First Monday Free Fiction: Ballroom Blitz

Ballroom Blitz by Cora BuhlertWelcome to the February 2022 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

February is the month of love, so what better time to post a Valentine’s Day story? Ballroom Blitz, this particular Valentine’s Day story, is a full length novella and part of my In Love and War space opera series, though it can be read as a standalone. This one has got it all: romance, action, food and Chekhov’s chandelier.

So follow Anjali and Mikhail as their Valentine’s night out turns into a…

Ballroom Blitz

I. Paint the City Red and Pink

A man walked rapidly through the rainy streets of the city of Flaminia on the perpetually cloud shrouded rim world of Gelasius. He was tall and clad all in black, utility pants, shirt, combat boots, all topped by a synth-leather jacket that flapped behind him like the wings of an oversized crow. He had pale skin, striking blue eyes and long black hair that he wore tied back in a ponytail. On his hip, he wore a blaster, standard Republican military issue.

This was Captain Mikhail Alexeievich Grikov, formerly of the Republican Special Commando Forces, now a wanted deserter and traitor. And also tired and hungry and eager to get back to the dwelling container he shared with his partner, lover and the reason he’d gone rogue in the first place, Lieutenant Anjali Patel, formerly of the Imperial Shakyri Expeditionary Forces, now wanted as a traitor and deserter herself.

Five months ago, Anjali and Mikhail had met on the battlefield of the eighty-eight year between the Republic of United Planets and the Empire of Worlds. And even though Mikhail had been tasked with capturing Anjali and bringing her in, they’d fallen in love against all odds and run off together. They’d been on the run ever since.

Water splashed onto his utility boots and pants, as Mikhail strutted through puddles, idly wondering why the rain, the puddles and the entire neighbourhood seemed to glow a lot more pink than usual. Pink and red, to be exact.

Like any city in the galaxy, Flaminia did have a red light district. But that was near the spaceport, not in the city centre. Of course, it had been some time since Mikhail was last here, but not long enough for the glitzy main commercial district of Flaminia to start resembling a cheap spaceport bordello. So what was going on here?

An animated holo billboard caught Mikhail’s eye. A couple kissing, an arrow piercing a heart, all floating in mid-air thirty metres above the street. And then a box popping open to reveal a chunky diamond ring.

“Surprise her this Valentine’s Day with a synth-diamond from Martell’s,” the billboard announced.

Mikhail laughed. So that was why the whole city had been plunged into a haze of pink and red. Valentine’s Day. Which was in — Mikhail checked his wrist unit — three days.

Shit.

Mikhail had never bothered with Valentine’s Day. That was a holiday for other people, people who had husbands and wives, lovers, partners, significant others. Not for Mikhail who was alone, who’d been alone in this universe since he was eight years old. Until five months ago. Until he met Anjali.

High above his head, the billboard had looped to the start again. The couple kissed, the arrow pierced the heart. Mikhail used to think that was purely metaphorical. Until he first saw Anjali, sitting with her comrades, drinking, laughing, dressed in something flowing and glittering, so beautiful, so wonderful, so alive. And that moment had felt very much like an arrow piercing his heart.

He’d have to do something about Valentine’s Day this year, prepare some kind of surprise for Anjali.

“Surprise her this Valentine’s Day with a synth-diamond from Martell’s.”

Not that, though. For starters, diamonds, even the synthetic variety, didn’t come cheap and their funds were strictly limited ever since Mikhail had found himself cut off from the Special Commando Force’s black accounts he’d quietly skimmed off.

Besides, a diamond ring meant proposal, engagement, marriage, commitment. And after only five months, it was still way too early for that. Not that Mikhail would mind. He knew what he wanted and that was Anjali, forever. But he feared that Anjali would mind very much.

She had commitment issues. Something to do with the culture of her homeworld, where marriages were arranged rather than freely chosen and meant submission more than partnership. Anjali had run away from all that, had left her home and family behind to join the Shakyri Corps.

A diamond ring, even one with no strings attached, would only spook her. Even the necklace Mikhail had given her early in their partnership — a gold and garnet necklace made by the craftsmen of her homeworld Rajipuri — had spooked her. It had been too much, too soon, too ostentatious for — so Anjali kept reminding him — a mere peasant girl like her. Though she wore it anyway, at first hidden underneath her clothing and now more openly. Mikhail’s heart always skipped a beat when he saw the gold and garnet pendant gleaming against her brown skin, a symbol that they belonged together, at least for now and if Mikhail had his wish, forever.

Still, that wasn’t a mistake he’d make again anytime soon, even if he could afford it. Which he couldn’t, not anymore.

Nonetheless, he should get a surprise for Anjali for Valentine’s Day. Something she’d enjoy. Smaller than a diamond ring…

Another holo advert flashed in front of him, a bouquet of blood red roses, accompanied by a cloud of scent sprayed onto the streets by jets integrated into the projector.

…but maybe bigger than a bunch of roses. Especially since he had no idea, if Anjali even liked roses — it had just never come up. Just as he had no idea, if her people celebrated Valentine’s Day at all.

***

This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in Ballroom Blitz. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

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