**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.**
During the trip home, Chase nodded off several times. Accustomed to travel, catching some shuteye on the way was what kept him going. Still, when he was at home in his bed he really never seemed to sleep any longer than a few hours.
Although he was not quite sure whether he had slept for more than a few minutes at a stretch, he recalled having at least two dreams.
One of his dreams had bothered him mostly because it was bizarre and seemed unlikely. It had been about crossing the desert in a Puma that malfunctioned and being forced to set out on foot. A sandstorm blinded him so badly that he became lost. He remembered the emptiness he felt in his soul, dealing with the realization he would never see Julie again, never again to hold her in his arms. Even though upon waking it seemed preposterous, there were tears in his eyes. It had taken some time before he dozed again.
The other dream was so vivid that it continued to haunt him. It seemed he had seen Alix and Cristina ducking into an armored vehicle just before it exploded into a huge ball of fire. It felt so real that upon waking he even wondered if Alix and Cristina made it safely to Andromeda. He was concerned about it to the extent of beginning to call Julie with his travelcom. Then he decided that she would have called him before then if they had not arrived.
On the last leg of the railcar’s journey through the mountains that separated Haven from the northeastern eastern desert that surrounded Andromeda the railcar passed through a rather violent storm. Such events were becoming more regular in the eastern portions of the interior desert. As the railcar slowed down for its approach of the outer airlock of Andromeda rain still pelted the windows obstructing Chase’s view of the semi-arid terrain that the terraform engineers touted as ‘pre-agricultural’.
When the railcar entered the airlock the droplets of water were almost instantly swept away and the outside surfaces were dried in the turbulence of the process of cleaning and clearing the railcar of any contaminants before it passed through the second stage of the airlock and entered the dome.
Finally, the railcar pulled into the station and the all too familiar de-boarding announcements played over the railcar’s internal PA. Chase ignored the instructions so that he could gather his things together in preparation to exit the car. He knew from experience that if he followed the instructions, he would be one of the few waiting seated inside the car until everyone else aboard left.
There were maybe forty people on the railcar designed to accommodate a hundred. It was late afternoon. He didn’t know whether that had something to do with the relative emptiness of the railcar. It was the first time that he had noticed the emptiness. Although he usually traveled at night, every other time he traveled between Haven and Andromeda the railcar was nearly packed. The railcar finally halted. The dock platform extended to lock into outside of the car, creating a safe bridge.
Already he was queued to de-board, about half way back in the staged procession. He took his turn in line as one-by-one each of the passengers exited the railcar. Finally he emerged onto the platform. The first thing he saw was Julie’s smiling face.
As he stepped toward her she launched herself toward him. He caught her in mid-flight, taking a step back to absorb the impact. He allowed her kiss to linger as they embraced. “Welcome home,” she said, finally pulling back, though she continued to cling tightly.
He did not want to let her go. In a perfect world they would never be apart. He wished time would stand still and allow them to remain in the warmth and sentiment of that moment. She missed him but he doubted she began to understand how much he missed her. As satisfying and reinvigorating as the extended kiss and embrace was, when it concluded, the emptiness he felt in the dream crashed upon him again, almost forcing the breath from him. Feeling dread as certainly as a premonition, something was about to change, something that might end their happiness.
“Are you okay?” Julie asked, as it must have been obvious he was breathing irregularly.
“Hold my hand,” he said but his voice was unsteady. He took several breaths to resist the anxiety, knowing her hand was real. She was with him. This was not a part of the nocturnal delusion still tormenting him.
It took several moments for his strength and resolve to return. He looked into her eyes and kissed her once more. When their lips parted he laughed. It seemed silly, after all. Why was he worried? Julie was with him. How could he not enjoy the moment?
From his perspective what he did was mainly for her. “I guess I have been running full blast for too long. I seriously need an extended rest.”
“Well, they should have let you be on your vacation when you scheduled it.”
“I know, but this was important. They want to expand the office up here because of the local music scene. And the good news is that they want me to run it.”
Julie’s eyes brightened.
“It’ll be a promotion.”
Julie’s smile broadened.
“I’ll get a raise. We can afford a house.”
Whether Julie was ever going to let Chase progress any further into the station seemed in doubt as Julie kissed him again. Cristina and Alix stayed back, hand-in-hand apart from Julie and Chase so that they could have their time together.
“I guess I should get my luggage,” Chase said, starting for the rack.
“I have room on our cart,” Alix called out his offer.
“Thanks, I appreciate that.” Chase replied offering a handshake. “It’s good seeing you again. Did you have a good trip?”
“Yeah, it was a long ride, same as always, but I was with Cristina so it was fine.”
“Cristina tells me you are one of us.”
“So I am,” Alix said.
“What do you think?”
“The fringe benefit of being with Cristina is the only part of it I like so far.”
Chase laughed. “Yeah, well, I felt the same way at first when Julie found me in one of the clubs here in town. That’s how we met.” He went on to tell a condensed version of the story, and then concluded with, “The rest is history, as they say.”
After Chase picked up the luggage and piled it onto Alix’s cart, they returned to where Julie and Cristina were waiting. Chase kissed Cristina on the cheek. “It feels like we haven’t seen each other in a year,” Chase said.
“Doesn’t it?” Cristina responded. “I miss our conversations.”
“Maybe that’s what it is. We haven’t spoken much since the end of the tour and we used to talk a lot, really everyday. So you and Julie have gotten to know each other?”
“We’ve become fast friends,” Julie said. “We really are a lot alike in many ways, except I can’t sing.”
“You can sing,” Chase corrected “ It’s just you don’t want to do what’s necessary to do it professionally.”
“I’ll bet you have a wonderful voice,” Alix said.
“She really does,” Chase said.
“I’m nothing great,” Julie said. “Yeah, I sound good to myself when I sing in the shower. But then, who doesn’t?”
“Well, anyway welcome yet again to Andromeda,” Chase said. “At no other time when you have been here before did you have a chance to really see the city and understand its total range of artistic culture and influences. I love its unique identity. It is the one city that very often breaks with tradition and the trends of every other city. Julie has lived here all of her life. I’m a transplant, but I’ve been here for most of my life.”
“Julie was telling us a little about the history of the city while we were waiting for you,” Alix said. “It sort of explains the musical rivalry between Andromeda and New Milan.”
“I fixed up your old study as a guest room,” Julie explained to Chase. “You hardly ever work in there anyway. Besides next week you’re not working at all.”
“I have a couple of things…”
“That was part of the deal, Chase. No work, right?”
“Look who’s talking, Ms. Workaholic!” Chase laughed as he grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly as he leaned over to whisper into her ear. “By the way, have I mentioned how much I love you?”
“You’d better appreciate me!” She slapped him playfully, and then chuckled. “You’d be hard pressed to find anyone else that would put up with your work.”
“Maybe I won’t have to tour so much after this promotion.”
“You’ll still do our tours, though?” Cristina asked.
“Yeah, well, part of the reason for this trip was Global is thinking of expanding the branch here into a major office here, like the one in New Milan. I would be managing an office with scouts, agents and other tour managers. They feel that because of the local music scene it is vital for the company’s long-range plans. That would mean more tour managers and I’d be the one supervising them, mainly from here.”
“I was going to request you for our next tour,” Cristina complained.
“I may still be able to run a major tour, but I would not be able to travel along with the tour. I would have to assign someone to do that, kind of like I had to keep checking in with Josh in Haven and Link in New Milan when we were on the road.”
“Well, I would want to approve of the person you assign to the tour,” she said.
“Of course, I’d do that for you, anyway. I’ll even recruit a lady so you have someone to talk to about all those things we never could.”
Cristina smiled. “I didn’t realize you cared that much about those silly times.”
“They aren’t silly when they affect your singing.”
She smiled at him again.
“Maybe you could hire Julie,” Alix suggested.
“That would be a fine idea except there’s a company rule against such things.”
“I’m not sure I’d want you as my supervisor, anyway,” Julie said. Then she joked. “The one I have is bad enough.”
“Well, it’s settled then.” Chase smiled. Then turned to Cristina he explained, “Obviously, you need to feel comfortable with our management. Personally, I owe some of this opportunity to the success of this recent tour. So, I feel I owe you, both of you and the other guys for making things work. Despite everything that went wrong during the tour, those things were relatively minor and easily fixed because we expected the unexpected and were on top of it immediately. Only once did it affect the fans and we handled it and got some positive attention from it. Everything else was behind the scenes. The fans never knew about the problems we were experiencing. That is how a well managed tour must be.”
“Well, we have never worked with anyone as professionally competent and respectful of the band as you are,” Alix said.
“I appreciate that, Alix. I don’t think we’ve said this many words to one another the whole time we were on tour. I’m glad that you came out of your shell.”
“Me too,” Cristina said.
“In case you guys haven’t been listening to the entertainment world for the past week, on this last tour you graduated into the ranks of a major act, meaning headliner offers and larger percentages of the gate.”
“Even in Andromeda,” Julie said as if to underscore what Chase was saying, though it drew a curious response from him. “We met a couple of fans while we were in the bar waiting for you. They told us the single is number four and all the shops are out of stock on the single and the album.”
“That’s what’s happening all over. It’s the same thing I have seen before. The tour sells the single and complete Mods. Then the next single promotes the new tour while postproduction is done on the next complete Mod. One feeds from the other until eventually it reaches critical mass.”
“Like we talked about,” Cristina said.
“Yeah, I saw it happening toward the end of the tour. The clubs we had booked were selling out so rapidly that they were requesting extra shows to fill the demand. I know that made for a brutal schedule at times, but I had anticipated some of it and designed the schedule to accommodate it, otherwise the pace at the end would have nearly killed you.”
“That’s why we lost some of our scheduled off days,” Alix said as it now made sense to him. “It was rough but it was kind of fun because the crowds seemed to be really into us and what we were doing.”
“Yeah, but even the shows we added earlier or later the same day really worked for you guys as well,” Chase explained. “It meant a lot to people who wanted tickets but couldn’t get them for a sold out show could get tickets for another show.”
“Then it sold out as well,” Cristina recalled.”
“On this tour the word got out about Duae Lunae and how they were fan based and a great live band that was not afraid of adding shows to satisfy the fans.”
“There are some trade-offs. Now only the larger clubs and venues will book us,” she pointed out.
“That’s true, but that comes with success.”
“I was so exhausted by the end of the tour that all I wanted to do was go home and sleep for a couple of days,” Cristina confessed. “But now I kind of miss it. I guess I’ve got the performance bug pretty bad.”
Chase laughed as he paused to hold the door open for Alix to roll the cart through station exit and out onto the loading/unloading area. Julie summoned the floater coach from where she docked it and it queued up in line behind a couple of other coaches then advanced toward them as the traffic cleared.
When it was their turn, Alix and Chase loaded the luggage into the storage compartment in the back of the coach and then all four of them squeezed into the coach. It was cramped and possibly overloaded but everything and everyone fit. Julie took the console and programmed their destination. Slowly the coach left the station and merged with other street traffic.
It was almost evening. Most of the commercial buildings in the downtown area were in shift change or closing from their daytime only operations. There was a good deal of traffic leaving the heart of the city and heading toward the residential zones and suburban estates. Chase and Julie lived in an apartment in an upscale area, but it was still relatively close to downtown. Chase enjoyed it because they were within walking distance of several popular clubs that booked live performances.
As they passed by them, Cristina remembered the names of two of the places they played, The Crosswalk and The Seasons. She remembered that Chase had been able to go home at night from the club and hadn’t booked a room at the hotel that was actually farther away.
It was important time for Chase to share with Julie. The first time he had not seen her for three months and the second time he had not seen her for another four months.
Their last appearance in Andromeda was at a larger club across town so Chase had booked a room for himself in the hotel, but still he had gone home for a few hours. Cristina did not know about Julie, then – not that it really mattered except that she was kind of enamored of him. Chase was organized and always seemed in control, despite the confusion around him. Sometimes, she didn’t want to make the decisions. She came to rely heavily on him and he never let her down.
When the coach arrived at the doorstep of the apartment, Alix and Chase removed the baggage before Julie remotely parked the coach in its designated dock. The men managed the luggage toward the elevator in the lobby and waited with the ladies for the car to arrive.
Once the door opened, Julie held it open for them to hurriedly load their baggage. Then, once Cristina, Chase, Alix and Julie were inside they rode up to the floor. The doors opened and Alix and Chase again worked their magic to off-load all the baggage into the corridor while again Julie held the door open.
It took several minutes for Chase and Alix to negotiate the baggage down the hall to the apartment. Julie went ahead to open the apartment door with her remote access key, letting Cristina inside while Chase and Alix dragged everything into the apartment. As Cristina and Alix were used to packing for traveling, they knew what bags they needed for the first night. Chase said he really didn’t need to unpack until the morning.
It was a two-bedroom apartment. Chase had turned one bedroom into his study but had never removed the bed, so Julie had prepared it for their guests. Chase never seemed to use the study anyway. He worked from a portable computer that most often he used in the dining area because for some reason the wireless global network connection there was stronger and much more stable. Besides, the table gave him room to spread out all the logistical diagrams and city maps he needed for scheduling and managing a tour.
By the time they settled into the apartment, it was night. Alix and Cristina showered first while Chase waited. He needed to shower, too and Julie wanted to freshen up after being out and about.
When Alix and Cristina emerged from bathroom together, wrapped in individual towels, both Julie and Chase shared a shower, something they had not done for many, many months. Because of the novelty they lingered in the shower for longer than might have been expected. They emerged to discover Cristina and Alix were sound asleep in the guest room locked tightly in one another’s embrace. Quietly Julie closed the door and joined Chase who was already waiting for her in their bed.