**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
Cristina enjoyed the view of her birth city, New Milan from the sliding glass door. It was home. She had not been home for nearly a local year. It warmed her inside to see the familiar skyline of the downtown and the lights of the nighttime city, famous for its nightlife.
Of all places in the world, she felt New Milan was the most unique. It was nestled into a place where the tall mountains rose on three sides as if to rescue it from the violent sea-driven winds. On the west coast of the larger of the two continents, it bordered on Westpond, the smaller of the two oceans.
The city’s diverse population was mainly descendants of western and central Europeans. Although the official language of the Colonial Authority was English, was never a prohibition on speaking other languages, just the requirement in the schools that every student would learn two languages, by edict one of which would be English.
Cristina understood the arrogance of the Colonial Authority in at least an historical context. The Directorate Council and The Society above it held their sessions in English. The City and Province of Bartoul in New Essex, the center of all colonial government was on Mars, a completely English-speaking colony, having been settled by descendants of British, American, Canadian and Australian descent.
When she took courses at the University of New Milan, it served to reinforce her belief that everything was skewed toward an English bias. In the end what did it matter to her? She spoke several languages. The fact that she spoke English directly benefited her in ways that it did not benefit anyone who did not speak the unofficial language of the colonial provinces of Pravda.
The historical bias predated the colonial expansion of the European powers in the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries on Earth. During that time the might and power of the British Navy became dominant, even superseding the Spanish Armada’s intimidation in the Battle of Trafalgar in the English Channel. As a direct consequence, even as the British Empire crumbled into several sovereign nations whether through revolution or simple evolution into commonwealths, at least English existed as a known language in every one of those former colonies.
With the emergence of the United States as another English speaking superpower, allied with the British, further establish English as an important language to know. Through the influence of America and Britain to every corner of the world English became the most often spoken second language in the world.
It was an historical irony not lost on Cristina that the majority of people in the late Twentieth Century spoke Chinese. What about Hindi, Spanish, and Russian – or any number of other languages? What irked her was the truth. If she had not been adept at acquiring English as a language, she would have never become a popular singer-songwriter.
She preferred Italian and loved not only its lyrical qualities but also the flow and meter of the language for composing a song. English had always felt cumbersome to her, trotting and hopping along in iambic pentameter instead of flowing through in the rhythms that she associated with her natural, native tongue.
Immersed in her memories of college and her studies, she lingered for a moment, and then finally recalled memories of Chase kissing her goodbye. It was only a friendly peck on her cheek. He had someone waiting for him to return home. She understood. As much as she grew comfortable being around Chase, there was an invisible barrier that he would not transgress. Julie, his lady was lucky, she decided. Chase was singularly devoted to her. Cristina envied her that level of respect and commitment.
Chase had seen Cristina off at the station. His railcar left an hour later than hers. He arranged everything for her. Scheduling was what he did best. He took care of things. No one was better at it than Chase.
As she rode home she pulled the small orb out of her pocket several times and looked at it, wondering what it was for and what it might ultimately mean to her. For the moment, all she knew was it would help her develop her gifts and draw those with the attributes to her. She expected to begin meeting them immediately. Thus far she attracted no one.
As she sat at her dinette table in her apartment, she looked at the orb again. It was directly in front of her, perfectly round and off-white. It seemed to glow from one moment to the next. Her mind was drawn toward it. Her attention was captured in that instant. A strange alien voice called out to her in a bizarre language that approximated music. When it ended she understood the message. “Help us!”
At that moment the doorbell rang. Quickly she returned the small orb to her pocket before going to the door and peering through the peephole. As she recognized whom it was she opened the door immediately. She shared a friendly embrace with Alix, her band’s bassist.
“You’ve been unreachable for three days,” he complained. “Pete and I were out last night. He mentioned no one had heard from you since the end of the tour.”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I have had a lot on my mind lately. Come on in,” she said as she closed the door behind him.
“Well, after we got loaded-up a bit with ale I started thinking and worrying about you,” Alix said. “Pete said it would have been better to be partying with you. And it surely would have been better. We missed having you around.”
“Awe, that’s so sweet.”
“Well, it is only natural that all of us miss you.”
“Do you have plans for tonight?”
“Me?” Alix asked.
“Uh, no plans, not really. I guess I was thinking about eating a burger and fries at this retro-American fast food place that I know, and then chug an old-school sugar cola to wash it all down. And finally I was going to play some really archaic video games – something I have missed out on doing for over a year.”
Cristina smiled. “You know, that sounds better than what I had planned.”
“Really?” Alix asked, seeming surprised. “Let me get this straight. You really want to hang-out with me, like… just me?”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Well nothing, except you have never, ever done that before, not with anyone in the band. There has always been this kind of gentleman’s agreement amongst us. You’re off limits for socializing. Besides all that, I am not really dressed for a date or anything. I mean I haven’t shaved in a couple of days.”
“You look fine. Besides, I sort of like the rough look for you. You are a big guy and it sort of suits you.”
“But Keith had us all swear an oath that we would treat you just like you were our sister and only you could ever change that.”
Cristina shook her head in disbelief. “Keith did that and you swore to it?”
“Well, yeah. I mean it made sense. All of us love and respect you in that way.”
She laughed again, louder. “That bastard!” she said, shaking her head. “You don’t know the truth. He asked me out. We went to see a show. I loved it, but I could tell that he hated it. It was a musical and maybe guys aren’t into musicals, I don’t know. I have always wanted to be an actress in a musical.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I took voice lessons for years.”
“I knew that.”
Cristina chuckled again. “Keith effectively prevented any of you from socializing with me.”
“Well, not exactly. He allowed the out that if it was your choice, it would be okay.”
She shook her head. “Well, if going somewhere together constitutes a date in your mind, just figure we are friends. We are friends aren’t we?”
“Of course we are. But what does that mean in the context of the gentleman’s agreement?”
“This is the first I have heard of it and frankly, how dare any of you restrict who might want to go out with me or who I might want to see? It doesn’t mean it is serious when I go out with someone, but I am like anyone else. I want to go out and have some fun.”
“I didn’t want to imply that I thought this was the beginning of a more serious relationship.”
“You should not exclude that possibility. I have never been out with you. I have known you for almost ten years, but still, I don’t know you. So, let’s just go out and have some fun. We can take it from there. Let me get some things together and we will go. Have a seat and see what’s on world viewer while you wait.”
As Alix moved past being stunned to walking over to the couch and sitting down, he was treading very lightly, thinking that at any moment he was going to do something to offend Cristina and end any chance he had of fulfilling what had forever been his most fervent desire. As he waited he picked up the remote and programmed in the channels he wanted to monitor, and then he keyed on an entertainment channel to watch on the main screen of the monitor array. Oddly, the channel was reporting the return home of Duae Lunae from a worldwide tour. “Hey they’re talking about us!” He shouted so that Cristina might hear.
“That’s good…I guess,” Cristina shouted back. “I guess our publicist isn’t on vacation yet.”
“So, are we famous now?” Alix asked.
“It’s a relative thing,” Cristina replied. “We’re at least more famous than we were before the tour.”
“Okay,” Alix said as he changed to a different channel on the main screen, and then he checked out an entirely different set of channels. When Cristina emerged from the bathroom made-up and ready for her imminent exposure the world, Alix stood up. “You know it has always amazed me how you can go from amazingly awesome to drop-jaw devastating in less than twenty minutes.”
Cristina smiled and stepped up on her tiptoes to kiss Alix on the cheek. “That is the sweetest thing you have ever said to me.”
“I’ll make sure to make it a habit if you keep kissing me whenever I do it,” Alix promised with a chuckle.
As they exited into the hallway of her apartment building she clicked her remote to lock the door to her apartment behind them. Alix admired her as he had many other times, whether she noticed. This time it felt strange. She was a goddess. For her to go out with him to have a quick dinner somewhere and play video games afterwards was really beyond his most unrealistic imagining.
He loved her, of course. Everyone in the band did as well. He knew it but no one violated the professionalism of the band. If anyone did, it had been so discrete and never the subject of any discussion. He expected nothing like this would ever happen. He was the background guy, the quiet one on stage who stood there maintaining the backbeat with Pete. He celebrated the triumphs along with the band and suffered the same pains of disappointment and failure. Everyone took him for granted, but he was okay with that. Being in the background was really what he was all about.
He was certain the others were as concerned as he was about not having heard from Cristina for three days, but he was the one who checked on her, the lucky one who stood at her door when she opened it. Not expecting anything at all, he wanted to make sure she was okay. Now, he was escorting her, to hangout together.
“You’re so quiet,” Cristina said as she threaded her arm through the crook of his elbow and stood beside him waiting for the elevator car.
“It’s sort of my personality, I think. I stay in the shadows. That’s why I play bass, I guess.”
“I’ve heard you play guitar. You are good.”
“I learned guitar first. I was okay at it, but never really that good at it. I love to hear someone play the guitar well, like the way Keith and Tim play. They amaze me. But I have never been to that level. I figured out how to play bass and synch it tight with the percussion. Pete and I are pretty good at doing it.”
“I’ll bet that if you had stayed with guitar you’d be just as good as you are on bass.”
“I am glad you like the way I play bass,” Alix responded with a smile.
“You’re part of my band. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by such a team of seasoned, talented and competent musicians,” she said as the elevator arrived and they stepped inside and she pressed the lobby button.
“We have played together forever. Before we met you, we were playing together on-and-off since we were kids.”
“When I auditioned for you guys, I was nervous as hell.”
“I remember that day, the first time I saw you. I was thinking, ‘damn I hope she can sing because I want her to be in the band’. You know, because you make the whole band look better, you know?”
“You were all very nice and very professional. I appreciated that. It helped, but I was still scared to death. Then Keith came over and told me to pick a song I knew that everyone in the band knew and even presented me a list and I saw the song that I felt was my best one, my personal favorite on the list. I felt confident that I could do well, then. That was really all that it took, I guess.”
“Ten years ago,” Alix began. “It has been that long, but it really doesn’t seem like it. Maybe we have been too busy to notice. We have been trying to make it, to break loose…”
“But we have always been frustrated.”
“I loved your voice from the first time I heard you sing. No one else can sing like you.”
“Why, thank you,” she rose up on her toes and again kissed him on the cheek.
“I could get used to this kissing on the cheek thing, but it would never get old.”
She smiled. “I really like your sense of humor.”
“Is that what you call that?” He grinned.
“I’ll bet you can be very funny when you want to be.”
“I suppose, in a self-deprecating way. I rarely get the chance around Pete, Keith and Tim. They are very outgoing sorts compared to me.”
The elevator reached the lobby and they stepped out.
“Don’t demean yourself,” Cristina warned.
“It’s a defensive mechanism. You know how it is. Anyone who gets too close, it triggers. Besides, I like to be able to laugh at myself.”
“There is nothing wrong with that. It means you have a realistic balance. It’s just that you don’t need to think you’re inferior to anyone in any way.”
“Oh, I don’t. There was a time early on when Keith and I had a serious blowout about how I was playing a particular bass line. It was a couple of years before you joined the band. I told him that if he could do better to do it! He took on the challenge and after ten minutes he handed my bass back to me and said, ‘do it the way you think is best’.”
“See you are the best at what you do and Keith realizes it.”
“I guess so. It was just very strange that he could not play my bass in any way close to how I played it. I mean, yeah, the strings are bigger and I have five not six and except for playing chords I mainly use four of them, but Keith was really intimidated by the instrument. I had never seen that in him. Always before, he had been confident and arrogant.”
Cristina looked into Alix’s eyes, “You’re better than you think. You doubt it until you allow your ego to tell you that you’re better than anyone else.”
“That’s quite profound.”
“So, what are you hungry for?” Alix asked.
“The burger and fries you suggested before sounds fine to me.”
“Great. I know this place that is not far from here.”
“I don’t know retro-American food.”
“I’ll order for us, with the works, fries and sodas.”
“They tell me this restaurant we are going to represents the way things were on Earth at one time. I don’t know. I don’t really care. The food is tasty. That’s all that matters to me.”
“After three days, I’m tired of sitting alone in the apartment,” Cristina said. “I mean, it was okay for the first day. You know kind of decompressing from all the rushing around. But after that…”
As he summoned his floater coach, Alix apologized in advance. “The coach is a mess inside. Pete and I were out last night. We took in a show. We stopped for some Chinese fast food take-out on the way home and, well it’s sort-of still trashed inside.”
“That’s okay. You should see mine,” she said. “I usually ride my scooter everywhere anyway, unless I’m going somewhere with someone. So, what show did you see with Pete?”
“‘The Waiting Game’.”
“I’ve heard that’s good.”
“Some lady Pete knows is in it and gave him passes.”
“That must have been fun.”
“Yeah, I never cared much for theater, especially musicals, but it was really surprising for me, and I had a lot of fun. It is a different kind of performing. I don’t think I could ever do anything like that.”
“I’ve always wanted to be an actress on stage in a musical,” Cristina said. “That’s my dream.”
Their coach arrived at the curb and the door popped open. Alix assisted Cristina then stepped inside and situated himself at the master console.
“Anyway, Pete said he felt like he’d been asleep for two days,” Alix continued.
In response Cristina commented on an epiphany. “You know, this last tour did something for us as a band. We have always had some fun and we work well together, but during this tour, everything came together for us. I think we became a real band. There was a cohesive force that has never been there before. You know, like we were of one mind and going in a single direction. I wasn’t aware when it happened. It just started being that way. I didn’t notice it until this morning when I woke up and realized that something was missing. It was like I had misplaced something that was a vital part of me.”
“Yeah,” Alix agreed. “You were missing all of us. We’re all good friends, but we’re more like a family now.”
“Exactly,” she said. “I’m glad you feel that too.”
When their floater coach arrived at the fast food restaurant they exited it and Alix docked the floater in an empty spot in the parking stack. They went inside and chose a vacant booth where he placed their orders and allowed their pay credit accounts to be accessed. After a few minutes, their burgers, fries and drinks queued at the delivery portal. Alix opened the door and removed their separate orders.
“I’ve lived here since I was born, but I guess I never come to this part of town.”
“It’s not the best place to be, not alone anyway.”
“Do you eat here a lot – I mean, when you’re home?”
“I guess so. The food’s good enough, but they’re really fast. When I want something to eat I hate waiting for it, you know. I don’t like fancy restaurants for that reason. There, it’s all about waiting. That and you have to dress a bit nicer, you know. I mean sometimes it’s fun eating in a fancy place, but I think you got to be in the mood.”
“Chase took me to an Italian restaurant the last night of the tour.”
“How was it?”
“It was good. You’re right though. It’s all about waiting. Maybe it’s more about anticipation.”
“Yeah,” Alix said, then took a bite out of his burger, chewed and swallowed. “The anticipation is largely removed when you come to a place like this. It’s all about immediate gratification.”
“I love fries,” Cristina said, and then as if to emphasize she dipped one in honey mustard sauce before partaking.
“You don’t like ketchup?”
“I don’t know.”
“Try the red package. It’s made mostly of vinegar and tomato sauce.”
“Okay,” she said as she opened one of the packets and then spread it onto a vacant area of her plate. She dipped one fry into it and then sampled it. “Wow, that’s different. I kind of like it.”
“Yeah, that’s what most people eat with their fries.”
Cristina nodded. “It’s really good.”
“So, Chase and you seemed to be getting along well.”
“Yeah, he’s a very nice guy.”
“Is there any fire behind the smoke?”
“He has a girl back home.”
“Yeah, she’s very lucky. Chase is really a very nice guy.”
“She’s lucky she got there first.”
“Yeah, maybe that’s what I meant.”
“You miss him, too,” Alix commented.
“I think that as the tour progressed, he sort of became part of the band. When we’re done in the studio and back out on the road, I’m going to request him to be on tour with us again. I don’t know if we’ll get him, but everyone else in the band seemed to be on good terms with him.”
“Yeah, I like Chase a lot. He’s very straight up and always organized. I think everyone else likes him too.”
“He seemed to be on top of things,” she said.
“Even that time the atmospheric synthesizer in the dome in Star City decided to drop some rain on our equipment at the venue.”
“That really sucked,” Cristina agreed. “Then their silly ordinance about performing after dark! So even after we got our other equipment transport there, no one got to hear us because it was too late for us to perform.”
“They could have told us about the damned ordinance before we reset the whole stage.”
“At least Chase arranged for us to swing back through to give a show for all those people who had tickets.”
Cristina nodded as she had just taken a bite out of her burger.
“How is it?”
“Pretty good,” her voice was muffled by the mouthful that she was speaking around. So, in addendum, she nodded in case Alix had not understood.
“There were a lot of strange things that happened on this tour. I mean, there are always strange things but this time seemed worse.”
“It was almost like we were being tested, to see how strong our bonds as a band have become,” Cristina said. Then she sipped from her cold cola.
“Yeah, I had a similar thought,” Alix revealed. “Maybe sometimes we think a lot alike.”
“Maybe so, about some things, anyway.”
“I have always been kind of shy. So, I don’t usually open-up much even when I know someone well. I guess I’m comfortable with the band and all. We grew up together. But Pete and I are probably the closest. We’ve hung-out together since we were kids.”
“I know you practice together without the rest of us.”
“We have to – sort-of, anyway. I really have trouble hearing things on stage at times, and I have to key in on his drums. We each have to know what the other is going to do. We really have a lot of fun playing music together. He gives me ideas and I give him ideas. That’s how it works.”
“It’s great that you and Pete are close like that.”
“So, who’s your best friend in the band?”
She sat back and thought before saying, “You know, I don’t even think I have one. I love all of you as individuals but as a band, too. I know I can count on each one of you. Like tonight, you were worried about me and came to check on me. That’s what friends do for one another. I guess I spent most of my time on tour with Chase or just alone. I’ve always been like that, sort-of a loner, I suppose. You see, I was always shy, too. I used to hide in the closet anytime someone came to the house to see my dad.”
“You’ve never been afraid of the dark,” Alix said as if it was an already established fact.
“Like I said before, we have a lot in common. Maybe we’re more alike than either of us knows,” Alix said.
“You have the attributes?” she whispered.
Alix looked away. “That’s what they’re called, but it’s more like it’s a damned curse,” he replied in a lowered voice so as not to be overheard.
“They’re afraid of us, you know?”
“You have them too?”
“Of course,” she said, and then smiled at him.
“They fear what they don’t understand. It’s human nature, I guess,” Alix said.
“Is it only our differences they fear?”
Alix nodded. “Yeah, pretty-much that.”
“Do you think I was always intended to find you?”
“The way we’re different. It’s intended we met.”
“I’d like to think so.”
“All this time I already knew you,” she said smiling broadly.
“I don’t understand.”
“You will. Look, Aren’t we supposed to be out having fun?”
“Actually, I am having fun,” Alix answered. “I could sit and talk to you for hours.”
She looked into his eyes and he quickly looked away. “Don’t!” she admonished.
“It’s uncomfortable,” he turned back.
“I know, but I’m right here. You don’t need to be afraid of me.”
Suddenly, her cell implant chimed and she tapped on her earlobe to answer the call. “Talk,” she said.
“Cristina, where are you?”
“Chase, what a surprise! I’m here.”
“Where’s here? You didn’t answer at your apartment.”
“I’m out with a friend. What’s up?”
“Look, we need to talk. Can you be alone?”
“No, Alix and I are having dinner and going out to an arcade to play some video games afterwards.”
“Alix, really? Well, I didn’t see that one coming.”
“He’s one of us, Chase.”
“No kidding,” Chase responded. “Again, I’m surprised but maybe not totally. Just he has always seemed so quiet.”
“Not everyone is as gregarious as you are.”
“Well, there was a time when I was pretty self-conscious, too. I guess everyone overcomes it, each in his or her own way.”
“What do you need to talk about?”
“It’s about Sparrow and Hummingbird. They’re on their way to New Milan to meet you. When they couldn’t reach you at your place, they contacted me. They should be there tomorrow.”
“Really. I suspect from their names that they’re Couriers, but who are they?”
“They’re important for you to meet. And yes, they’re Couriers. But more so, they are the leaders.”
“And they contacted you but not me.”
“After they couldn’t reach you, they called Raven and he called me. They needed your address. I just needed to confirm that it’s okay to give it to them.”
“Do you have any idea what it’s about?”
“What else would it be about?”
“Well, yeah, I guessed some of that. “It’s okay, then. Like I have a choice, right? But why didn’t Raven contact me? I mean, he said he could, somehow?”
“Yeah, maybe that takes some practice from our side. Anyway, Sparrow and Hummingbird are above him. At least in my understanding of how things in the world work.”
“Should I introduce Alix to them?”
“I’m sure they already have a Courier designated for him.”
“I’m not sure I want to know the means of acquiring that knowledge.”
“Look, I’m kind of between things here and I’ve got to run. Have a good time tonight with Alix.”
“One last thing, tell me how’s Julie?”
“She’s wonderful,” he said. “Thanks for asking.”
Cristina smiled. “Call me later.”
“You got it. Bye.”