Chapter 3:

The Stardome Club

Red Storm Over Ganymede


**Isul**

After his fight with the Empress Dowager, Tristan slept for several hours while I caught up on work, then sprang out of bed and announced he was going out. This was a ritual we had been through many times - Tristan would argue with the Empress Dowager, then take out all his frustrations on the dance floor, usually culminating in him going home with someone who caught his fancy while I tagged awkwardly along to make sure he wasn’t killed.

But I groaned as we entered the lobby of the building. Of all the Jove-forsaken places he could have taken me, Tristan knew my distaste for the Stardome Club. The bar’s claim to fame was its location atop one of the few buildings to reach the transparisteel canopy covering the city of Catamitus, thus allowing the roof of the club to look out directly into space. It was the most popular nightlife destination in the city, and every other time we’d come here Tristan had been recognized and mobbed by people almost immediately.

These excursions he favored had so many variables to calculate; they were a security nightmare. And not my idea of a good time.

Hundreds of levels flashed by as we rode the gravity tube in silence. Tristan adjusted his metallic blue wig and winked at me through his neon eye lenses. He was wearing standard club attire: tight vest and pants with built-in lights that strobed to the music, holo-tattoos on both arms, and spray skin color to darken his normally pale hue a few shades. I calculated it would be sufficient to prevent immediate recognition by the partygoers.

For my own part, I was dressed in a decidedly less flashy set of clothes. Tristan had replaced my antlers with a smaller, less conspicuous backup set, and I found myself missing their comforting weight. I stared out the clear sides of the chute as Tristan ran a hand along the antlers.

“You miss them, don’t you Isul?” he purred.

I swatted his hand away, irritated with myself for feeling giddy at the touch of his hand. “Of course I miss them. Most of my tracking and long-range communications equipment are in the other antlers. How am I supposed to keep an eye on you now?”

Tristan pulled me close, and whispered conspiratorially in my ear, “I guess you’ll just have to stay close to me tonight.”

The doors to the chute opened, saving me from having to compute a proper response as Tristan pulled me out of the low gravity and settled us on the solid floor of the 300th story. The security Bio-droid - a birdlike, neon monstrosity - checked our scanned credentials, which I had pre-programmed to prevent it from reporting who we were to management, and let us in immediately, thankfully bypassing the gargantuan line of citizens who jeered as we cut the line. If only they knew who they were jeering at.

Stepping into the club was always an assault on my photo and audio receptors. The strobing lights, thumping ‘music,’ and din of the crowd threatened to overload my systems. Tristan pulled me through the crowd toward the bioluminescent bar that ringed the dance floor, and ordered a pair of Saturns Rings. His favorite drink was suspended in a sphere by a circular generator that emitted a weak forcefield. Tristan said the buzz as your lips touched the sphere was almost as good as the drink. I’d have to take his word for it.

As the bartender mixed and poured the drinks, I took a moment to survey the room. There were approximately one-hundred-eighty-nine citizens, and twenty-three Bio-droids who were trying - like me - to keep an eye on their charges. I noted several from prominent families - children of Councilors, scions of industrialists.

Tristan broke my survey scan as he thrust one of the drinks into my hand and began moving toward the dance floor. I waved my free hand over the bar to pay for the beverages from Tristan’s account, noting the dwindling funds with some dismay. We really needed another conversation about spending. I followed him out into the sea of undulating bodies beneath the Stardome.

Despite myself, I smiled as he began dancing. Even if he had to wear a ridiculous disguise to do it, it was nice to see Tristan enjoy a free moment, unencumbered by the weight of his position. Beneath all the military training, endless protocols, and expectations of the Empress Dowager, Tristan was still young. And still beautiful.

“Don’t just stand there like a statue!” Tristan called, grabbing my hand and relieving the other of the second Saturns Rings. By the Red Storm, when had he finished the first one?

Tristan led me out further onto the dance floor. His vest was alight in a riot of colors as the music carried the crowd into fits of frenzy. As a Bio-droid, I could appreciate the mathematical properties of music, but Tristan’s club tunes were beyond my appreciation. But because he was there before me, and because he was grinning the foolish grin that he always used to wear me down, I did my best to dance with him.

Hours, and several drinks later, I hoisted Tristan off the dance floor and into a private booth along the edge of the Stardome. Another charge from the account, but worth it for the anonymity it provided. I had barely settled myself before Tristan flopped backward on the plush sofa, his head landing in my lap.

“You’re an absolute mess,” I scolded Tristan.

He waved a languid arm up at me. “Remind me later. I’m too comfortable now.”

In the privacy of the booth, I pulled off his wig and ran my fingers through his sweaty hair. “We should really be going soon. I’m amazed this disguise has held up this long.”

“Not ready to go. I wanna dance more,” Tristan replied, his words slightly slurred.

I sighed. “Only if you don’t drink any more.”

Tristan held up his pinky, which I hooked with my own. “I swear,” he said, looking up into my eyes. “I want tonight to last forever.”

I tucked his wig back on and pulled it down over his eyes before looking away, up into the beautiful night sky.

“Don’t look away from me, Isul,” Tristan said, sitting up and adjusting the metallic blue fibers.

I turned back to him. “Then don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like anything good can come of this.”

Tristan took my hand in his, and while all my logic processors were screaming what a bad idea this was, my overdeveloped emotional subprocessor thrilled. “And what exactly is this?” Tristan asked.

My fingers traced his jawline, memorizing its sharp line. “Something your future dictates can never be.”

“Then I’ll change my future,” Tristan said, “And yours too.”

There were a thousand reasons that his statement didn’t - couldn’t - make sense, but it would be useless to go through them in Tristan’s current inebriated state. So I said nothing, and simply helped Tristan up and back onto the dance floor. His favorite song was playing, and after that I was taking him home.

His hips gyrated and I did my best to sway alongside him. Despite how much I despised the clubs, Tristan wasn’t the only one who wanted tonight to last forever, and I etched every movement of his body into my memory core. When he became Emperor, there would be no more nights like tonight.

As the song reached its crescendo, the pounding bass reverberated through my metallic core, and Tristan wrapped himself around me and kissed me deeply on the lips. My positronic brain threatened to short-circuit. I should have pulled away, dragged Tristan from the club, and told him off for making such a stupid decision in public.

But instead, I let my overdeveloped emotional subprocessor get the better of me again, wrapped my hands around his waist, and kissed the Prince of the Empire back.

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