Later, he asks about it. His voice thrums with static, with a slight laugh.
[How did a nobody like me ever stand out to someone like you?]
It seems like a hypothetical question. Even if it isn’t, she’s far past the ability to answer.
There it was, again: a flash of gold on the upper left balcony, a triangle that reflected the stagelights’ final blink before the velvet curtain murmured into place in front of her. It burned into her retinas. As applause swelled in the darkness, Red blinked and watched the triangle flash again and again.
When she realized that she’d lost count of the number of performances that she’d seen it, she began to wonder.
“Do you know anyone that wears a gold triangle design?” Red asked, and Sybil looked up from her terminal.
“A gold triangle?” Her mouth quirked. “There are only over a million people in this city. Could you be a little more specific?”
“It’s a big one. Point side down. Gold — something that shines. Probably on the back of something.” In particular, the back of someone who kept leaving right at the end of her concerts.
Sybil looked up, searching her brain, tapping a stylus against a puffed cheek.
“I have no idea,” she admitted finally. “Why?” Her eyes grew bright. “Would you like a dress with that design? I could arrange it for you.”
Red smiled. “No thanks. It’s nothing like that.”
Sybil came up behind Red’s shoulder, meeting her gaze in the dressing room mirror. Her fingers splayed across her shoulders; she bent down, her hair tickling Red’s right ear. “Are you sure? You need something to wear for next week’s concert anyway, don’t you?”
“I can wear something I’ve already got.” Red stood, checked the OVC port at the top corner of her mirror (light rain, guaranteed for the next hour), and then pushed her arms into her coat. “Well, I’m beat. Thanks again for arranging everything.” She scanned the dresser for anything she might have left behind. Satisfied, turned back to Sybil. “See you next week?”
Sybil straightened, laughed, fluffed her hair. “Yup! See you next week. Um, though — though don’t hesitate to call if you need to sort out any last details. I could always arrange for us to meet too, if you need to, earlier than next weekend.”
That was Sybil: the epitome of Supervision and Organization. “Thank you, Sybil, I will. Though it shouldn’t be necessary.”
Red waited for Sybil to continue with another question, another detail — but all Sybil did was chew her lip, fiddle with her hair. She had finally run out.
“I’ll see you later,” Sybil sighed, holding out her arms. They hugged, and Red left, pulling a hood up against the drizzle.
She spent the next week rehearsing alone, thinking rarely of triangles and more about arranging something new for the next performance. She was having a tough time, and fending off Sybil’s calls didn’t help.
“Do you have any details you want to provide the light crew for your next performance?”
“Whichever’s best. I trust your decisions on it.”
“Do you know what you’re going to sing?”
“Something new,” Red admitted after the fifth time she asked.
“Ooh, what? Can I have a sample?”
“Sorry,” Red said between bites of flatbread, “I’m still coming up with it.”
“What’s it going to be about, at least?”
Red hated giving details about her work almost as much as Sybil hated not having them. She stalled, chewing slowly, taking her time propping her terminal up on a flatbread box.
“The usual,” she said once her mouth was clear.
“Now do you know what it’s going to be about?” Sybil whispered a week later as the stagelights dimmed, and Red adjusted the collar of her dress.
“We’ll both know soon enough,” she whispered back. Sybil rolled her eyes and hit her with her terminal, and Red laughed and walked out onto the stage.
She heard her name boom across the speakers, heard the murmurs in the audience rise and then fade as she strolled to the microphone. The spotlight fell on her shoulders, warming her even as her nerves began to boil beneath her skin. The typical trembling heat rolled across her body.
It’s the same as always, she told herself. New songs, new place, new audience — but always the same. The embrace of lights and eyes — that triangle on the upper balcony — the fact she would be fine. She took a breath, and her mind lifted to the batten, to the sky.
She sang — she fell, easy, entire, into the orchestration of her lungs and throat — she lost herself, and because her eyes were closed she didn’t see it, didn’t dodge — just cried out when when something struck her jaw, her voice rupturing straight into the mike. The noise reverberated through the theater, followed quickly by the clap of her hands on her mouth. Silence, throbbing.
And then exploding. She opened her eyes and was blinded by lights — when she finally could make out the crowd it was seething, screaming. Pain lanced up her arm — Sybil was grabbing it, hard — she was shrieking, dragging.
“Red! Red, let’s go!”
Sybil dragged her backstage, and Red stumbled after in a daze, holding her mouth, tasting salt and iron. Before Sybil shoved her into the dressing room Red glanced back and saw bodies thrashing — Administrators and Security staff, descending onto the scene with sirens — and up on the balcony, the flash of a gold triangle.
“I can’t believe it,” Sybil hissed. “I can’t believe those - those criminals would ruin your beautiful performance like that. And it was going so perfectly!”
Red couldn’t believe it either — couldn’t even find the words to say so. She remained silent while Sybil fussed and procured cream from the dresser that she thumbed gently on Red’s wound. When Sybil looked away, Red tested her mouth, opening and closing, and sighed in relief. Nothing felt broken. She could still sing.
The minute stretched on as they waited in the dressing room for Administrators to give the all-clear. Sybil stayed by her side the whole time, leaving only to fetch a cup of tea, which rattled on its plate as Red held it.
“You’re trembling,” Sybil murmured, putting a hand on Red’s. And then, for the nth time, “Are you alright?”
“Yeah…yeah. I’m just not sure what…” What had happened. She rubbed her jaw gingerly (bandaged now) and her brow (unbandaged, but the site of a growing headache). Maybe she was experiencing shock. She tried to think of what had hit her, but couldn’t remember, and couldn’t even think of what it might have been. Maybe a shoe?
Sybil’s light laugh broke into her thoughts. “Well, I suppose it had to happen eventually.”
Red looked up. “What? What do you mean?”
“Well, you’re…that is, your music…it’s powerful, you know? It moves people.” Sybil nudged the tea cup, urging her to drink. “I mean, it was only a matter of time before someone got mad.”
Red watched her, feeling her blood chill. Was Sybil serious? She looked serious. There was no way Red’s music could actually make people feel things…much less do things this violent. Right?
The sirens were still going off outside, and reached her through the dressing room walls, pounding in her head. Nausea began to overflow between her ears. Red set the tea on the dresser.
“I…I need to go home,” she announced, standing, and Sybil stood too, eyes wide.
“What? Now? The Admins haven’t even been in to ask questions yet — and the reporters —“
Red pulled on her coat, her scarf. She didn’t know the weather but she wanted to cover herself up as much as possible.
“I’ll go with you,” Sybil said, starting to fumble with her own coat, but Red shook her head.
“Don’t. It’s not safe — just stay here. You can talk to the Admins and — and whoever.”
“Red! It’s not safe for you!”
“I’ll be fine.” Sybil opened her mouth to protest but Red cut her off before she could speak.
“I want,” she said, “to be alone,” and Sybil’s mouth closed, and pursed.
“Send me a message when you get home,” she called as the door shut.