Story: Radial: Unravel
Challenge: Fudge Ripple #13 - Doubt; Marmalade #29 - Headphones
Extras: Malt - hi_falootin's What If? ("What if your character(s) had to perform a song in front of an audience?")
Word Count: 775
Summary: Milos receives a summons that he suspects is revenge for Alex's earlier ...amusement.
“But I can’t sing!” Milos stared in horror at the woman framed by the doorway, who leaned against the jamb with her arms folded. “And anyway, I didn’t even put my name down for—”
“It isn’t voluntary.” She smiled, but it had a hard edge that brooked no argument.
He’d never been one to take a hint. “I don’t know any songs! I am the worst possible choice for this!”
“I,” she said, “didn’t choose you. It was a random drawing.”
“Really?” He asked, sullenly. “Because of all the people that it could’ve been, you ended up with me who’s just pissed off—”
“—Are you doubting my word, London?” She might be delicate and petite, but she’d got all the steel of her boss and quite possibly more; he didn’t think she’d have fled, crimson, when faced with Alex’s idea of revenge.
“No.” He could take enough of a hint to know that yes was not the right answer. “But I still don’t know any songs at all...”
An MP3 player came flying in a lazy underarm arc towards him, a set of earphones unravelling from around the unit as it went; he caught the machine easily but almost ended up with a faceful of cables. “They’re arranged by year.” Marrok’s secretary said, as if that explained everything. “Find something you’re familiar with. We’ll see you in conference room three in half an hour.”
She was already leaving when Milos called out, “why?” without truly expecting an answer.
When she turned, her pale eyes flicking over him, assessing then dismissing, he flinched. “Because the committee needs to assess the song you’re going to perform. Half an hour.”
Milos let her go without another word. Conference room—committee? Gnawing on his lower lip and fingering the earphones, he glanced across at the unusually silent Alex only to find that he was, equally unusually, engrossed in his work without even a hint of a smile. No help there, if help had ever been the right word in the first place.
He turned the player over and over in his hands, then sighed and shoved the headphones into his ears. Half an hour was nowhere near long enough to find something he was vaguely familiar with, learn the words and feel even halfway confident about singing. Something told him that was the intention.
He knocked at the door, and on the deep command “come in,” pushed it open and slid into the room. He’d thought—hoped—it would just be Marrok and his secretary present to laugh at his discomfort. Instead he came face to face with several other section heads and their secretaries. A wave of homesickness washed over him; he never expected to miss Nazarian this badly. Never before expected to think of his old office as home.
Marrok, of course, was in the middle of the front row, an insincere smile plastered over his face. “If you’d like to stand there,” he gestured with one open hand, “and start whenever you’re ready.”
Nice of him to attempt civility in front of the other managers, Milos thought; shame it was as believable as the smile. Obediently, he stood in front of the projector screen and shifted his weight from foot to foot, fiddling with the player and single earphone he held in his hands until he almost ripped the other from his ear. Was never starting an option? Judging from the narrowing of Marrok’s eyes, he suspected not.
Taking a deep breath, closing his eyes and opening his mouth, he started to sing.
“I guess it’s funny really,” Milos sighed, slumping against the door frame, throwing the small black unit from one hand to the other without looking at it. “I actually made him wince. I’m sure one of the guys at the back put his hands over his ears.”
“It’s his own fault.” Alex closed the folder and leaned back in his seat. “I take it that’s an end to this stupidity, then?”
Milos caught the player again and frowned down at it. “No. I’ve still got to do it. Apparently I’ll be fine.” He couldn’t keep the bitterness from the word. “I think even being moved to Research would be better than this...”
“That can be arranged. I still have the paperwork ready. But,” he smirked up at the dokkalfa, “only after the concert. I want to see this first.” He raised an eyebrow as Milos slapped the music player down on the desk in front of him. “What’s this?”
Milos smiled back, packing as much malice into it as he could. “Conference room three. You’ve got half an hour, then it’s your turn.”