveler enjoyed toying with them. Cecile thought it reckless of course, only because she worried. But Marceau seemed like the type who could handle herself.
“How have you been since we last spoke?” Lucien inquired.
“Not bad. Stressed more than anything. You know my father and his silly welcome galas. Everything always has to be perfect.”
“He does a beautiful job. You ought to be proud,” he smiled.
“Nonsense! His advisors do most of the work. He lifts a finger for the table order, that’s about it. And how about you, Mr. Riviere? I heard you caused quite the scuffle this afternoon.”
“You heard about that, eh?”
“Casanov’s show is a guilty pleasure of mine. So you’re a hero. Congratulations!”
“Yeah,” Lucien cleared his throat, “but let’s just say that not everyone on the Dispatchers force made things easy. There’s a certain friend of yours who shouldn’t be working the wall.”
“Pontius?” Cecile chuckled. “He’s a bit rough around the edges, but he’s the friendliest man I know! We’ve been acquainted since I was a little girl. He’s very loyal to us.”
“Loyal as a dog. Although that’s probably an insult since dogs could do better.”
“Watch it!” she pushed him. “I could have you thrown off the premises like a common criminal.”
“You wouldn’t do that.”
“You like me too much,” Lucien grinned.
“I don’t quite think you know what I like.”
“Of course I do. The same things all girls like.”
“And that would be?”
“Power and prestige. Neither of which I have…yet,” he sighed. “But someday.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure. What do you call your band of Merry Men trailing close behind us?”
“At least you think I’m funny.”
“That wasn’t a joke,” Cecile insisted. “People respect you, and that’s something. Still, I wish humor was all it took. Not my choice, you understand. Father can be so demanding.”
“Perhaps he’s just demanding with you because he can’t force his will elsewhere.”
“Well, I am his daughter. And that’s not entirely accurate. Daddy’s been working on pushing through a few reforms that could improve this city for the better,” she explained as they rounded the corner of the balcony. The lights were beginning to dim ever so slightly.
“The reinstitution of the Dispatchers Training Programme, for one. There aren’t as many volunteers anymore, and it’s not something the wealthy want their sons taking part in. They’ve got their universities to attend, their girls to court.”
“I wouldn’t know. Us poor sods in the Barreau block aren’t good enough for that.”
“Of course you are. Daddy’s been trying to revitalize the canal properties for years and get everyone into proper schools, but he keeps getting shut down by that insatiable bitch Constance Renou. She’s always arguing about extending the lines for business transit. Pretty soon, we won’t have any business left. No wonder the city of Helias refused to sign our last trade agreement. They know as well as my father that those properties are a gold mine, but she won’t have it.”
Lucien frowned. “Anyone else pulling his strings?”
“Not that I could name off the top of my head. I’d have to look at the gala list.”
Cecile had elected to show the boys a small exhibit of artwork set up in the Green Room which had been carefully selected from the finest painters and photographers in all of Cavarice. But the farther they walked, the more the lights overhead began to flicker, and the more nervous she became. Any moment now, a unit of Dispatchers would be rushing their way to insist she return to her bedroom at once and lock the door. Never mind the fact that anomalies—and Marceau—could travel through walls.
She was getting annoyed, too, by Lucien’s presence. He joked quite a bit and possessed a very charismatic attitude, but it was obvious the boy had ulterior motives which her father was too blind to see. What those motives were was anybody’s guess. She didn’t care for the way he treated Bernard or the rest of the orphans either. Like they were his personal slaves, or some sort of burden he sought release from.
Cecile longed to be in the arms of Marceau again, if only to escape and be assured her girlfriend was safe. Of course, she had planned this particular tour route around the location of her bedroom just in case the Dispatchers came along. Sure enough, hurried footsteps could be heard echoing down the hallway adjacent to them just as she pulled the golden key from around her neck to open the gallery doors. But of course it wasn’t the key to the gallery at all—it was the key to her bedroom. The timing was too perfect.
“Miss La Cour! Miss La Cour!” the shouts came as the three men rounded the corner. Everyone except Cecile turned to address the commotion. The mayor’s daughter simply leaned back against the wall, swinging the chain with the golden key around her finger.
“Let me guess,” she rolled her eyes. “ ‘Get back to your room, Cecile.’ ”
“We reckon that’d be safest, Miss,” the captain huffed.
“And you boys do realize that anomalies can travel wherever they please? My door is not going to stop them.”
“That’s why we post guards at the end of the hall. Until the flickerin’ stops.”
“Until the flickering stops,” Cecile laughed. “I’ll be sure to let you all know when my love life needs rescuing.”
“Forget it. It’s over your heads,” she sighed, turning to Lucien. “I’ve got to go.” Several of the orphan boys began to whine.
“Please, can’t we see the Green Room just once?” Tomas asked.
“I’m sorry,” Cecile stepped over, tousling his hair. “Maybe I can sneak you up during the welcome gala. For now, I’ve got to abide by the good captain’s orders.” She eyed the man with contempt. “And there’s this dreadful dinner I have to get ready for soon.”
“Are we invited?” Lucien asked.
“You wouldn’t want to be. Some ridiculous fundraiser affair, but it’s how Daddy gets his money to fight off Renou in the coming elections, so…”
“I understand,” the boy frowned.
“You all can find your way back down? There’s another stairwell just up this hall.”
“We’ve got it, m’lady,” Bernard smiled and kissed her hand. Though his skin appeared darker beneath the flickering lights, Cecile swore she could detect a rosy blush in the African boy’s face. It was certainly more flattering than Lucien’s approach.
“See you at the gala, Bernard,” she hugged him.
As the last of the Barreau boys exited the hallway, Cecile rushed over to her room and locked the door behind her, leaning back against it. Her bedroom at Morcourt was inexplicably cold no matter what the outside temperature was. Goosebumps radiated over her soft skin in the dark, shapeless shadows. All was quiet now, save for the Dispatchers jabbering on down the hall about anomaly charts. She lit a candle on her bookshelf to carry over to the nightstand, where she plopped down in bed. A slight buzz sounded in the air to her right, almost like a fly, but quieter.
“I know you’re here,” she whispered. The buzzing noise encircled her on the bed, causing her skin to tingle. A mischievous grin spread across her face. “Feels nice.” Suddenly, it stopped. A hushed voice emerged from the darkness and seemed to echo from across the room, though Cecile couldn’t pinpoint exactly where. Whenever she spoke with Marceau, she always questioned whether or not she was going crazy. Did the voice come from within her own head or from outside? It could very well have been both.
“Why do you entertain that boy?” the traveler asked.
“It’s just gala business,” the girl sighed. “And Daddy thinks highly of him.”
“Lucien is dangerous.”
“He’s just a boy.” The lights flickered on and off. “Marceau!” Cecile protested, sitting up. “Really now, I wish you would stop this. It makes it so hard to talk when I can’t see you.”
“I can’t dial down for extended periods of time, I’ve told you. That’s the risk you take when you date someone who lives on a separate frequency. Why don’t you join me? The air is nice and crisp here.”
“Come on, you know I can’t do that,” she smiled.
“You know why, Marcy.”
“So you would still choose Lucien over me-”
“No, definitely not Lucien!” She could follow the voice now as it traveled in distinct directions, first above her, past her face to the right, then the left. Wherever Marceau was, she had taken to pacing back and forth.
“But anyone else. Someone you can feel and see with your own eyes.”
“Maybe if you chose to live in the real world with the rest of us, things would be easier.”
“How?” Cecile felt the girl’s breath hot in her face. “We would still have to hide because your father wouldn’t approve of you being with a girl anyway.”
“That’s not his decision to make.”
“Then whose is it, Cecile? You’re seventeen. You’re a big girl. You don’t have to stay here.”
“I wish it were that simple.”
“Isn’t it?” The girl finally appeared visible in front of her and knelt down at the side of the bed to hold her hands. Cecile leaned in to kiss her softly.
“Not quite. You sure you can’t dial down for longer? I just want to be with you,” she said, stroking her girlfriend’s face and brushing over the stubble on her shaved head. She thought it a most peculiar thing that a young girl would want to be free of all her hair, but Cecile didn’t mind. Being with Marceau felt almost the same as being with a boy—or at least it seemed less confusing to think of it that way.
“I know, baby,” the traveler kissed her hand. “But I have to conserve power. Plus it’s dangerous for me, I risk scrambling my frequency and getting lost. Now if I could get my hands on that phase unit your father ordered from Tesla, it might be a different story.”
“But he doesn’t even have it yet,” Cecile sighed, laying back and pulling the girl on top of her. They kissed again.
“I don’t need the actual unit. Just the blueprints.”
“The blueprints won’t arrive for another week. Anyway, Daddy keeps things like that locked in his safe. Even if I knew the combination, I have no clue where the safe even is in this building.”
“Could you find out?” Marceau asked, planting kisses down her neck.
“I guess I could ask, but…god, would you stop?” the mayor’s daughter giggled. “I can’t say no when you do this!”
“I know,” the traveler grinned. “So is that a yes?”
“That’s my girl,” Marceau whispered. “Sweet girl.” She pressed her warm lips to Cecile’s one last time before zapping away without a trace. All the lights in the room immediately flashed on. The bulb overhead broke, sending glass raining down on the bed. Cecile shrieked and scrambled to the closet, then froze. She listened to the air for a moment. There was no more buzzing noise, no more flickering. No more echoing voices and no more temperature shifts. Dead silence. Her girlfriend was gone.
“Goddamn it, Marceau!”