by Michael Kingsworth
Why on God’s green Earth did the New Year always have to fall on the exact date and time that Terra had set for it, centuries ago?
It would have been one thing if Persephone’s orbital revolution and rotation had matched Terra’s. But it didn’t. One day on Persephone was 1.0498576 Earth day. And a year on Persephone would take…
Jenny scowled as she resisted doing the math that would convert a 332 day year into a Terran year. And never mind that she had memorized the conversion to a Terran day and year way back in second grade.
It didn’t matter, no matter what the variation may or may not be. And when she was honest with herself, Jenny knew exactly how much the variation was. What mattered was that a year on Persephone was not a year on Terra. And where the HELL did the Terrans get off telling Persephonans that they had to celebrate the New Year by Terra’s calendar?
But Jenny knew the answer as soon as she thought it. The Terrans got away with it because they had the economic, social, and military might to force it. And wasn’t a damn thing Persephone and her patriots could do but grind their teeth, bend the knee, and grovel before Terra’s imperial might.
That, or be killed utterly, to the fifth generation. No one would ever choose to risk that.
And so Jenny had grown up beneath the boot of the Terran Empire. Listened to its news messages of fighting for peace, freedom, and self-determination for all. While at the same time turning power over the Empire’s controlled territories, including her home, to political flunkies who knew less than nothing about how to manage business on the lands and planets they had just been bequeathed. But who had expertise in milking that production for the flunky’s own gain. And, apparently more importantly, in milking the population’s young virgins for his own pleasure as well.
And the Empire wondered why production was down over twenty percent, or why rebellion tended to flare up every twenty to twenty-five years.
All that being said, Kevin still stood in front of Jenny, his expression a mixture of hope and terror as he waited for her answer to his invitation to the New Years Eve Ball.
In all of her sixteen years, Jenny only had one boy who could even approximate a boyfriend. Samil, who had grown up two doors down from her parents’ townhouse, and who had flushed crimson and then fled, trying in vain to conceal his—admittedly disappointingly small–erection when she had taken their kissing to the next step and removed her blouse and bra.
She had sat there, feeling the swelling within her that had started to open up and call to him fade in disappointment, and mentally shouted curses at his lack of manhood as he’d fled.
Since that utter humiliation, and the accompanying frustration that came with it, she had not let any person with a Y chromosome near her at all. And yet Kevin had wormed his way in, and Jenny’s heart had swelled to welcome him inside.
Truth be told, Kevin hadn’t had to squirm or maneuver all that much. She had halfway fallen for him the moment she laid eyes on him. Tall, muscular, darkly tanned, with black hair and dark brown eyes. He had been everything she had ever dreamed of: her strong, powerful father taken to the next level.
And so much more than that. Because while her father had meekly bent the knee, Kevin was standing up. Protesting against the injustice of Terran rule. And, secretly in the shadows, helping to build up an army that would drive the Terrans off once and for all.
So why did he want to go to the New Years Eve Ball, of all things? Jenny would have presumed he would avoid the thing entirely, in protest against the blatant imperialism implicit in the event’s entire premise.
And yet here he stood, on the doorstep of her parent’s little house, looking at her with earnest eyes that strove very hard to not betray the fear he was surely suppressing that she would say no, as he waited for her answer.
Jenny shifted on her feet, and glanced behind herself.
The noonday sun shone through the open doorway into the house, augmenting the solar-attuned LEDs in the overhead to produce a warm, almost natural glow throughout the space. Her parents’ well-upholstered Navy blue couch and armchairs almost seemed to stand erect before the sunlight that accompanied her gaze, followed by the cream paint on the sitting room walls and then the brown-stained faux wood in the kitchen beyond, where her mother was working on a stew of some sort for dinner.
She was only in her early 40s, but she could have been more like 55 or 60, stooped and worn as she looked. And unless Jenny was wrong, she’d be lucky to make it that long.
Looking at her mother, Jenny couldn’t help but wonder how much better her life would have been had someone worked to cast aside Terra’s boot when she had been Jenny’s age.
Someone like Kevin.
Maybe he had some sort of mission planned, and he needed her as cover. If that was the case, she’d be shirking her patriotic duty not to go and help him.
And, she admitted, it’s not like he wasn’t cute, on top of everything else.
So, on an impulse, or maybe not really an impulse, she turned back to him and nodded briskly. “I’d love to go with you,” she said.
Kevin’s uncertain expression turned into a broad, pleased grin, and he nodded in return. “Great,” he said. “Pick you up at ten.” He paused, the added, “Wear a nice dress.”
He winked, then turned and walked down the little set of stairs that separated her front door from the flagstone pathway that connected what little there was of their front yard—but by God, though it was little, Mom kept it trimmed, manicured, and green as Ireland…wherever that was—from the sidewalk that ran alongside the street leading back to the center of town.
Jenny watched him go, and felt a little stirring of nervousness.
If she had just signed up for a secret mission, she really hoped she didn’t blow it. And blow it with Kevin in general and…
She stopped in mid-thought, and the bottom went out of her stomach. What had he said?
“Wear a nice dress,” his voice echoed in her ears. But she didn’t have any nice dresses!
Whirling around faster than she ever had, she bounded toward the kitchen. “Mom!”
* * * * *
Kevin cleaned up nice.
When he showed up to Jenny’s house he was in a grey-brown suit with a white shirt and a red-orange tie that somehow made the color of his eyes stand out all the more brightly. Jenny hadn’t realized it was possible, not in that color combination. But it worked.
Walking next to him as they ascended the short stairwell that led to the entrance to the athletic field house where the New Years Eve celebration was being held, Jenny felt like a weed next to a flowerbed.
She didn’t have any nice dresses. And of course neither Mom nor Dad had the extra money to buy her one, even if there had been time to go shopping that afternoon. But Mom had a old dress stashed away in the back of her and dad’s closet: a little navy blue number that was cut to be tight at the hips but generous in the bosom, with thin straps that ran up over her shoulders to keep the thing up and a little slit that ran from her left ankle to mid-thigh on that same leg, which allowed for easier movement and showed off the leg a bit.
Problem was Jenny wasn’t nearly as busty as Mom. Though she was taller. So while the slit on the leg worked really well, she felt like a half-filled sack of potatoes up top.
Kevin hadn’t noticed, though. Or if he had, he had been polite enough not to mention it. In fact, he said she looked great when he showed up at her door to pick her up.
That was nice of him.
It didn’t stop her from feeling self-conscious as they reached the top of the stairs and stopped before the marble pillars lining the entrance to the Field House.
A short line had formed there, as people were being checked by security as they made their way inside. And for a second, Jenny felt a flash of nerves on top of her self consciousness.
“Uh-oh,” she said, glancing up at Kevin. Had his mission been blown already?
He looked sidelong at her. “What? Did you forget something?”
Jenny shook her head and gestured at the security guards, in their white collared shirts and with their heavily-laden gun and utility belts, and the portable metal detectors and explosives sniffers they were using to search the people who hoped to enter the building.
Kevin snorted. “What, them?” He shook his head. “No sweat, Jenny. Just relax.” He looked back at her and raised an eyebrow. “We’re not doing anything wrong. Just two people looking to have fun together on the big night.”
He didn’t sound at all ironic when he said that. He really was in character.
Biting her lip for a second, Jenny nodded. Then she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and faced forward.
Ahead, the person in front of them walked inside, having cleared the security team. One of the guards, older than the others by about ten years and powerfully built beneath his uniform, waved for her to step forward.
Putting on her best brave and unconcerned face, Jenny moved toward to meet him.
* * * * *
There was dancing.
Jenny hadn’t known there would be dancing.
Then again, when they got inside and she heard the music from the five-piece tuxedo-clad band set up on the stage at the end of the big inner hall of the field house, largely empty since the people who ran the building had retracted the bleacher seating on either side of the main hall and raised the basketball hoops on each end so they were snugged out of the way against the ceiling, and saw the crowd milling about with the first few couples beginning to step out to the band’s music in front of the stage, Jenny realized she should have known about it.
Hadn’t she heard people talking about this party before countless times?
She’d never gone to it; previous years she had been too young, or so Mom had said. But Mom and Dad had gone a time or two before. And other girls a grade or two above her had gossiped about it.
But somehow it had never clicked that this was, in fact, a dance party. And Jenny had no idea how to dance. Not really.
She stopped dead, dread and uncertainty freezing her in place so quickly Kevin hadn’t noticed she had stopped moving until he was two paces ahead. Then he stopped, turned around, and looked at her with a concerned and confused expression.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
Jenny gestured toward the dance floor. “I…” She trailed off. Stopped. The drew a deep breath and tried again. “I can’t dance.”
“Oh, is that all.” Kevin grinned broadly at her, then closed with her until he was just a few inches in front of her. She leaned her head back so she kept looking into his eyes as he got close. She could see a mischievous twinkle in them.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll show you.”
Then he had her left hand looped into the crook of his right elbow, and his left hand atop hers, and he lead her toward the dance floor.
* * * * *
The evening passed in a blur. After her initial hesitation, she learned basics of how to follow Kevin on the dance floor. Then within a couple songs they were moving together easily, and she lost every thought except for how much fun it was.
Then he started introducing her to spins. The first time, she got tangled in her own feet and she thought for a second she was going to fall, right there in front of everyone. But somehow Kevin continued the movements he was making, and he scooped her up, preventing her from falling even as he made a sort of dip maneuver where she leaned way backward and he leaned forward atop her.
As he brought them both up, a few of the couples around the edge of the dancing area, who were watching instead of dancing, clapped. Instead of acknowledging the applause himself, Kevin stepped back, releasing one hand and sweeping his free hand from her toward the clapping members of the crowd, as though to say, “Look this piece of elegance, who pulled off that display.”
And one of the guys who had been clapping broke in with an approximation of a wolf whistle.
Jenny flushed, unsure whether that was meant as a compliment or if it was a challenge to Kevin, or an insult toward her…
And then she was swept up in Kevin’s dancing frame again, and he spun her away from her adoring public. Such as it was.
They continued on like that for a what felt like forever, and Jenny lost track of time completely.
But eventually, she realized she needed to stop. She was getting winded, and sweaty. And so was Kevin. He seemed to know somehow that she was losing energy, and between one spin and the next, he had her led off the dance floor toward the refreshment stand that had been set up off to the side.
There was punch, and harder drinks for those who were of age, and finger foods and sweets.
But Jenny felt like a mess; she must certainly have looked it too. So she begged off to use the restroom to get herself back together.
Plus, she needed to go.
When she got back, she found Kevin speaking with an older man in a navy blue suit and paisley tie by the refreshment stand. They didn’t look like they were trying to be particularly furtive, but as she approached, the older man noticed her coming and plainly stopped what he was saying as he eyed her openly.
“Good evening, Kevin,” he said as she stepped up, and shook hands with him.
“George,” Kevin said.
Then George nodded to Jenny and walked away, back into the crowd.
“Who was that?” she asked, watching him go.
“A friend of mine,” Kevin said. He held out a cup of punch, which she accepted. Then he grinned at her, openly. “Drink up,” he said. “They’re having a contest on the floor soon. And we’re going to win.”
“What? No, I can’t!”
He just grinned more broadly at her, and she took a long gulp of the punch, those nerves coming back into her stomach.
* * * * *
They didn’t win. But damn if the contest wasn’t fun anyway.
The whole rest of the night was fun, and it seemed like a weight of some sort had been lifted from Kevin’s shoulders, because as energetic as he had been on the dance floor before her trip to the restroom and his talk with George, he was on fire after.
When they left the Field House at the end of the night, Jenny was soaking with sweat. But she didn’t care. She couldn’t remember when she’d had so much fun.
And she felt good in another way, too. As the evening progressed, she became convinced that George had something to do with Kevin’s mission that night. That meeting had been what he needed, and with his mission completed, he was a different man.
So she’d helped, somehow, do her little part to rid her home of the Terran tyranny.
When Kevin dropped her off in front of her parents’ house, she smiled up at him. “That was a good night,” she said.
He nodded. “Best in a while.”
“I’m glad I was able to help with your mission.”
He looked at her askance and she raised her eyebrows at him, amused. “What? You don’t think I can be,” she fluttered her eyelashes at him, jokingly, “discrete, and under cover?”
Kevin cocked his head to the side and looked silently at her for a moment. “What are you talking about?”
“Your mission.” She looked left and right, then leaned in toward him and said conspiratorially, “Your meet with George. What, was he passing you info? Making arrangements for the next op?”
The confused expression remained on his face. He shook his head. “George was helping me get my dad’s auto fixed.”
She blinked. “Auto fixed?”
“Yeah, his auto fixed.” Some of the good humor left his face. “What did you think this was?”
Now it was Jenny’s turn to look confused. “Well, you’re always talking about getting rid of the Terrans. I just thought…maybe you had something going on. That you needed a cover, and that I…” She paused, then spit it out. “That I was helping you.”
“Is that what you think?” He rolled his eyes, then stepped forward, closing the distance between them. Looking steadily into her eyes, he said, “Jenny, I don’t like the Terrans, but I’m not going to pass up a good party out of spite.” He smiled again at her, gently. “The only mission I had tonight was being with you.”
She felt a flush of warmth flow through her. First from embarrassment, then from something more pleasant, and tingly. “Really?”
Then his lips were on hers, and she felt her knees threaten to give way.
It seemed they were there, locked together like that for a long, long time. Then a throat cleared behind them.
Jenny jumped, and pushed away from him, spinning around to see her father, standing there in shadows beside their front door.
“Get inside, young lady,” Dad said. He didn’t sound displeased, but his voice would brook no argument.
Jenny looked back at Kevin and smiled an apology. He said, “I’ll give you a call tomorrow.” He looked over at her Dad and said, “Good night, Mr. Rogan.”
“Good night, Kevin,” Dad said. And he really meant that, as well.
Jenny hurried inside, then rushed to her room and shut the door.
It had been one hell of a night.
A collection of Michael Kingswood’s published stories are available here: