**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.**
Julie arrived at the station a few minutes before the appointed time for the railcar from Haven. Cristina and Alix were aboard.
When they disembarked, Alix was first. She shook his hand as it was offered, but then stepped back. She opened her arms to embrace Cristina.
“I’ve been looking forward to seeing,” Cristina said.
“Me too,” Julie said. “Both of you, really. It’s been very lonely this past week with Chase away and all.”
“So, he’s on his way. You received confirmation?” Alix asked.
“His railcar is coming in later. I was planning to hang out here and wait at the station for the couple of hours until he arrives.”
“We can do that, “Alix said. “It’ll be fun. We’ll sit in the bar.”
“Chase has been telling me stories about the tour ever since he got back,” Julie said.
“You should have come to our shows when we were here.”
“I know. Something always came up. I had even made plans to surprise Chase the last time you were here, but I got called in to work on my day off.”
“You’ll have to come along next time.”
“I couldn’t swing that much time away from my job. Maybe I can come during a vacation and spend a few days at least.”
“It would be a lot of fun,” Cristina promised. “And it would be nice to have someone along to share some girl talk.”
“I’ll get the bags,” Alix said. As he waved his payment wand at a rack of luggage carts and extracted one. He rolled it free of the vending station and towed it behind him to the railcar’s baggage claim area.
“What’s it like on tour?” Julie asked. “I ask Chase and I always get the same response, that it is exciting while the band is playing, but the rest of it is long and boring.”
“Yeah well, it is like that, I guess. Being on tour can be stressful at times. It’s a lot of work, and you are always meeting new people. Sometimes when you play a venue with other bands you get to meet them and know each other. You find out how much everyone in the business is really the same – all the same sorts of internal conflicts and personal problems. By the end of a tour, I can’t wait to get home. Then, within a few days I can’t wait to get back out on tour. This was the first time we were represented well. Chase made it easy for us, but I knew he was working his ass off to make things happen.”
“Yeah, it’s hard to work everything out perfectly,” Julie said as she glanced at her chronometer. “He should be here in less than a couple of hours.”
“In the meantime we get to know one another,” Cristina said.
“Exactly,” Julie said flashing a bright smile. “I’ve heard so much about you and the band that I feel like I already know you.”
“Chase never elaborated much on his personal life. He was friendly and always good to talk to whenever someone in the band was having problems. But he never opened up about himself, you know?”
“That’s Chase. I’ll bet he never even mentioned me until right at the end of the tour.”
Cristina smiled. “He mentioned you, of course. And how much he was looking forward to getting home. But yeah, that was right at the end of the tour.”
“Was that before or after you met Raven?”
“Maybe it was before. I don’t recall. All of that last week or so was a blur. But my point is that Chase never told any war stories. He was absorbed in work, on the phone arranging things or following up. When he wasn’t doing that, he was taking a nap.”
“He hasn’t told me much about his growing up either. I know he was in trouble from time to time, but that’s about the extent of it. He always says it’s ancient history, and he isn’t that way anymore.”
“It’s not like I’m nosey, but it’s just I wonder how he became the way he is.”
“I do too,” she smiled. “All I know is he’s exactly the same no matter what.”
“He can be spontaneous, I suppose. But he’s so organized and focused that even when something seems spontaneous it was probably planned weeks in advance.”
“He made sure I knew all about you and what you were doing as a band,” Julie said. “He always does that, but in your case he went a bit overboard. He likes you a lot, all the members of the band, but you personally, Cristina. I think he would have been very attracted to you except that we have a commitment. And his personal integrity prevents him from violating his code about clients.”
“I know he loves you.”
“I do too,” she said, flashing another brief smile.
“I guess we all need to catch up on what’s been going on with you,” Alix said as he returned from gathering the luggage and rejoined them.
Julie smiled at him. “You’re cute,” she said. Then, looking to Cristina as if for her approval or confirmation, she nodded.
“He can be weird at times but he grows on you,” Cristina responded.
“Men are that way,” she generalized. “Chase has been in Haven for over a week. I’m really anxious to see him,” Julie said. “It’ll probably take a while to get used to having him around again.”
“He handles himself very well,” Alix said.
“He’s always been faithful to me. I know he is,” Julie smiled. “He was on tour with you for over a year and–”
“There were ample opportunities with many women, not only me,” Cristina revealed. “He was a perfect gentleman. There was never anything with anyone else, either. For one thing, as busy as he was, he never had the time.”
“Thank you for that.”
“Chase’s a very nice guy, and lovable in so many ways. You’re very lucky.”
Julie smiled broadly, and then she embraced Cristina again. “Thank you for telling me the truth.”
“I kind of think you would have known regardless,” she responded.
“Chase seemed a little surprised about you and Alix.”
“It just happened, sort of. We have known one another for ten years, but then…” she paused. “Alix can be annoying, but in his way he’s every bit as amazing as Chase.”
“What?” Alix asked even though he had heard the words. He just wanted to hear them again.
“I said you’re amazing.”
“So I have advanced from weird but lovable to annoying but amazing?” Alix asked as he bowed, but then, as he came back up, he planted a kiss on her lips.
“See what I mean?” Cristina asked.
“I see,” Julie confirmed, but then continued, “I have not spoken to Chase all that much on this trip. He was in meetings a lot of the time. Even on Sunday, he was out all afternoon and didn’t get in until after midnight. That was when he sent me a message.”
“He’s becoming very important,” Cristina said.
“Yeah, well, I worry about him.”
“He’s a big boy. He can take care of himself,” Alix said.
“I know that, Alix. It’s just he used to always call me, every night.”
“There are time zones involved. Maybe he didn’t want to wake you.”
Julie flashed a smile. “Yeah, I thought about that, too. And I know he’s under a lot of pressure. He’s trying to get promoted. It’s just that…”
“He’s a pretty boy and you worry that someone will be attracted to him.”
Julie said, “At least you realize it, too. He always plays that down.”
“Chase is totally devoted to you, sister. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”
“You and Cristina could be sisters,” Alix observed. “Really. I mean, if I was in the enviable position of having to choose between the two of you I would probably not be able to.”
Cristina wrapped her arm around Alix’s elbow and pulled him away, whispering, “It’s fortunate that you don’t have to.”
“I was just being honest.”
“Sometimes, honesty can be uncomfortable for others.”
“No,” she said. Then, she laughed. “Well, maybe I am, just a little bit.”
“The bar is over there,” Julie offered. “They have world viewer imbedded in each table there, so you can see what’s going on while you wait.”
“I think Pete and I have been in that one,” Alix said. “Or maybe it’s just like the ones in other stations.”
“I need to use the restroom first,” Cristina said.
“I’ll come with you,” Julie said as she grabbed Cristina’s hand, leading the way.
“I’ll get us a table,” Alix called out after them, chuckling as he grabbed the handle of the baggage cart and rolled it behind him across the station toward his destination.
The bar was mostly vacant with only a few passengers on layovers or people waiting for a departure or arrival scattered around the room. Instinctively, Alix chose a seat away from the windows knowing Julie and Cristina were just as ultra sensitive to light as he was.
A waitress came to the table to give him a grill menu and took his drink order.
“Just a beer,” Alix said. “Draft is fine. And there will be two more coming shortly.”
“I’ll be right back with your beer. I can take their order when they get here.”
While he waited Alix checked the menu. He wasn’t really hungry, but he could go for some nachos or potato skins.
By the time the waitress returned with his beer, the ladies were entering the bar. Having spotted him they continued toward the table.
“Hello,” the waitress said as she handed them menus. “My name’s Lynda; I’ll be your waitress. I can take your drink orders if you would like some time to study the grill menu.”
“I’m really not very hungry,” Cristina said.
“I was thinking of getting some potato skins for all of us,” Alix suggested.
“Yeah, that sounds fine,” Cristina said. “Why not bring us a pitcher of beer, too?”
“Yes, that sounds great,” Julie confirmed.
The waitress departed to place their order and get the ladies glasses and a pitcher of draft for the table. Alix began sampling world viewer on the small monitor beneath the transparent surface of the table. After a few minutes of ensuring that no major calamity or disaster struck while they were riding in the railcar, he looked up. Julie and Cristina quietly continued a conversation that must have begun in the restroom, not completely ignoring him but not inviting him to join their private dialogue.
The waitress returned to the table and smiled at Alix who was really the only one who looked up and thanked her for the pitcher. “I know this sounds a little strange, like it is a come on, but I assure you that it is not. But you look familiar,” she said to him.
“I’m from New Milan,” Alix said. “I doubt we have ever met, though it is possible, I guess. I’ve been through this station a few times in the past year, but usually I was always with a fairly large group.”
“No, I have seen you before, both you and her,” she indicated Cristina.
“How’s that?” Cristina inquired as she disengaged from her conversation with Julie because she felt the need to be involved. Especially since the waitress was being very friendly with Alix.
“She said we look familiar,” Alix said.
“Maybe you’ve seen us coming and going. We were here about five months ago.”
“Maybe so,” Lynda allowed.
“Are you into music?” Cristina asked.
“Yes, of course I am,” she said. Then, it seemed to Alix and Cristina as if a light brightened her face. “Oh my… that’s it,” she said, then looked around excitedly. “My boyfriend will absolutely die! When I tell him who was in the bar… I mean, he’s so much in love with you, and your voice,” she said to Cristina.
“The line forms right about here,” Alix indicated the area immediately behind his chair.
“I’m a huge fan, too. You’re Alix,” she said excitedly as she looked at him.
“That’s me,” he flashed a smile.
“I guess this must happen to you all the time.”
“Sometimes, but not all that often,” Cristina revealed. “We’re not all that famous.”
“I think you’re great! Are the others coming in later? Are you waiting for them?”
“No, they are safely in New Milan, on hiatus between tours,” Cristina explained. “Alix and I came to visit friends. Julie is waiting for her boyfriend who managed our last tour.”
“Wow, this is incredible! I didn’t even know you and Alix were seeing each other. I mean none of the tabloids have that news.”
“Not that anyone would care to read about us,” Cristina handled it. “Anyway, I guess we are seeing each other, but it’s kind of a recent thing.”
“Well, I won’t tell,” Lynda promised. “I don’t want to bother you or anything but my boyfriend will not believe it was really you.”
“Do you have a framecap?” Alix asked.
“There’s one in my handheld.”
“Then take a picture of us for him.”
“You really don’t mind?”
“Julie can take the picture for you,” Cristina volunteered. “So you can be in it, too.”
“Sure,” Julie said with an understanding smile even if she thought it was a bit silly. Still, she was living vicariously through Cristina. She wanted to know what it felt like to be famous, something that she had dreamed of when she was a shy little girl who bashfully hid behind her father whenever she was around strangers.
“I’ll be right back,” Lynda excused as she rushed to the bar and reached over it to gather her bag from beneath it. Then she hurriedly prepped the framecap application in her handheld as she returned to the table and handing it to Julie, indicating which button to push.
She knelt down between Alix and Cristina. As the three of them smiled Julie took two pictures, both of them turned out well.
“I really, really appreciate this so much, you will never know!”
“We appreciate your support,” Alix responded.
“We’re nothing without our fans,” Cristina added.
“If your boyfriend is close by we are here for a couple of hours. Maybe you can call him and he can come over,” Alix suggested.
“Have him bring one of our recent Mods and we can add digisign to it for him,” Cristina added
“Really, you’d do all that?” Lynda seemed to be considering the logistics of it. “He works kind of near here. Maybe he can come on his lunch, but we live on the other side of town. So I doubt he could go back to the apartment and all that.”
“Well, just have him come over, anyway,” Cristina said. “We like meeting and talking to our fans.”
“Let me check on the other tables and your order, and then I’ll be right back,” Lynda excused as she heard someone at another table calling for her attention. After a several minutes of refilling drink orders, she returned to the table from the bar with a basket of potato skins and set it down in the middle of the table and gave each of them a small plate. “You okay on the beer?”
“Yeah, for now. Did you call him, your boyfriend?”
“Didn’t have a chance yet,” she answered as she tapped her right earlobe and activated the phone function and launched, “Dave at work.”
When Dave answered she tapped her right wrist and his image appeared as a hologram projected onto her right palm. Linda began to talk, “Dave you’ll never believe who’s here at the bar,” then turning her palm and wrist for the embedded sensor to have a view to show him. Cristina smiled and waved, “Hello, Dave.”
“Are you there?” Lynda asked receiving only silence in response as Dave’s vanished. “Dave?” She reiterated. Then turning to Cristina, she suggested, “He probably fainted.”
Cristina laughed. “Tell him I said to get his butt over here right now!”
“Did you hear that?” Lynda asked as she took him off the holographic projector for privacy. “No, she’s serious. She and Alix, the bass player, are here. They’re in town visiting friends. They say they like to meet fans.” She paused for a response. “Well, tell him it’s a friggin’ emergency. It’s not like you haven’t covered enough times for him.” She nodded to Cristina who seemed amused. “Okay. Okay.” Lynda tapped her earlobe again to disconnect. “He says he’s on his way, but his supervisor’s being a total dickhead today, so if he can’t make it he’ll call me back.”
“I don’t want him to get into any trouble,” Cristina expressed her concern.
“No, I know Dave. He’d never forgive himself if he had the chance to meet you and didn’t.”
“I’m flattered,” Cristina said, even wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.
“See we’re getting there. We’ll arrive soon,” Alix pointed out. “Maybe next Mod release and another tour and–”
“You can’t be serious,” Lynda said. “You don’t even realize how mammoth you guys are in Andromeda right now?”
“Are we?” Cristina asked, glancing to Julie for confirmation.
“I really don’t follow music that much anymore,” she answered. “My friend, Mindy might know, but she follows the local scene.”
“Your latest single was number four here in stream play last week and every shop and store is out of stock on both the single and complete Mod cards. The only way you can get it is to download it at a premium price from a promo host.”
“Really?” Alix said. “For which we get nothing.”
“Yeah, Dave said the same thing,” Lynda responded.
“We might be higher than number four if they had the inventory,” Cristina said.
“They’re taking pre-orders,” Lynda explained.
“Yeah, well that figures into advance sales. A store ordering the inventory counts as a sale for the charts,” Cristina explained the way new music popularity was ranked.
“That’s what Dave said, too. But they are two weeks out on backorders.”
“There shouldn’t be any supply problems,” Cristina said as she reached for her travelcom. She activated the holographic projection in her palm and paged down through a list of contacts until she found the one she needed. Then, after quickly linking it to the audio only long-distance device, she initiated the call.
After several rings finally there was an answer. “Steve, it’s Cristina… No, no vid this time. I’m in Andromeda. Alix and I came up to see Chase and Julie… You know him, our TM from Global…yeah, him. Hey, look, I’m talking to one of our biggest fans up here and she tells me we’re number four in Andromeda…Yeah, that was news to me, too. What’s bothering me is all the stores up here have us on backorder and have been out of product for a while…Yeah, I didn’t think there was. It kind of shocked me. Can you look into it and maybe even redirect shipments if you have to… Exactly, I mean this is huge for a New Milan band to be doing this well up here…yeah, no kidding. Thanks, Steve.” She disconnected then explained, “Steve is our connection with the Modfab and their distribution. He says there’s no problem with supply as far as he knows, but he’ll look into it.”
“Thanks for the info,” Alix directed to Lynda. “This is really exciting news for us.”
Lynda grinned broadly. “I thought you would know.”
“When we’re on tour we get news in dribs and drabs. Traveling a lot, sometimes it seems like all we do is sleep, eat, play and repeat,” Cristina said.
“I guess the world tour was as much a success as we’d hoped,” Alix suggested, leaning over and sharing a kiss with Cristina.
Lynda smiled. “Like I said before, I never knew you two were dating.”
“It’s been something since we came off tour. We started hanging out together,” Alix explained.
“We’ve known each other for over ten years,” Cristina furthered. “It’s not like we were total strangers.”
“I think it’s great. Look, I have to work the tables some more. When Dave gets here, I’ll come back. He’ll want a picture with all of you”
“I’ll take one of you and him with Alix and Cristina,” Julie offered herself.
As Lynda departed Cristina looked first to Alix and then to Julie. “That was nice. That was a good time. You know, you have fans hit you up for a digisign or a framecap after a show. That’s part of the tour. It’s expected, so you deal with it as it comes. And you’re thankful that you have someone willing to wait after a show to see you. But for someone to recognize you in a public place…I know it’s happened a couple of times before but never outside of New Milan. Our core fan base is there, at home. I never expected anything like this, not here.”
“We’re bigger here than we had ever dreamed we would be,” Alix said. “Every time we were here it seemed the crowds were smaller than they were in other places.”
“Chase kept telling us it was an Andromeda effect, that they call any New Milan band, ‘west coasters’.”
“That’s true,” Julie said. “I don’t remember the last band from another city that was popular here. Maybe it was a New Milan band, but there seems to have always been a rivalry between the music businesses here and there.”
“It’s a one-sided prejudice. There have been dozens of Andromeda bands that have hit in New Milan,” Alix revealed.
Their conversation continued along the subject of local history as Julie attempted as best she could to explain Andromeda’s origins, youth culture, fashion and music to Alix and Cristina. According to what she had learned in school and had pieced together from the thoughts and opinions of her father and his friends, as well as the other kids she knew as she was growing up, it all began when Andromeda rebelled against the moniker ‘Third City’ that the Engineers gave it before its first Colonial Administration had generated a list of suggested names for the then new city.
It had been called ‘Third City’ throughout its construction. Haven and New Milan were constructed virtually at the same time and therefore neither was labeled ‘first’ or ‘second’. No one called Star City ‘Fourth City’ when construction began about two years after Andromeda was completed. Unlike the first two cities that were named even in advance of construction of their domes, Andromeda had been singled out as ‘that other city’. It was the place in between – sort of – as it was not really between New Milan and Haven as it was a good bit to the north of either of them. At the time there was nowhere else to go in the vast continental desert between the coasts.
So, from the outset the city had something to prove, resulting in a huge inferiority complex. It was newer than either of the coastal cities, but at first living in Andromeda was more expensive because of the logistics of supplying it. There was no established rail infrastructure for at least the first five years of its existence. It had been a struggle to get people to move there from either New Milan or Haven because of the expense. Once there the inhabitants were mostly disconnected for an extended period. It was only by edict of the Colonial Council that all newcomers to Pravda must populate Andromeda and remain there for at least five years that the city began to grow and live up to its potential.
None of the other cities in the interior of the continent had suffered anything remotely close to what Andromeda had. For example, by the time that the next city, Star City was established, there were rails connecting it immediately to either coast and also to Andromeda. Thereafter the infrastructure always preceded the construction of any city. The Colonial Council learned a harsh lesson after the painful experience pushing forward the construction of Andromeda. Despite how prosperous Andromeda subsequently became as a center of industry, commerce and art for the entire planet, the city still maintained the chip on its shoulder. It preferred to stand-alone as it had from its earliest days of its existence.
As the discussions of forming a central government were just beginning to get underway, Andromeda seemed very cool to the prospect and appeared to be favoring an autonomous territorial status for its reserved provincial rights under the Colonial Authority’s allocation plans. It was for that reason, the Colonial Authority had relocated many of its key facilities in Andromeda, establishing some precedent for it to become the seat of any central government that might emerge amongst the provinces.
By the time Julie was wrapping up her impromptu presentation of the truths of Andromeda, as she understood them, Dave entered the bar, and immediately found Lynda. The two of them approached the table, Dave behind his girlfriend, shy with apprehensions about meeting celebrities – not only celebrities but people that he privately idolized.
Alix stood immediately at seeing Lydia’s approach. A man was in tow. He extended his hand, “You must be Dave.”
“Alix, this is monumental. This is beyond huge and epic, it’s completely awesome,” he gushed. “I play bass too, nowhere nearly as well as you do, but I work at it, ya know?”
“Really, wow! That’s awesome, dude,” Alix said then the two of them started speaking in a language that neither Julie nor Cristina understood, about bass guitar manufacturers, and different brands of amplifiers and speaker cabinets.
Lynda stood silently pretending to be patient while concealing her irritation. She interrupted by clearing her throat a couple of times. Dave turned, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, well you wanted to meet Cristina, too. Right?”
“Of course,” Dave said reaching over the table for her hand, “I am really sorry. I mean, I’m nervous…well, I don’t know what to say. This is like meeting a goddess.”
“I’m hardly that,” she reacted. “Anyway, I understand some of the talk, one bassist to another.”
“This is really incredible. It’s amazingly huge! I love your voice and your look. Everything about you is incredible.”
Cristina glanced down.
“I’m embarrassing you.”
“A little bit…actually a lot. It’s good to hear, but–”
“I’ve been a fan since the beginning, like ten years ago. You guys came here to perform at the Junk Room Pub. You probably don’t even remember that place, but I was there. I had to sneak in because I was under age.”
Cristina smiled. “No, I remember the place. I think it seated like 200 people or thereabouts and we drew all of 64. That generously included the bartender and the waitresses. So, I can’t believe that I didn’t meet you then. I thought we talked to everybody, probably too much.”
“No, I didn’t meet you.”
“Are you sure? I mean, we made a point to make sure we met everyone in the audience and we personally thanked them for coming.”
“I left before that. A couple of friends told me you did that afterwards. I was envious of them for having met you personally.”
“See, you should have stayed, then.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I was intimidated.”
Cristina shook her head. “I really don’t bite. I haven’t for a long time.”
Dave laughed. “I’d love to stay here all night talking, but I have to get back to work, unfortunately.”
“Let’s do the framecap thing,” Julie said. “I got the secret of Lynda’s handheld down-pat, now.”
“I really, really appreciate this, Alix and Cristina,” Dave said.
“Lynda said you were a huge fan and if you were following us ten years ago you have earned personal attention,” she said as she kissed him on the cheek just as Julie snapped a photo.”
“You got that?” Dave asked.
“Yeah, look,” she showed him.
“Awesome!” Dave turned toward Cristina and embraced her. “You really are the best! Thank you for this,” he said as Julie clicked off another picture, then one that was a little better at showing all of them laughing together as they were now friends.
They took one more posed photo with them all smiling into the camera as Julie snapped it. It also passed inspection.
“You guys are awesome people, not just great musicians,” Lynda praised.
“I really appreciate that,” Cristina responded.
“Ditto for me,” Alix included as he stood and shook Dave’s hand, and then hugged him. Keep playing that bass, my brother!”
“I will never be as good as you are.”
“Yeah, I remember saying that to a guy named Raja. He was the dude in the neighborhood when I was growing up. Nobody played bass like Raja. About five years later, he came up to me at the end of a show and shook my hand and said that he would never be as good as I was.”
“He didn’t even know he was one of your influences, one of your idols?”
Alix laughed. “No, before Duae Lunae, he never knew who I was, but I knew him. That was what mattered to me. When he told me, I knew I must be pretty good or at least I’d overcome whatever it was that I felt was holding me back.”