qdesjardin: (Default)

SCENE 13 – Fiat Lux

"How can you just leave me standing?
Alone in a world that's so cold?
Maybe I'm just too demanding
Maybe I'm just like my father too bold
Maybe you're just like my mother
She's never satisfied
Why do we scream at each other?
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry.."

There in the distance, far above horizons known to anyone, is the floating city of Lux. Amidst the dimly red skies of the North Pole, the white domes are aglow – clusters of them, like lanterns perpetually adrift in the sky.

This is where the train's skyroad leads to, and if you peer closely, an intricate series of skyroads connect the domes with one another, with transport cars carrying gnomes who are super busy for the night, and guidance balloons along their paths (they signal the state of the tracks).

Utena and Shinji have their mouths agape outside the Conductor's car.

"Wow!" Shinji goes, while Utena clutches the train railing with apprehension. Even if this is all but just a dream of hers, she would have never imagined Santa Claus to live in such a scene reminiscent of what you'd find in the deep oceans. It shows how much she doesn't actually know about the jolly old man who's supposed to grant any wish a child makes on Christmas Night, no matter how small or extreme.

"How come nobody's ever been able to find this place out?" Utena asks the Conductor, standing right behind them.

"Ahh, it is trade secret," he says. "If I told you, even a middle-schooler like you could spread the news to anyone not incredulous to our existence! You do have one curious mind Utena.."

"I just.." A beat. She wants to say everything that's weighing in her heart, the deep trauma of her soul – how everything she loved has been ripped out her being, and just holding on to the nobility of being like the prince who rescued her from despair – that is what keeps her going.

She wonders if the Conductor could see it in her eyes. The pain she's kept buried for years, leeching out every once in a while, when no one else is around, she'd cry and find it beautiful for some reason that always escapes her lips.

In the end, she just says: "I've always liked learning," with an eager smile to placate any worries.

"Oh.. and that is why you scored a 37% in one of your math quizzes?" the conductor goes off-handedly.

("Sucks to be you!" Wakaba goes, jeering at Utena's piss-poor mark. "Wee-hehehe!")

"Hey.. how'd you know?! I was caught up in those rose duels, I never got the chance to study ever!" Utena is taken aback by the Conductor's mentioning of a personal detail.

"It seemed like you had a lot on your mind.. that's all.." the Conductor says. "I won't pretend to say I know which thought it is, for my ESP powers are failing me this time of year. But I do confess, it is not a healthy habit to allow personal anxieties to get the best of you, Utena-sama. A heavy heart, it inevitably closes itself off from receiving joy - everyone is feeling joyful about Christmas, and you should too! You're one of the rare few in this world who's hand-picked to see the Wizard of Oz!"

Even Utena couldn't resist smiling from the Conductor's enthusiasm, and as she glances at the approaching domes, feeling the wind rushing, ripping over her hair, she feels her gut swell about what these domes have inside.

"You want some tea? Hot chocolate?" Shinji asks from inside the conductor's car – apparently he is fiddling with the Conductor's magic drinky-making machine, which can produce any delectable drink the imagination can conceive, but all Shinji can think of at the moment is how chilly he feels in just his pajamas (he should've worn his bathrobe) and being nice to Utena. Oh, and also the friendly Conductor too.

"How about some black tea?" Utena goes.

"I do not like tea, but I do like the coffee," the Conductor says.

So Shinji makes them black tea and coffee, and he passes the foam cups to each of them, while they seem busy admiring the way all the clouds are layered all around, silhouetted by the domes, as if God hadn't yet formed the world coherently. It looks jarring for the eyes to see, really.

"What else is out there?" Shinji whispers, adding nothing to their conversation.

/

Back in the passenger cars, Stevie is playing with a stuffed Garfield (Santa Claus edition!), making the orange cat do the Spider-Man crawl over the windows. He's having an awful lot of fun seeing the cat defy gravity – just like the floating marbles out the window.

"Oooh, aren't you having fun!" Nanami decides to join in Steve's playing. She was bored of 50 rounds of pattycake with the girls, and wondered how that little geek could keep himself so entertained.

Seeing past the Garfield on the window, the domes remind her of those luxury pearls she's wanted for herself – ever since she walked by the display case one winter's night, where she was window shopping by the boutique district down Roppongi (with Keiko and buddies), and saw a beautifully carved mannequin, in an understatedly elegant black dress that made her think of those older women in those erotic thriller stories she'd read about, with a circlet headdress that made the hair sheen, and.. those pearls, that adorned her neck – completing the whole picture.

She imagines herself dressing up for her big brother Touga, taking him out on a night where her wildest fantasies will come true, a candlelit dinner – take his mind entirely off the Student Council and his worries, and be the only person there for him. A night they'll both surely remember.

But the entire thing.. let alone the pearls, costs the equivalent of $10,000 CAD. And though the Kiryuu family is rich, there's no way they'll let her have it; especially when she's still at a young, budding age.

She made a secret wish, written to Santa Claus, that she'll give her whole being just to be good for the rest of the school year, if she could have a chance of having that outfit, and to spend that one special day with Touga..

"Hey, you just went limp-eyed on me!" Stevie goes. "What's the matter, are you thinking of what you'll be telling Santa on his lap?"

"Why, yes I am.." Nanami goes.

"Ooh, lemme guess, you want a.. uhh, ermm.. Ken and Barbie dollset!"

"Not that, but you're vaguely on the right track." What good does it do to tell him about a grown-up-related thing? "You know, why don't I try guessing what you want for Santa to do for you?"

"Alrighty, but you'll never hit the mark in a million years."

Nanami grumbles. "Humph! Try me!"

Stevie grins. His eyes seem to beam especially behind his glasses. "I want to meet Albert Einstein and Kurt Godel and all the great minds of history and ask them what the speed of an unladen swallow is!"

"African or European?"

"Ohh! So you do have some genius on you, Miss Smartypants!"

She's seen a subtitled copy of Monty Python's greatest hits, thanks to her older brother's collection and taste in art. Nanami smirks at her little victory. Nothing is ever beyond her wits!

"Hey, do you know what these glowing things are?" she wonders, notioning at the globes. "I've never seen those before."

"Hmm.."

A lot of the kids are now peering over by the windows, their eyes awestruck by the fantastic scenery.

The train is zooming in, faster and faster, past the globules – then it is all enveloped in a tunnel, the air currents howling as beams of light rush by the windows in a constant rate. The lights of the train dim and recover in breaths, and the train lurches upward, making everyone feel like on a zooming roller-coaster that's climbing up to a precipice.. except a weird feeling occurs where it feels like the center-of-gravity has shifted to accomodate the change of slope.

And then the tunnel ends, and what everyone on the train can see is the multi-faceted, breathing city of Lux. Where all the buildings seem comfortably constructed upon all the possible slopes and beams, like crystals that have grown upon tree branches, branching out in perpendicular directions.

This is what is inside a snow globe.

qdesjardin: (Default)

Étranges Libellules – by QDesjardin
those strange butterflies, wishing for a fading dream

1

What a cold, snowy world it is on the eve of New Year's. Down the street of Hans-Gruber-Straße, there's a parade – the horses carrying carriages, their sleigh bells ringing, and a candlelit blow-up figurine of St. Helene for the Catholics to pray for their future fortunes.

The parade passes by one of the apartments; upon its seventh floor, where the luxurious live by the penthouse, a man hosts his own party for his guests. They are cheerful, clasping glasses of champagne to their lips, congratulating the rich man (Maxim) for all his generous contributions to help revitalise the province's once-dying steel industry.

But there is illegitimacy behind it. For Maxim had relied on making connexions with the underworld Mafia – the ones who bribe off the lobbyists and quietly put away the people whose policies were contrary to letting Bavarian steel be realized as the high quality product that it should be.

That is how Frau Amelia, an investigator, would come to ring Maxim's apartment door. The doorbell is a button, dressed in a bronze floral frame, and it would be one of the last times she'll ever ring someone's door.

Upon hearing his doorbell, Maxim thinks it could be Jacob and his wife Marlene – they always did have a habit of getting delayed ("Oh, you know how it is, we had to find a babysitter at the last minute!"). He excuses himself to get to the door, not bothering to check the security cameras before he slides the door to find a short, very handsome woman – her hair a dark licorice red, dressed in a dark overcoat with lapels. She looks like she's on a serious errand.

"Yes? Who might you be?" he goes.

She pulls out her badge. "I am a federal investigator, and under the authority of His Majesty King Frederich II, Maxim Kostro – I place you under arrest!"

The frightened Maxim fumbles back, stumbling, and Amelia exploits his footing – pushing him onto the floor chest-wise. Her knee crushes the back of his spine as she goes to handcuff his arms behind him..

"What the hell? Maxim!"

A lady shrieks and gasps in her shock at the scene, and another man beside her – he pulls out his pistol on Amelia.

She notices the man's movements, and before he could squeeze the first shot off, her hands snap to her revolver to install two gashing holes in the man's centre-of-mass. The man's pistol falls away, clattering onto the floorpanes, while cordite smoke arises out of his wounds.

"If any of you try me," she goes, wielding their attention with her aimed pistol, "I retain the right to use deadly force. All of you in this apartment room are accomplices to murder, assault, extortion, illegal trafficking of goods, in a conspiracy to profit off the end result."

Two of the other men exchange hesitant looks, while the few women cower down, terrified of this party pooper.

"And you are all coming with me to the station!" Amelia rises up from the handcuffed Maxim now.

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12 – snake eyes

The Staff of Ra. A few thousand years ago, it was held by Egyptian rulers as a symbol of ultimate trust, and now David Bateson is retrieving it from a hermatically-sealed glass chamber for this evening, up in his private chambers.

He's just finished checking on the hotel's finance records, certain that tomorrow's gigantic event with the Black Rose will give his shareholders the huge boost they've been waiting for – over ten millions in ticket profits (not including the other income sources).

/

When he goes to check on the Black Rose's rehearsal backstage – they've already gotten the gist of their acts, with Renton now being able to fish out yin-yang (Baoding) balls from an unsuspecting audience member – having practiced on a waitress who has free time to spare.

Good.. if everything runs smoothly, along with the auction, I'll be sure to go down in the hotel's history as its best owner. Not to mention a suave retirement.

"For my next trick," LeBlanc twirls with her staff, smirking, "I'll make your 5G reception bars disappear."

Satisfied with the proceedings, David sips a small brandy from his pocket bottle. The Black Rose's itinerary of magic seems solid:

1. Opening act – Lulu and Heimerdinger are French chefs, serving ratatouille (real). LeBlanc is a demanding food critic. Involves one or two audience members.
2. 2nd act – Swain and LeBlanc have a tango ("Roxanne"), involving the dizzying heights of the ceiling.
3. 30 Minute Intermission
4. 3rd act
– Twisted Fate and Renton try to outfox one another in games involving cards, chess, etc. leading to heated duel of words and tricks.
5. Finale – A ballad involving all cast members, leaving everyone with the promise of finding magic in their own lives (metaphorically speaking).

Swain calls everyone over for a group huddle.

"Remember what we need to do.." he goes, once he's sure David has gone away. "While our show is on, the auction will be occuring during the intermissions and afterward. I just found out David will be giving away his staff the first thing."

He nods at Heimerdinger. "Heimer's come up with a duplicate, based off observations. It'll look like the real thing, more or less, just that it will feel a bit off to a familiar hand. We'll be swapping the staffs, so no one will be alerted. By the time they find out, we'll already be stepping foot in Italy."

Renton gulps at the mention of Italy. It's only been around three days since dropping through the rabbit hole to this alternate reality, and he's just getting used to the idea of grandeur – the feeling that you could do anything you wished for, the stuff you'd see in TV, movies and comics, and now being in another country?

He'd never even contemplated that possibility, except as a young child when his father was still alive, promising him someday he'd get to see those beautiful gardens his father's seen in Belgium, where the white water lilies seem to sift on the ponds.

And now, it's as much in his reach as Evaine's billowing cape before him.

She smells like.. a bizarre mixture of oranges and plums that hit the nose in such a manner as to bring your senses to an allured stillness..

"Renton..? Renton!" Swain is calling out his name. "Can I trust you with the actual swapping of the staff? Nobody knows your face yet, and your innoceous looks can prove disarming."

Renton feels like being the lead role of a spy movie, so of course he says "Yes!"

"This is what you'll be doing before the 3rd act.."

/

Being canned is an uncomfortable fit. Singed, in a waiter's outfit, is lugging a cart of canned fruit – along with Zac (in a can).

They are part of backstage catering, and will be checking in on the Black Rose, hoping to glean any info out of their doings. In short, they're just like villains-for-hire in a Saturday morning cartoon.

So far, what they've found out is that there's an auction they're really concentrating on, and a staff of Ra they want to acquire.

"A staff of Ra?"

Yes. Those artefacts which are fabled to ascend anyone to a higher plane of existence. Viktor has searched through his data files and discovered the thread which the Black Rose has been chasing after. A fascinating thread – that would seek to quench that underlying question about magic. He isn't sure what they've already acquired, so he is hoping to forge a temporary alliance with them, despite their long-standing rivalry.

It is a bit of a long-shot, but Swain is enough of a reasonable man to be swayed. A long time ago, Viktor pulled Swain out of a messy situation from the Russian Mafia..

Now Singed puts the cans under the catering table, where Zac is to listen in, and heads on back so he could refill the drinks.

While this is going on, Rumble and Veigar are putting on the finishing touches for the stage lighting.

"Spotlight check!" the head electrician goes, and up in the control booth, the coordinators test each of the spotlights, one-by-one, making sure everything is in working order.

Rumble has set his Tristy mecha on standby, by the ceiling, when everyone else has left the stage. He's dressed it up in a Super Galaxy outfit. Having seen the Black Rose's perfomance itinerary, the idea is to interrupt their finale – giving the audience a real shocker, like something out of wrestling when another wrestler comes by unexpectedly for a showdown. It might seem rude initially, but whatever makes the crowd cheer, so Team ROCHAT can have some publicity, as well as getting the Black Rose's attention to their joint-venture proposal.

He's also reprogrammed the routines in the control room, so the lights will dim and re-focus accordingly when they crash the party. "It's a change of plan sirs," he told the control guys, showing them a written letter with Swain's signature (faked). "They're orders directly from the Black Rose," and with the time pressure, coupled with his convincing tone of authority, the control guys don't bother checking the purpose of these routine changes. An extra dim here, some spotlight focuses there – these seemingly innoceous changes – and the show goes on like normal afterward.

Veigar wipes his forehead. Mon dieu! Thank god it's over, everything is set to rock.

"They have Kool-Aid in this place, non?" he says to Rumble, when the rest of the technician team are busy congratulating themselves.

"There's 20-year old Merlot and Sherry," Rumble goes, having glanced at their fine wine collection. "I'm pretty sure they have your favourite somewhere."

/

Alone in her makeup room, LeBlanc is playing around with the blushes and lipstick, experimenting with her new look she'll be presenting outwardly. It's like with Madonna, who's able to reinvent her image with every one of her new albums, which is something LeBlanc's always admired.

Currently, she dabs a bit of lipstick just in the middle of her lips, and pulls back her hair in a fanciful bun. When she spent time imitating a geisha, she found it suiting to be poised like a mime. Ready to suggest people through her hands and gestures, not with her words.

The door creaks open.

"Evaine?" Renton goes. He sees her wiping away her makeup, and catches a momentary glimpse of what she was going for in the brightly lit mirror. She is immensely talented, and his already pounding heart is erupting now, like a volcano.

He inches himself inside the same room as her, and the scent of vanilla caresses his nose. Bursting out of him, those moments which have been underlying himself the whole time.

The way she's kissed him, sliding her lips back like how the ocean waves retreat, before diving deeper in his mouth for more.

Losing all sense of himself under her embrace..

It touches the innermost recesses of his mind, that he's yet to feel comfortable revealing.

"Why do you love me?" he says. "It was so sudden, and.. and.." Nothing can express the confusion he's having over this. "I don't understand. Do you know me from somewhere, like distant cousins?"

"Non." She exits her chair. "Renton.. you don't know what I've been through. Seeing you brings back so many memories. I'm not related to you or anything. I just.. used to have a son, and his father.. that's such a long time ago."

This revelation isn't really that stunning for him.

"I'd have thought you were together with Twisted Fate or Swain," Renton goes. "You're so beautiful, why aren't you in love with-"

"I was. But it grew exhausting on them after a while, and so we had to break it off, keep professional. Ever since, I've hidden my feelings from everyone, though they know about it.. how I had my heart torn to shreds, and left with nothing but despair."

"What happened..?" Renton approaches Evaine's still figure.

"My lover was killed! And they took my son – he was all I had left in my world. My SON, Renton!" Her arms are clasped over her chest, like trying to stifle a bleeding wound. "It's not the Black Rose. Someone else. Katarina.. Cassiopeia.. Riven! Oh god, I can still remember all their names..!"

And she slams the table with her fists, the items on the table clattering. It takes a second for her to recollect herself.

"My son's name was Booker, Renton," she goes, her eyes partly caught up in her memory. "I was going to look after him, hold him tightly in my arms, grow older with him. I don't even know if he's even alive! The last 23 years, I sought to find those bitches who took him – hoping that the next city we'd venture into, I'd find them, and my son with them. Or the next city after that. But they're all gone now, and.. I'm sorry.."

She is weeping, and Renton is agape trying to comprehend what she's saying. He just knows her feeling of loss, thinking of his long-gone father, and that he feels this pull towards her.

"Hey, there's no need to be sorry." He tugs at her shoulder. "When I was around 10, I lost my dad in a truck crash, and it's never been the same for me since. I miss him every day that's passed – it's just something that happens, and I live the best I can for his memory. I try to, at least."

It makes Evaine smile. "He must be so, so very proud of you.."

"I can't imagine how it's like to lose your child like that. But if Booker were here, knowing you still care about him after so long, he'd be so happy." Renton flashes her a reassuring grin. "You never stopped believing in him."

"Oh-!"

A lipstick falls to the floor.

He finds himself suddenly cradled in her embrace. Passionately warm and soothing and intoxicating. His cheeks pressed by her neck, while his breathing is slightly constrained within her arms – every inhalation makes his chest press back against her soft breasts.

It's like before, where he is shuddering at experiencing the entirety of her being up-close. Her fingers running along the back of his neck, curling up at the soft parts she finds.

"Does this.. feel good?"

They look like lovers caught in a still frame of an intimate waltz.

"You're so beautiful.." Renton goes.

"What are you talking about?"

She leans in to kiss him – holding still in his mouth, before slowly drawing back. And then another, this time with a trail of saliva linking their lips which makes her smile.

The excitement proves too much for Renton, and his breath noticably trembling, he tries to lunge towards her life-giving mouth, but she draws away from his unrestrained eagerness.

"Slowly.." she instructs him, a finger on his cheek – not wanting to break the feeling of delicacy – and when he kisses her again, he remembers to relax, and let his mind be saturated with those sensations her soul delights in showing him.

/

Tomorrow evening's show has almost a hundred thousand showing up. The parking lots have been congested with varieties of car colours – when a spot is filled, the ground underneath it is set aglow, which is a nice touch for the event. There's also small business owners inviting other cars into their backlots (with cheap Christmas lights to replicate an MGM Grand spot), and a huge lineup of viewers, reporters, stretching down the sidewalks as far as the hotels some of them are staying at.

Police and security dot the vicinity with their presence, from the parked cruisers that help redirect traffic, to the guards who do random patdowns to check for weapons and laser pointers.

Even refreshment tables are there since the entire line has been growing for hours long.

In the actual hotel/exhibition centre, David Bateson is chewing on a Snickers bar – his reflection silhouettes his walking cane behind the glass. It's like a piece of him is going away with it. And a weight off his mind. Then the custodians tow his cane away, along with the numerous treasures he's found throughout his travels.

And Renton, he is also chewing a Snickers bar. While his stage outfit is ready in the dressing room, he's wearing normal clothes.

"Just talk with David Bateson and lead him into letting you have your hands on the cane. The loading area has a few blindspots in their surveillence, and I'll show up moments later to congratulate Bateson and his crew in their efforts – that's when you make the switch. Hide the real staff in a blindspot, and we'll retrieve it later."

Everyone is already murmuring in the stagearea, and Renton can feel the hefty weight of the retractable cane in his pockets, as he wanders into the loading bay, where David is overseeing the process of every item, film memorablia, jade doll being fitted into its display case.

How am I supposed to get his cane? It's not they'll be willing to undo the boxing just for me..

Doubt gives Renton pause over Swain's idea. A part of him wants to turn back and ask Swain if maybe he should rethink it. He continues forth anyway, and with a slight change of perspective, sees the glass case beside David in which the cane rests.

"Young lad-!" David goes, spotting Renton. "I know you're not one of the faces I usually see here! It's not an appropriate place for you to be – were you looking for the washroom?"

The loud whirs of the drills intermittently erupt through the room.

"Yeah.." Renton scratches the back of his neck. "I was. I got a little lost – I'm in a hurry for the show. Can you show me?"

Bateson checks his watch. More than enough time. So he leads Renton back to the halls..

"Around your age Renton," he says, with a slight lisp in his step, "I didn't really dream big, truth be told. I was what you'd call lazy and modest. I thought the best I could aspire to was being a content pencil-pusher in the offices."

"I don't know yet what I want to aspire to," Renton goes, feeling a tinge of embarassment go through him as they pass by a WC sign that has the gendered stick people pointing in the right direction.

"There's no need to hurry yourself. A lot of the historical greats didn't know what they really wanted to pursue until they were well into their middle ages.. you, my lad, it seems like you've got a lot of spirit showing through you."

"That's really encouraging."

The men's washroom, you turn right at a juncture between the men's and women's. Some music from the first act plays very distantly, as the frightened yelps from Heimerdinger suggest that LeBlanc is slapping his ass over the poorly-made Antoinette cake.

"There we are," Bateson says.

Renton is at an impasse – Bateson is just going to turn back around, and he'll be left in awkwardness if Bateson sees him stumbling by again. Why did he even run along with 'going to the washroom'? That was foolish-

"Oh, now that I think of it," David Bateson goes, "I could use the little men's room too."

So after Renton takes a whiz, he mentions to David about his 'famous' cane that he used to be walking around with. "What happened to your cane?"

"I'm giving it away for the auction tonight."

Renton notices his frown in the washroom mirror.

"You're going to miss your cane, aren't you?" Renton goes.

"We've been through so much together." David pats his face after he's given it a splash. "It even saved my friend's life."

"Really? That must be one cool cane..! If I could have had the chance to touch it beforehand.."

A beat. David eyeballs Renton, and then the idea hits him – the last thing he does with his cane should be something happy, and what better moment for finality, than to let this boy take a look with his own eyes?

"Tell you what Renton," he goes, "You can run your fingers along all its intricate lines if you like. The auction isn't for another half-hour anyways."

"Oh – you're so gracious!" Yeesss!

Coming back to the loading room, David is opening the cane's display case. The workers ask him what he's doing, and he's explaining that he's giving his cane a last, sentimental hurrah. After the case's security alarm has been deactivated, he unlatches the cover, and lets his fingers carry it over to Renton.

It's really thrilling to hold a piece of history in your own hands. By touching it, it's like you become a part of its history. No longer is it just a vague idea you'd find off a library book, with the old picture to prove its existence outside of words.

The light faintly sheens over the staff of Ra's surface as Renton turns it over, revealing the numerous micro-scratches it's accumulated. Somehow it feels lighter than the fake staff Renton's been carrying, and then the thought hits him – wouldn't Bateson know right away that it's fake from the switch? If he gets his hands on the fake..

Where is Swain? He's supposed to show up any second.

"I like it very much," Renton goes, hoping that light talk will let him hold the staff longer. "What did it look like when you first picked it up?"

David snatches the cane from him. "There were bronze gildings over it. 1952. The excavation site of Hamunaptra, where we were looking for the Egyptian tomes buried by Nasus's tomb. Mon dieu, it was so hot. It was a souvenir from what we found, and I kept it – helped me trek back through the desert."

"Ooh. You were an archaeologist?" Renton's hands are just eager to get the staff back.

"Yeah. From China to Greece and the Mayan ruins. Now I'm selling off the last of what I have. It'll be lonely with just my memories, but my work will go on better appreciated once I stop clinging to the past, so to speak." Bateson runs his hands down its whole length, and Renton could swear that there was a weird glow from the staff, before his focus snaps back to his mission.

"Hey, I'm not done looking at it."

The magic show is being broadcast on TVs, and Renton hears the applause over the first act's ending. Swain's going to be in the second act..! It's going to be starting very soon, and he hasn't even come yet.

"I have to put my cane back now, young lad," Bateson goes.

A deluge of confusion. What is Renton to do now? His head is swirling, wanting to snag the staff away and run, or just plain head off and report back to the dressing room.

Then after he hears: "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise. One of our principle cast members is currently unavailable. But we promise, the show will go on! He should be around shortly." And the groans and uneased murmurs of the audience.

"Umm, excuse me," Renton pips. "I need to be somewhere." And he is striding off – his hesitation dispelled with the fact that Swain is missing from the whole picture. Everything is starting to go wrong..

"What's that all about?" David asks to himself. "Funny lad."

qdesjardin: (Default)

2

Whenever Ekaterina gets a request for a photoshoot, the first thing she considers is if she finds it anything potentially interesting. She's at the point in her hobby-turned-career where people offer her at least four photoshoot requests per day, and she can pick amidst several of them. Before, when she was just starting out, she had to actively hunt down people who needed a photographer, and they were too cheap to pay for a real one (which can cost thousands of dollars).

Photoshoots aren't always the glamorous prospect many people make them out to be. To make the actual shooting happen, there is a lot of logistical planning involved – discussing with the clients how they want their photos to be done first, then the location scouting, obtaining shooting permissions (if necessary), lighting and outfits, and booking the date.

One of the most exciting shoots she's had was around Milan, where she had to recreate a Renaissance painting, the pagans making a tribute to the goddess Ceres. It was painstaking. She truly felt the aura of the ancients in her mind, as she shot purely under the moonlight – having to use f1.6 Zeiss lenses (the smaller the aperture value, the more light the camera lens can absorb, at a cost of shallow depth-of-field) and an exposure time of 1 second.

With wedding shoots, which take place in some rented-out venue – it saves her some work – usually, the couple just wants to be shot in their happiest moments, when they kiss, when they dance to the music, and when they share the creme cake together.

In the Queen's Center mall, this couple (their names Jeanne and D.J.) are having a Noir cabaret-themed event, along the lines of Broadway meets electro-swing.

They're having it in an Applebee's.

Ekaterina checks her phone's notifications; "Where are you?" her crew is saying. "They're going to kiss in like 20 minutes!" and that was 23 minutes ago. What's a few more minutes? The priest takes like forever to get through their rites and vows.

She is running down the mall, where the fountains spill glistening patterns under the daylight. She must look like hell is breaking loose, while her hands assemble her camera kit together on the way.

The Applebee's has a special sign by its entrance. It's being rented for the sakes of Jeanne and D.J.'s wedding, where anyone is free to come and witness the event.

It's claustrophobic squeezing by the stacked stools, and even more claustrophobic when she could see behind a second set of doors, the whole stage set-up with Jeanne and D.J. under the spotlight, wearing Steampunk-themed outwear, about to pledge 'I do' to "In sickness and in health, will you care for D.J. to the best of your ability?"

She is interrupted by bouncers, who are suspicious of her gear.

"We'll need you to leave your bag aside." They point at the pile of purses and backpacks gathered by the janitor's closet. "Can't have people pullin' stuff-"

The bouncers do this with uninvited guests, and she has no time for their hassle, as she just hears the priest say "You may now kiss the bride."

"I'm Ekaterina! I'm their photographer!" She flashes her ID and wiggles out of their grasp, rushing down to the aisle, where she rapidly focuses her camera on their kissing faces and snaps a clear photo.

"Kat!" It's her partner-in-crime, Marvin, in a hushed whisper under the shadows. "Dude, where've you been?"

"I guess I got caught up in traffic," she goes.

The tables have been setup for free dinners, with incandescent orbs placed in their midst for illumination. LEDs hung from the ceiling glow and dim like ice stalactites, and a wift of glowing smoke emenates from the floor – this is what Ekaterina has asked for, two weeks before, when she visited the venue in its unmodified form, and allowed her mind to conjure up and suggest associaions, looking around.

Many of the uninvited guests are brought to awe at the atmosphere, with some regulars remarking that it's wonderfully unrecognisable from what they've grown so used to.

And for her, that is one of the greatest complements. To reinvent the familiar with a fresh magic of her own, and have others recognise it.

/

The actual shooting, it is a mixture of improv and direction. For the most part, she just captures the best parts of the scene as they unfold with the natural liveliness that just is, with the cheers, and the people dancing to the music, the young kids in the corner playing Pokemon on their DS.

When the people have settled down to dinner, she quickly has the couple huddle together for her camera – Marvin managing the lights, while April fixes any blemishes on their cheeks, and Viktor unleashing the trained doves to the background (who will be lit faintly by their outlines).

*click*

You can barely hear her camera shutter.

Afterwards, she shows them the unpolished result on her camera's display, and it amazes her how they're gleeing already.

"Ooh, we look so dashing!" D.J. goes, pointing out when he has Jeanne in a tango dip.

"That one there is pure genius!" Jeanne says. "You're incredible Miss Belinskaya! Absolutely incredible."

Kat is a nickname that's evolved from when Marvin stumbled across calling her Kit-Kat, like the candy bar, and it just stuck. So she's gone with having her close friends calling her Kat ever since, or Kitty if in a very playful mood, although her clients just address her formally. A wall of professionalism which helps reinforce a healthy distance – so she doesn't lose her sense of boundaries when working. It's gotten her into trouble earlier on when she acted too casually.. pried into her client's private matters, joked around too much, and left them with a great offence.

Not all her clients are like this, but there's the one type who pays very high and won't stand to be made a fool out of. Or pompous clients who just can't take a joke.

She finds it awkward though to work in a stictly formal atmosphere, and that's where her comrades-in-arms come in, to help liven the working mood. It's like trying to sleep in your own bed, and you've got a suit on – you need your soft pajamas.

"Thank you," Ekaterina tells them; her sweet lingering scent wades up everyone's noses. "I'll have them edited and published, soon as possible." She reassures the couple with a smile. "Stay tuned."

/

The evening is spent outside in the mall's courtyard, where the water fountains spill shapes and dazzling patterns. Ekaterina has taken a few more shots of the couple against the backdrop of the city, and now, she is wistfully gazing away at the streets which are just beginning to blossom in their luminescent livelihood.

New York. The place she's come to call her home. A metropolitan centre of organized chaos, where there's always something interesting to pique the eye on every corner. It's like a piecemeal anthive, the way most everything seems to blend with to one another, from the homeless tramps to the apartments and graffiti, and all the neon signs shouting to be heard above the rabble.

It's always busy and moving; the people clamber to reach the next place from where they're at – whether it's another street or another rung of the social caste.

The only downside (besides the occasionally musty subways) is finding a quiet place to reflect, and recover one's sense of peace. Besides Central Park or the greenhouse gardens, there aren't many natural calm areas.. along the lines of talking a walk through a quiet suburban neighbourhood, or lying down upon a hill in a secluded region.

Luckily, she has the privilege of travelling wherever she needs to be, with being connected to the International Photographer's Guild (IPG) – which offers monthly air miles that can be saved up, so she can travel back home to Moscow to be with her family on their beautiful estate, or Japan if she is in the Oriental mood. Or the majority of Europe for sightseeing and inspiration.

"Kat..?" Marvin's voice interrupts her reverie.

She's leaning over the balustrade, holding her sleek e-cigarette to her mouth.. savouring the sweetly-flavoured smoke as it cascades out her lips.

"Yes yes yes?" she mumbles.

"You've been out of sorts," Marvin says, joining her in her 'chillout corner.' "It's the third time recently you've been late for a shooting, and I know you don't think anyone would notice, but I catch that occasional gaze of your eyes - it's like a part of you ain't really here."

She sighs out wispy smoke – a fulfilled exhaustion running through her body. "It's been a busy couple of weeks.. I should really take the time off.."

"Even at your busiest, you're always very focused. I didn't see that today. We're just lucky everything turned out the way it did. Hell, I had a good time."

Ekaterina passes Marvin her e-cig, an indirect kiss for him to take. "I dunno. I've been feeling a little dissatisfied. It's always other people's stuff we're working on – and I just want to take the chance to do something that's just.. personal to my heart. You know what I mean?"

He huffs and puffs. "Yeah. I get you."

"It's like I've been going all over other places for so long, and I've all but forgotten what it is to just relax and have fun at my own place."

The smoke which comes out of Marvin's mouth, it is deep and voluptuous. It reminds her of Barry White's voice, when he hits those deep notes.

"What do you got in mind Kitty?" he asks.

She turns her head to the mysteries beneath the streets, hiding the uncertainty of her expression. "I dunno yet."

But that's a white lie.

/

At her apartment, she relaxes. She greets her pet kitty Monsieur Kibbles – "Awww, miss me already?" and tucks away her equipment in her room.

It's a fairly large suite for just one person, which she's lovingly decorated every inch with a personal touch. The view outside is good; she can catch glimpse of the sunrise as it happens, and has a mounted camera set to take images of it every morning.

It's the place where she's free to be herself, without anyone around (except her cat). She microwaves herself a TV dinner – and settles for a while to finish watching LeBlanc, the captivating mini-series about a stage magician and her romance with a young boy.

Finally, after glancing at her schedule and confirming that she has nothing major going on for the rest of the week, she turns to the erotic images that's been at the back of her mind.

The male virility. Those things seductive of a man, which captivates her so, and all this being vitally linked to the essence of his heart. His desire, his way of showing passion. His naked soul. And her wanting to capture it all in her photos, that beautiful thing she feels about it – that not many other erotic images seem to respect.

She is too embarassed about her display of sexuality, even to her working comrades. That's why she chose not to mention it to Marvin, or anyone else.

It'll be just herself and another man – her willing subject, on this intimate photoshoot.

She could post about it on FB and her blog, ask for someone who lives in the city who'd want to participate for her (thousands will, many of her male fans).

Her arousal washes over her like a drug though; it's impossible to concentrate like this..

Thus, sitting down in her bedroom, lit mainly by the computer monitors, she just concentrates on the purest sensation her fingers give, and indulges herself to relieve that swelling bliss of her loins. The very air seems to heat around her in the minutes which pass.

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