Don't Fear the Shadows
© 2016, Daijha Ravenblood All Rights Reserved.
Chapter 4 – Packing Dance
The piano stopped but the bar now had enough ambient noise of its own to not make it obvious. Even Dai did not catch the silence at first.
Maisie playing a riff then a quick chorus of a very popular song from the war.
Heads perked up from the bar area.
"Attention all. I recon it's time to start this Saturday night party." Maisie called out projecting clearly into the bar area.
Cheers went up on all sides.
"I'm Packing For Us All up next. Find your dance partner."
Drinks were finished in one gulp. Furniture scraped around the corner. Tables and chairs were being shoved to the wall by eager patrons.
Sidney capped her half empty whiskey bottle and put it up on the ledge that Dai had been using as a seat most of the afternoon. She grabbed a fellow spacer by the collar, "Up for a dance, buddy boy?" It was not much of a question. More of a command, but the smile on his face said he was just as ready for the dance as she.
The song was silly but very strongly designed. The Alliance Psy division crafted a number of songs during the war that preached patriotism and the goodness of the war. They knew the type of song that the common folk loved. They often stole old popular melodies from Earth-That-Was and recrafted them with the right kind of message to encourage folks to participate in the war effort. The song was ultimately hum-able and dance-able.
Some of the songs were so perfectly crafted that just humming the melody could start a fist-fight. A lot of the music during the war had polarized. This was one of the reasons that One-Eyed Jack's had theme nights and flew little colored flags over the door to remind those that cared. Most Thursdays, the bar flew purple banners and drew an Alliance friendly crew; Friday, the bar flew brown. While this did lose a few customers on those days, Jack felt that he saved on busted up furniture keeping the sides apart. If there was a special holiday the
day changed, but the flag reminded folks before they walked in. Saturday they flew a banner of multicolored flags and the song choices were normally more careful.
This did not matter with I'm Packing For Us All. The basic song was about a guy named Joe who failed the physical to join the war effort. He cannot take the shame from his family and
the loss of her girl over this so he quits his farm job and goes to work packing medical supplies for the soldiers in a factory. Verses are repetitive and mundane as he reasons out his duty and talked to his father, mother, sweetheart and dog. But the tune and chorus, foot-tapping gold. Those were not the absolute magic of the song. Someone, who probably had worked an assembly line themselves, had added a line in the beat right after the chorus, "And ma boss sped up da line!" With that, whoever played the song, spend it up slightly. This changed a standard couple's dance into a frenzied contest of stamina by the time it finished. Much chaos often ensued but bar patrons loved the challenge and the bars loved the thirsty happy drinkers it created.
Dai sat there watching the others leave. She liked the dance as much as the others and the piano had been driving her to distraction all afternoon. But the chess game with her grand showcasing had sucked up the rest of the afternoon. She had new clients coming soon. She had to get ready to work. Even if she wanted to play for a bit longer, there would not be someone left to partner up with for such an energetic dance. She glanced anyway. Hopefully.
Many had drifted to dinner. A few were getting back to a game, and others had wandered up to the bar for some more serious drinking.
Dai took a breath to reach stillness again. Her concentration was broken by the laughter at her shoulder. "The world won't break if you relax long enough for a dance, girl. You're getting too serious."
That was all she needed, but she really did feel she had needed permission from her mentor. Carefree dancing did not fit her image of a cargo captain she felt Hank wanted to mold her into. They were to be feared and respected, she thought. Yet…, she had seen how fast the others had bolted to the dance floor. Hummm. She had a lot more to learn.
Dai popped up from behind the game table and quickly stretched the kink out of her neck. Her hands flew across her body clipping down safeties. The gun on her right hip first and the small knife on the outer holster second. A moment later the big knife on her left hip was secured as well. She fastened the peace bound around the wrist blade and made sure the pop-out mechanism was locked down as well. Less than two weeks ago some fool had forgotten and hurt one of the girls when his knife slid out as he twirled his girl. Dai had not made that kind of mistake since her early teens. On the frontier, and on army bases, you worked with sharp objects, and learned quickly. They were needed for work, as well as the occasional obnoxious fool. Dai wore a bit more hardware today than back then, but it was the same instincts. Her fingers expertly traveled across her coat and vest. She planned on having much fun and dancing off every bit of stress she could. That is, if anyone still needed a partner.
One more deep breath and she placed a light smile on her face. Not threatening. Safe. Fake it.
The dance floor was chaos. I'm Packing For Us All was a couples dance. Couples were still sorting out their place in the circle which had already stretched into an oval. The dance area could hold twelve dance squares so there were a lot of folks here for so early on a Saturday evening.
Maisie's Girls had all paired up. Their necklaces all held the little light-up stars from the patrons that showed their time was taken. Other women were in Blue Star coveralls and their expressions showed they were just as eager to dance as the men. There were more women here than Dai expected but they were all paired up.
Dai scanned. There were a few guys by the piano. She started forward though the organizing chaos, but then saw their held instruments. They were starting early too.
Disappointed, she looked around further. The rest were nestled in on the benches that wrapped the room. Customers had even stacked up the chairs in a corner with the unused tables. They planned on serious dancing. It was a good idea. As the dance got faster, the couples whirled crazy. Collisions could happen.
Then she saw two guys standing by the stacked chairs, their heads still swiveled around the room, but their expressions were falling. One guy she immediately recognized as a regular and remembered he had just come in the bar. He was short and plain faced with a mop of curly black hair and a bright smile. She did not recognize the other man. He wore his Blue Sun coverall unzipped to nearly his waist. The t-shirt under it pulled tight against muscles. He was tall, almost a full head taller than Dai, even with her cowboy boots. His dark eyes caught hers and he straightened up and flashed a gleaming smile. He did not even wait for her to acknowledge him. He powerfully strolled across the room and reached out without even a word. For a moment Dai almost refused to take his hand, finding him a bit too sure of himself and looked back at the curly haired guy. That man caught her eyes for a second but his expression already read defeat. He turned and sat against the wall.
"Well, good evening, wáwá," the tall man boomed. He pulled one of the Maisie stars out of his pocket and looked confused when he could not find one of the bar's necklaces to hang it on.
Dai laughed, motioned towards her gear, from long duster coat and high necked vest to her holster and gun. "Not my job. I-i-," she paused from identifying herself as a ship's captain, as Hank normally wanted. "I run cargo," seemed a nice generic reply. "I'm Dai." She offered her hand.
That all seemed to fluster him. His hand played with the star for a minute. His hand then fluttered down to his side and clenched a bit. "Pleased to meet you, Kay. I'm Tommy. "
Dai didn't bother to correct him. This was going to be a one-up dance. His reaching across to her and into her vest pocket without asking, depositing the star. His cluelessness that no kind of payment was required annoyed her. His height, muscles and smile would not counter that. But she needed a dance to take the edge off, and she loved the routine with this song. Compromise.
As Maisie played the intro, they quickly slotted themselves into the large circle. The couples bowed/curtsied and started to promenade slowly. The first two verses proceeded calmly, almost mournfully as the Joe in the song found himself shunned before he took the factory job. The chorus had him packing "bandages to the left," couples spun to the left. "Pain pills to the right…" as they reverse direction and then a pause in the music. "And, ma boss sped up da line!" issued from everyone in the room.
Maisie started the next verse up a notch on speed and the fun started. Each chorus ended up with the shout.
Each verse, faster. Couples swirled in time.
If the dancers spun out, they were through. They sought the relative safety of the bench lined wall becoming spectators to the ever speeding whirling.
Couples were laughing with abandon as they survived another round. Dai felt her spirit lift with each twirl. Her coat tails spun out as much as any of the girls' fluffy dance skirts.
They almost wiped out on the tighter curve as the circle headed from bar back into the dance area, but survived.
The dancers had been reduced by over three quarters. The shouts now came just from the observers since the dancers were putting all their energy into just breathing and staying up with the tune.
They hit the chorus. Dai took a moment to glance at the musicians. One of the fiddlers burned up his bow. The younger one was as out of breath as the dancers just tried to keep up with the music. Maisie's mop of red curls had started to escape. The singer was grinning wide even as he sung and clapping the beat on the piano.
That glance almost cost Dai her footing as Tommy spun her forward. She laughed on the recovery but Tommy was not happy about. As they ramped up speed for the next verse he grasped her tighter about the waist and pulled her in closer for the promenade.
Around they went again. Tommy dance style was rough but he definitely had stamina. Dai focused back on just navigating the spins and soaring with the music.
One more verse to survive.
They swung round the inside curve barely making the tight turn at the back of the dance area. The couple behind them did wipe out. Tommy pulled them forward… right into the fiddlers. They went down in a tangle of limbs and instruments.
Tommy swore. Everyone else laughed. Dai picked herself up and handed a bow back to the younger musician. The elder, even down on one knee, kept bowing never missing a beat.
Dancers tried to swing around them. Two more couples tangled.
Maisie kept the tune pounding, grinning at the chaos she orchestrated.
Dai offered a hand up to Tommy. He unkinked his shoulder and then grabbed her hand again to pull her back into the dance.
"Whoa there, boy-o. We're out. Grab a breath or three."
Tommy's face clouded, ready to argue.
The dance finished with a final group shout. "And, ma boss sped up da line! Then it all flew off the wheals!" Everyone busted into cheers.
Two couples still stood on the dance floor. Folks applauded. Drinks were bought for the survivors who collapsed on the bench.
Bar patrons pulled the tables and chairs out from the edges of the wall and the room transformed into a smaller dance floor rounded with drinking customers. Some wandered to the bar, laughing and chatting.
Maisie looked around, smiling. The dance had perfectly transformed the mood of the bar. She flipped her instrument into player-piano mode and stood up to stretch. She pulled her hair band off, shook her hair out and then flipped it in front of her into a glorious mass of red curls. She expertly flipped it back and confined it again before heading to the bar to greet her husband.