by Fred Warren -
The room buzzed with conversation, punctuated by the occasional titter or guffaw. Glasses clinked, and a Bach sonata lilted overhead.
It was oh, so pedestrian.
John Milton hated parties. Hours of making polite conversation with people he didn’t particularly like, listening to timeworn music, imbibing watered-down drinks, and nibbling reprocessed hors d'oeuvres.
He tried not to think about what might have been reprocessed to create the pretentious snacks as he scanned the crowd. Most of these drones were irrelevant—mid-level administrators, Spacer Guild functionaries, a few merchants and Peacekeeper staff officers. Of more interest was the handful of Peace Council members sprinkled about the room. John’s import-export business was comfortably profitable, but a few insincere compliments and discreet bribes were necessary to prevent government inspectors from looking too closely at his books.
Time to turn on the charm. He drained his cocktail and set the empty glass on the bookshelf he’d been leaning against. After straightening his blue satin tunic and twisting one of its diamond studs into proper alignment with the others, he set sail for Councilor Mkembe, who was dithering over a tray of canapés.
A flash of red caught the corner of his eye, and as turned toward it in reflex, he hesitated. A willowy blonde woman in a low-cut crimson gown smiled at him from a corner of the room. Her eyes beckoned in counterpoise to the ironic tilt of her lips. He didn’t recognize her, but John smiled in return. How could he refuse such a cultivated invitation? Perhaps the evening wouldn’t be a total bore after all.
He altered his course, knocking one of the cyborg servants off-balance and sending a plate of finger sandwiches clattering to the floor. No one, including John, paid it any mind. The servant bent down and silently collected the spilled food as John swerved around and through the loose circles of chattering partygoers. The woman’s smile widened, and it was dazzling. Her eyes were cerulean blue, her skin smooth and perfect. There might be three comparable beauties on all of Avenir. How could he not have noticed her before? John shouldered his final obstacle, a corpulent bureaucrat, out of the way and reached toward her.