“You do not appear to be enjoying yourself.” Susan jumped at the unexpected sound as her business partner spoke. She had thought she would escape the party by coming up to the penthouse office, but she’d forgotten Cet’s habit of failing to turn on the lights when he was in a room alone.
Cet walked out of the shadows in the darkened office, joining her on the balcony.
“I’m bored out of my mind, and wishing someone would blow something up.” Susan looked at her wineglass. “I don’t believe I just said that.”
Cet actually grinned. “I have it recorded,” he said, leaning companionably against the balcony rail. The city spread out below them.
“I thought you normally spent New Year in the lab.”
“I thought this would be more interesting.”
“It’s not, is it?” Susan said, glancing down.
“No. Although Natalie’s New Year has begun with first degree burns.”
“Don’t tell me, she followed through with that threat to make a move on the boss.” Susan followed the road lines with her gaze. The view from their office really was spectacular.
“My surface defenses were adequate,” Cet looked at the city, the lights reflected in his dark eyes. “I had hoped she would make a move under the misseltoe, but her hand injury will suffice.”
“Maybe it will finally teach her no means no,” Susan said, heartlessly. “There’s a girl who needs to learn consent matters.” Natalie’s habit of flirting with almost anyone would have been less irritating if she had not limited it to people who were not interested and lied about the ones who said no. There was a girl Susan could see needing new employment in the New Year. But then again, it started her thinking.
“So, I can see Natalie’s lesson being ‘interesting’ enough to get you out of the lab, but why aren’t you back in there now it’s over?”
“I decided I would observe human traditions this year,” Cet said in dismissal. Susan looked at him, and smiled wryly. She knew him too well. Swirling the wine in the glass she looked over the rim at him.
“Now, if you’d blown something up, you’d have cleared the mess by now. So, toxic chemicals or something worse?”
“Nothing has left the laboratory. It was a routine explosion.” Susan chuckled, she could not help it.
“And?” she prompted.
“It cracked the polymer wall. Repairs are complete.” Cet’s tone was actually defensive. Susan raised an eyebrow and waited. Cet looked at her. After a moment he continued, stiffly. “It will merely take three further hours for the pumps to clear the water.”
“You flooded the lab?” She tried not to giggle and failed.
“I did not. The Hudson accomplished that.” Cet’s back was straight with offended pride, and Susan nodded, not trusting herself to speak. “I am surprised you are not down there with the humans.”
“Been there, done that.” She finished the drink and poured another. “I’m feeling jaded and very old.”
“A shame. Apparently this is a great party, possessing an edge with many happenings.” The heavy irony was all the more obvious for the lack of expression in his voice. Susan shrugged.
“Of course, it’s such a high stakes event, with no chance of an FBI raid, the alcohol doesn’t have a fifty percent chance of killing or blinding you, and the illegal drugs are pills to give them more energy to flail around like scalded cats rather than green alchemical concotions created as an art to expand the mind? The police won’t break in to arrest half the guests for being the wrong gender to drink, a chunk of the rest for being the wrong colour to drink, the rest for drinking with them, and the band for inciting debauched behaviour. You’re telling me the party is edgy? We’ve come a long way from the jazz club, and life’s so much better now, but I remember the real underground bars, the gangsters and all I can see are children down there playing at risk because they don’t know what it really is…” She peered over the balcony’s high railing. “‘scuse me if the only edge I can see is right here.”
“You seem unhappy,” Cet observed and Susan sighed. The alcohol had loosened her tongue and she had said more than she intended. Since she had come so far, she might as well go on.
“Fifty years. This will be the fiftieth solar cycle we’ve been stuck here.”
“Negative. That was three months ago.” At the reminder, Susan knocked the remains of the glass back and went into the office to pour herself another. She wanted to make sure she slept tonight, without dreams. Walking back out to the rail, she pulled a chair aside to make more space by the balcony.
Cet moved a little closer, perhaps to make sure he could catch her if she fell – or jumped, Susan thought, amazed by how far they had come in fifty years. Instead she settled herself against the rail and looked down. She wondered idly if she dropped her glass, how much of a hole it would make in the pavement far below. It did not matter. Within a week it would have been repaired, as if it never was.
“Sam’s oldest girl died last week. She was sixty-four,” she said, without looking round.
“You were present?” Cet asked, and Susan laughed bitterly.
“No, I found out from the papers, like a stranger. Auntie Susan’s been dead thirty years remember?” She shook her head. “It just hit me that she was the last. There’s no one left now who remembers the little speakeasy on the corner. None of the old crowd. Just us.”
“This is inevitable when spending time with inferiors.”
“They are mortals, not lessers,” she corrected absently. “I’ve been through this before. I thought I was ready for it.”
“So you have experience. You know you can cope.”
“No. The losses got too much. I ran home, even if there was a jail sent- never mind.” Susan stopped as she realised what she had nearly let slip. She could not remember if Cet knew, but he was showing far too much interest. “I can’t do this again.”
“But this time you are not alone.” He turned slightly. “Although you may prefer to be.”
Susan did not answer as, from below, the roar of the New York crowds could be heard and fireworks began.
“Happy New Year,” she said half-heartedly, and was surprised when Cet clinked a glass against hers.
“Happy New Year.”