The restaurant is dark and full of people and music and cigarette smoke. Candles glow on tables and iron lanterns hang from the ceiling. Vintage electric lights burn their coils behind blown glass bulbs, strung along the walls.
When you and Heather walk in the front door, you’re looking at Heather’s Topic, taking a moment to get to know your latest Audience.
Name: Heather December
Binary Shift: Good Girl
Birthday: December 20th
Powers: Hallelujah, Prism, Hype, electrostatic blast
Companion: A baby deer named Nicolae
Heather strolls in like she owns the joint, still buck naked. She blows past the hostess, telling her, “Usual spot, Judy,” without giving the young girl as much as a glance. She leads you to a corner and the two of you take a seat in an empty booth.
The place is full, so full that you wonder how your booth is available. The air is cluttered with conversation. Liquor flows and waiters conjure delicious-smelling dishes right in front of the patrons.
Off in the opposite corner, there’s a small stage with a grand piano. A handsome fellow in a white tuxedo sits at the keys, singing. At first you take the performer for a Suitor, but upon further he examination you see the guy isn’t a Suitor, but a Triton — a male Anodyne.
“Nice place,” you say to Heather. “Where and when is it?”
“1930’s Manhattan,” says Heather. “I don’t know the name of the club. I just come here because Aarav likes me.”
She nods at the Triton behind the piano.
He’s was a dapper brown-skinned fellow with a handsome mustache trimmed into a black brush. You can tell he’s a Triton because his hairless chest is bare under his suit coat. Tritons never wear undershirts, only ties. In Trial they wear tight-fitting briefs and nothing else. Their birthstone jewels are encased in the center of their belts just below their navels. Tritons are considerably less common than Sirens. The ratio is something like 50 to 1. In fact, the only way for a man to become a Triton is to first become an Exclusive with any number of high ranking Sirens, and then get enough of those Sirens to endorse him.
“He lets me keep this booth open for myself all the time,” Heather says. “I can come here whenever I want.”
“What’s his full Anodyne name?”
“Aarav Rohan,” says Heather, staring dreamily. “Isn’t he beautiful?”
You nod slowly, unsure if you should agree or not. The two of you watch Aarav perform for a bit. He has a wonderful voice, a boy band’s soaring tenor with an emo twinge to it.
“That’s nice of him to keep this booth open for you,” says Padd.
“We’ve been friends for a few seasons now,” says Heather, nodding and continuing to stare at Aarav. “He’s my brown sugar boy.”
She picks up a menu and scans it.
“I always wonder what I’ll get and then I always get the same things…”
“Is this his Theatrium?” you ask.
Heather puts the menu down, frowns at you. She looks confused again.
“Is this whose Theatrium?”
You blink at her.
“Aarav’s. He’s up there performing, is this is Theatrium?”
“Oh… of course not. This isn’t his at all. He just performs here. Sometimes. But he lets me perform here for tips sometimes, though. I’ve gotten several Audiences out of this restaurant.”
You look around the room. The crowd is almost exclusively female, though there are several tables with men sitting together.
Heather picks up her menu again and continues reading it.
“He’s not very friendly to Repentants, though,” she says. “Repentants ruled his home country for a long time, you know.”
“What country is that?”
“I have to ask,” you say, clearing your throat and changing the subject. You don’t want to talk politics tonight. “Those band mates of yours during Combat looked vaguely familiar. Who were they?”
“Oh, the Splicers?” says Heather, perking up again. “They’re from a video game close to the turn of the millennium. Maybe you played it. Bioshock?”
“I have heard of it,” you say. “I’ve played it.”
“Yes, they’re addicted to a DNA-altering drug called Adam. They’re Adam junkies. Aren’t they horrible?”
“They make great sport for my Suitors,” says Heather. “They’re enough to weed out the weaklings but not so bad as to keep the worthy from winning time with me.”
A waiter comes by. He’s short and bug-eyed, with an oval face and slicked black hair.
“Heather December, my darling,” he says in a nasal Eastern European accent. “So lovely to see you again.”
“Good evening, Peter,” says Heather. “Just a moment, please.”
You realize with a start that your waiter is Peter Lorre. You give the room a closer look and see that the waitstaff are all 1930s era movie stars. There’s Robert Taylor, and there’s Fred Astair. Spencer Tracy conjures two identical plates of linguine with lobster for a male couple. Will Rogers laughs it up in the corner with a snazzily dressed lady who you recognize as Janet Graynor. And there behind the bar is Clark Gable himself.
Heather closes her menu and puts it down.
“I believe we’ll have the usual.”
“What’s the usual?” you ask her.
Heather touches your hand.
“Trust me,” she says.
“Of course,” says Peter, smiling at Heather. “You are always so easy to predict, my princess.”
“That’s what the all the boys say,” says Heather.
Peter Lorre waves his hands over the table, and suddenly the table is full of steaming food.
Heather’s usual is at least five full Italian dishes and two bottles of wine. All the food on your table could easily feed a family of seven, with leftovers to take home.
“Wow,” you say. “You get this every time?”
“It’s all I need,” says Heather, daintily putting her napkin in her lap.
“Wow,” you say again. You’re paralyzed by choice. This food looks and smells fucking incredible.
“Shall I pour the wine, my princess?” says Peter.
“Yes, Peter, thank you.”
Peter Lorre produces a corkscrew and uncorks one of the wine bottles.
“Chateau Lafite,” he says, displaying the label for both of you to see.
“The most expensive bottle of wine ever sold in heavyspace,” says Heather. “I never drink anything else.”
Peter pours Heather a taster. She nods in approval. Peter fills her glass, then yours.
“Will there be anything else, my princess?”
“We are set for now,” says Heather.
“Enjoy,” says Peter. He nods and walks off.
“You’ll love the alfredo chicken,” says Heather. “The bruschetta is amazing. The calamari is divine. The lasagna is superb. The wine is marvelous. I even prefer it to the Palace’s wine. Please, enjoy yourself.”
“I can’t decide what to try first.”
“Try all of it!”
You sip from your glass of ice water and survey the spread before you. Eventually you help himself to some lasagna and bruschetta and a crispy dinner roll slathered with garlic butter.
Heather dishes herself up some alfredo, heaping great piles of it on her plate. Then she takes the pepper mill and grounds the pepper all over her gratuitous helping of pasta to the point that the cheesy white noodles are turned completely black.
You bite into the bruschetta. Heather is right. It’s amazing. The bread is warm but not spongey, the crust crunchy but not rock-hard, the tomatoes juicy but not soggy, the cheese chewy and full but not rubbery.
The two of you gorge yourselves on your meal and have a lovely conversation.
Heather tells you she’s from Sweden, a Silver Siren who’s been at the game for a year now but can’t quite get any traction other than her Silver Coronation at the previous year’s Winter Solstice. She seems a pleasant sort, if not a little spacey.
Talking with Heather proves enjoyable but occasionally difficult. She’ll start on a subject, ask a question, and then interrupt when you’re halfway through your answer, going off on a completely different tangent. You find it all very difficult to follow. The conversation seems to take place in spurts, starting off in one area and quickly veering away as Heather prefers.
Another annoying habit of Heather’s is her constant need to snap selfies with her Tag. She’ll begin talking, and then she’ll raise her hand into the air, pause to smile sweetly or make a face, and her hand will flash. She does this several times. You keep your mouth shut but begin to find it irritating.
“I love my feet, I always ha-yuvve!” says Heather, swinging her legs out from under the table and extending her toes for you to see and admire.
“Mmm, yes,” you say, drinking more wine. “Those are quite the feet. I have to say, though, I don’t have a foot fetish.”
“What fetish do you have,” Heather asks, sipping her own wine, her blue eyes glinting at him from over the glass. “Everyone has a fetish.”
“Can’t tell you yet,” you say. “Maybe if I get Alliance.”
“You’re no fun,” says Heather, pouting.
“I’m lots of fun,” you say.
“So where were you before the Veil?” she asks.
You tell her.
“Oh,” said Heather. “And you saw the Veil happen?”
“I did,” you say.
“I saw the Veil, too.”
“I’ve read up on the causes and the politics of the whole thing,” you say. “I see why they call the second half of the 20th century the Long Surrender. It was like, it was inevitable. Once nukes were invented, as long as they existed, they were going to be used. Sooner or later, they’d be used.”
Heather is snapping another selfie. She sticks her tongue out and her hand flashes.
“But if they hadn’t been used, we never would’ve had the Maya,” says Heather. “The rhythm provides.”
You refill your wine while Heather takes another selfie. Your face feels flushed with wine, your belly good and full, your tongue loosened.
“Everyone argued who had the most pain,” you say. “It’s like, why couldn’t we just focus on healing it all, regardless of where or what it is, instead of arguing who had the most?”
“Well, that’s partially why the Anodynes were created,” says Heather, lowering her hand. “It’s why I started doing this. I thrive on human energy. I love connecting with people, and making them laugh and making them happy. It’s totally my dream job.”
She lifts her hand again for yet another selfie, the fourth one in a row. You glare at her.
“What religion did you follow in heavyspace?” she asks.
You tell her.
“I was Catholic myself,” she responds. “But I also didn’t go to church. I’m glad no one believes in religion anymore anyway. It served its purpose, you know?”
“I’ve thought that, too,” you say. “It got us this far. It kept society cohesive long enough for us evolve from animals into whatever the hell we are now. It also impeded evolution, but I suppose a lot of the rules it set were useful in the long run.”
“Sin is just any activity that impedes evolution,” says Heather. “That’s what all religions preached, essentially. Creation over destruction. Of course, any time those rules were used for the gain of power, they were somehow always twisted around and became destructive anyway.”
“You just blew my mind, Heather.”
Heather snaps yet another selfie with her Tag. The feast lays half-eaten and congealing on the table between the two of you. The second bottle of wine is nearly empty.
“I am a glowing angel,” says Heather, staring intently across the table at you. “Look into my eyes, do they not shine light?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I am living,” says Heather. “And that is a miracle. Energy never dies. How’s that for a mind-blower?”
She lets out a great, tittering laugh, throwing her blonde head back and ululating at the ceiling.
You look nervously at the other patrons. No one seems to notice.
“Sorry, I just like to be weird sometimes,” says Heather, smiling.
“Clearly,” you say, clearing your throat. “Tell me about your Theatrium. I saw a lot of Theatriums today. Most Sirens use the big room with the bed in the center. Is that a standard Theatrium?”
“You’re right, that’s one of the standard templates,” says Heather. “There are three — the Princess’s Theater, the Princess’s Chamber, and the Princess’s Clearing. I went with the Theater, and I made it underground, cause that’s what I’ve always been — underground.”
You have no idea what that means but Heather keeps talking.
“And I like a light mist, it makes everything more comfy for me. And the tables, one of the Madames showed that trick to me — the water to ice tablecloth, and I just loved it.”
“And the casino?”
“Oh, my dad was into gambling. He loved to play cards. He used to win big money at poker all the time. I do it out of Tribute to him. No one ever uses the games, though.”
“Do you play at all?”
Heather sips more wine, lifts her hand for another selfie.
“Some,” she says. She flashes her white teeth, and her hand flashed a picture.
“You said you were Swedish,” you say. “What city was it that got hit?”
“Stockholm,” said Heather. “I saw the cloud over Stockholm. 10 miles out.”
“Part of the second wave. I remember.”
Heather doesn’t say anything, just puts her wine glass down and rests her chin on steepled fingers.
She furrows her brow at you.
“It’s so interesting to find out how people get to where they are,” she says.
She looks away, takes another fucking selfie.
You’re finally about to say something about constant selfies but she speaks again.
“Oh, I adopted a prism of Rosalia Lombardo,” she says. “Do you know who she is?”
“She’s living with me in my Residency right now,” says Heather. “She was an Italian baby who died in 1920, and she got famous because her body was perfectly preserved for a century. Right up until the Veil, she looked just like she was just taking a nap. They kept her in the Sicilian catacombs, and she was one of the most famous mummies ever, sleeping in her casket. All by her lonesome self, for a century… and when I saw her I just couldn’t bear to leave her down there all alone…”
“Oh,” you say. “And you keep her mummy in your room?”
Heather’s expression changes immediately. It’s as if you just tried to grab her. She looks at you in shock.
“Of course not!” she exclaims. “She’s as alive as you or me!”
“I just thought that — “
“Fuck you, you ‘just’,” Heather screeches. “Why would I keep the cold, dried, chemically saturated husk of a sweet little baby girl when I could have her as she was in life, and I can feed her and play with her and she loves me and I love her!”
Heather’s voice is rising. She’s beginning to glow white.
“Calm down, calm down,” you say hastily, looking around and hoping no one is seeing this. “I was just asking.”
“WHAT KIND OF A FUCKING PERSON ARE YOU?!” Heather screams.
The whole restaurant turns to look at you; the men with curiosity, most of the women with annoyance.
“Sorry,” says Heather, smirking, the storm in her subsiding as quickly as it came up. “I just like to be weird.”
You stare at her. You’re not sure if her outburst was a joke or not.
She’s gotten the whole place’s attention. Even Aarav Rohan pauses at his piano playing — he’s on a cover of Sail Away by David Gray, may his voice live on — to shield his eyes and look in your direction.
“By my eyes and ears, is that Heather December?” he shouts, smiling handsomely. His bare chest is all muscle, the color of polished oak, a sturdy place for any woman or gay man to rest their cheek.
“You see true, Sir Aarav,” Heather replies loudly without missing a beat.
“Always at that corner booth with your latest squeeze. Why don’t you come away from your date for a moment and sing us a song?”
Heather doesn’t need a second invitation. She stands — “Be right back.” — and wades nude through the tables right up to the stage where she greets Aarav with a big hug. The dinner crowd applauds her politely.
“What would you like to sing, my princess?” Aarav asks Heather. “Keep in mind I can only use this piano at the moment.”
Heather smiles and leans down to whisper in Aarav’s ear. He nods and smiles.
“A fine choice, Siren, a fine choice indeed.”
Heather takes her spot at a silver microphone, standing next to the piano, still naked and still fearless, like all Sirens.
“This is a song about how we’re all poor inside,” she announces. “We may shine bright, but our insides are always dark.”
The place quiets down, the voices all lowering as if someone’s turned a volume knob.
Sir Aarav counts Heather in, nodding four beats. He begins a low, somber piano piece. She begins singing right away.
Party girls, they don’t get hurt
Can’t feel anything, when will I learn
I push it down, I push it down
You speak into your hand instinctively, as does everyone around you, a smattering of whispers like a swarm of butterflies taking flight.
“Chandelier, by the artist Sia, may her voice live on.”
I’m the one, for a good time call
Phone’s blowin’ up, ringing my doorbell
I feel the love, I feel the love
Peter Lorre brings the bill and sets it in front of you.
“Will there be anything else, sir?” he asks in that unmistakable accent. You think about asking him to say one of his famous lines, but you can’t think of any.
“No, thank you,” you say instead, thumbing out your Tag to pay. The bill is a substantial amount.
Peter stands in front of him and waits, holding out the bill for you to sign.
1 2 3
1 2 3
Throw ’em back til I lose count
You sign for the bill, tipping Peter 25 percent. Peter nods and walks away.
A good thing, too, because right then Heather launches into a voluble chorus and your head goes faint from the Hallelujah. Heather’s voice is like a blast of cold air from a car window, startling and clear.
I’m gonna swing from the chandelier
From the chandelier
Her Hallelujah is comfy and soft, no paranoia. Whereas some Hallelujahs are playful and giddy and some are warm and flickering, Heather’s is like being wrapped in an electric blanket. Her voice is thin as a spider string and soft as morning dew yet always perfectly on pitch.
With every sustained note, your body tingles and your heart beats faster. You would not have expected this from a daffy Silver Siren like Heather.
As the chorus falls away, the crowd yells encouragement, the usual cries of “a-LAH, a-LAH!”.
Aarav joins Heather for the post-chorus, harmonizing in his golden baritone.
But I’m holding on for dear life
Won’t look down, won’t open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light
Cause I’m just holding on for tonight
They hold the room in the palms of their hands for the whole song, and when the two Anodynes are finished the entire restaurant bursts into rapturous applause, including the waitstaff. You see Clark Gable whistle with his fingers.
Heather thanks everyone graciously, taking a bow and stepping away from the mic. She gives Aarav another hug of gratitude and he kisses her on the cheek. She lifts her hand and takes a selfie with him. Then she dismounts the stage and makes her way back across the room to Padd.
“Heather December,” says Aarav Rohan, applauding.
“Energy never dies!” yells the crowd.
“That was amazing,” you say when Heather gets back to the table. The Hallelujah is dying off at a comfortable rate, and now you want to touch her.
“Did you pay the bill?” she asks.
“I did, my princess.”
Heather takes your hand.
“Then come with me, Suitor,” she says. “We’re going to my place.”