**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 had been on the phone with this or that party for most of the morning, talking to her contacts and trying to get through to someone at Global Star, even if it was in the wee-hours of morning back in New Milan. When she finally reached someone, an underling of someone that she usually dealt with, he promised her that they were working with the Andromeda authorities that had imposed the embargo. At present they were intransigent on the issue, completely convinced that there were hidden messages in the music.
Cristina volunteered to meet with the local officials as she was already in their city, but the distribution company wanted her to hold off for the time being on any private efforts until they had exhausted all of their efforts and had discussed the legalities of the embargo. Global Star seemed to think it was more about New Milan vs. Andromeda than anything else.
When Alix woke he was elated that he had pancakes and sausage links waiting. He drank coffee and then some juice before plopping down on the couch along side Chase as the two of them engaged in a racing challenge video game on the main world viewer screen.
Julie shook her head as Cristina tapped her earlobe disengaging from her call and came into the kitchen to help her clean up from breakfast. “I’m sorry I have not been much help.”
“No, I completely understand. It’s such bullshit that they have banned sales of your music locally. I’m sure the root of it is our history and I’m personally sorry that it’s affecting you.”
“Global Star seems to think the same thing.”
“It’s all political crap.”
“My real concern is that the bullshit will spread to other cities and all of a sudden we will have a reputation that we don’t deserve and because of it we’ll cease to be a band.”
“Or the publicity will work in your favor, making you even more popular because you’re banned. The bad publicity can be spun to your advantage without allowing for any guilt,” Chase said from the other room.
Julie looked at her, and then lent her the support of a friendly hug. “I’m sure everything will work out. It’s just someone with a wild hair up his or her you-know-where.”
“I know but I feel so impotent here. It’s like whatever I do won’t matter. And they tell me to be patient, because they’re working on it and I know they are. But I know as well as any of them that the longer this goes on, the more harm it can do to our success.”
“Unless someone spins it in a favorable way,” Chase suggested, again from the other room.
“My fear is that after all the hard work we’ve done and the years the band has been performing together our fame will be fleeting, Chase. Regardless the spin, we haven’t established our reputation. Most people think we’re a new band and have only been together for a short while. It’s not fair that some bureaucrats want to take the potential of our fame from us over some stupid rivalry between two cities.”
“Let the guys and gals that are the experts in publicity take charge of it,” Chase countered. “You have the best people in the world working for you. You also have the best legal team to negotiate with all the bureaucrats.”
“We need to go out, do something to take your mind off of it,” Julie suggested. “Leave the boys here playing their game while we go shopping.”
Cristina laughed. “Well, I could use some new shoes. I know that is cliché but I really do need some new shoes. Touring with a bunch of guys for a year, when did I ever have a chance to shop for shoes?”
Julie laughed. “Let’s do it then.”
“I need a shower.”
“You first then,” Julie said.
It was not far from the apartment building to the nearest shopping square. Still, Julie decided to take the floater coach, in case they bought things that would be a burden to carry home.
It was a weekday. The square was not crowded. Almost every shop was busy but not nearly like it would have been on a weekend. The ladies went to five shoe stores before Cristina found a pair that fit perfectly. They were expensive but as she had not bought shoes for over a year. She felt she was over due.
They continued shopping, looking at the latest fashions from Emerald, New Paris, New London and of course Andromeda which in recent years had become associated with trends and fashion for the younger set. Julie and Cristina spend most of the afternoon trying on different dresses and ensembles, not buying but considering. Toward the end of the day they returned to one shop where both of them found a couple of dresses they liked and asked them to be held. They made their purchases and, because of the time, decided to call it a day and return to the coach to drive back to the apartment.
When they arrived Alix and Chase were still dueling with one another in the twenty-fifth round of the simulated racing game.
“We’re back,” Julie announced.
“Welcome home ladies,” Chase said.
“You’re missing it, “Alix directed to Cristina. “I’m killing Chase on points.”
Cristina leaned over the back of the couch and kissed Alix on the cheek.
“So, what did you get?”
“Shoes and a dress,” she replied. “I’ll put them on for you if you like.”
Alix laughed. “That would be like about the only thing I can think of that might end this duel. It might distract me just enough for Chase to win.”
“Well maybe I should put on my new dress too, then,” Julie said. “Just to be fair.”
“Please, no!” Chase laughed.
“Well if you plan on playing that game all night, we need to interrupt you somehow. Then you guys need to take us out, dancing.”
Chase glanced at Alix and received a smile in response. “Uh, I don’t dance,” he said to Julie.
“You can dance, it’s just you have to be drunk to be brave enough to do it,” Julie corrected.
“What the hell, it will be fun,” Alix said, looking into Cristina’s sparkling eyes. “It will be a chance for you to show us this awesome music community that supposedly exists here.”
“Oh, it exists,” Chase said. “I think you will be mildly surprised at how good our local bands are.”
“But if we are going dancing,” Julie said.
“The clubs with bands can wait for another night,” Chase agreed.
Alix paused the game, saved the status and removed the interface module from his head as he stood and stretched. I probably need a shower.
Chase did likewise. “You can go first,” he permitted.
“Join me,” Cristina invited.
Alix laughed, and then focused on her eyes. “Why would I ever refuse an offer like that?”
When they emerged from the bathroom dressed in towels wrapped around them to conceal their private parts, Chase and Julie took their turn at the shower. Cristina and Alix dressed in the guest room. Then, he went out into the living room while Cristina worked on her makeup in the bedroom.
Once Julie and Chase finished with bathroom, Julie went to her bedroom to fetch her makeup kit to work with it at the bigger mirror of the bathroom. When Chase was dressed, he went into the living room and joined Alix on the couch, taking over the remote to search the news channels.
By the time that she was finished, Cristina ventured into the living room, pausing until both Alix and Chase stood, looking at her and commented on her new dress and shoes. Alix complimented her on how wonderfully the dress accented her perfect figure. Chase returned to the couch sampling the news and entertainment channels, seeking anything about the embargo on Duae Lunae’s music.
“As far as I can tell, nothing has changed,” Chase said to Cristina as she sat down on the couch between him and Alix.
“I’m not sure what I can do. The distributor told me to let them handle it.”
“Then by all means let them handle it. They deal with this sort of crap all the time,” Alix said. “They have the experts working on it, just like Chase says.”
“Why us? Why now? No one else suffers embargos.” Cristina shook her head.
“Maybe this is extreme, but it is their thing not yours,” Chase explained.
“But they’re saying things about me and the band that simply aren’t true. That’s what pisses me off,” Cristina stated.
“It’ll blow over,” Chase promised. “I think it is just the local community is fearful of outsiders penetrating the music scene.”
“But we love Andromeda,” Alix said.
“I know; I know. But the city as a whole doesn’t know how great you are,” Chase replied. “We’ll just have to make sure we debut the next album here and begin your next tour here. Maybe it will even seem like Andromeda is your adopted home, then.”
“That’s a great idea,” Alix said.
“Except our fans in New Milan may take it the wrong way,” Cristina pointed out.
“Maybe we should record some of it here, then,” Alix suggested. “Maybe arrange to record a couple of live tracks in a club. We could feature some local talent as well.”
Chase smiled. “That could work well. Collaborating with some of the more popular bands here that are almost ready to break it huge… We could coordinate a promotional tour.”
Cristina kissed Alix on the cheek.
“What was that for?”
“For listening to me rant and caring about my concerns and coming up with a great idea.”
“How could I not care?” he asked. “It involves me too.”
“It involves all of us,” Chase said.
“You both were so involved in the game earlier that I wasn’t sure.”
“Games are games,” Chase defended them both. “Just because we were involved in the game doesn’t mean we were oblivious to all of that bullshit you were dealing with all morning.”
Cristina kissed Chase on the cheek. “At least you guys appreciated what I was up against and what I was trying to accomplish. I didn’t think you knew.”
“I think it’s a little bit of an over-reaction, and premature at this point,” Chase said. “But, having said that, if I was in your place maybe I would see it the way you do. Still, you really have to give the pros the time they need to work their magic with it.”
Julie finally emerged from her bathroom makeup session. She entered the living room, dressed in semi-formal attire and made up for a night on the town, having put on the special-occasion, pretty-face that Chase had been privy to only a few times, the few times that they had gone out to dinner at a formal restaurant.
“Wow!” Chase said only a fraction of a second before Alix joined in chorus.
“Are we ready to go?” Julie asked.
Alix hopped up, pulling Cristina to her feet by her hand. Chase rocked forward and stood, “Let’s go,” he said.
They took Chase’s floater coach because it was a little bit larger than Julie’s. Even if the club that they were going to was really within walking distance, they wanted to have the luxury of piling into a coach and allowing the auto drive function to guide them home.
When they pulled up at the common facility that served many different businesses in the area, Chase docked the coach and they walked directly to the club and waited for a few minutes at the door while the bouncer scanned their ID implants, and then after a few more minutes he allowed them to post the cover charges on their payment wands and enter.
The club was called ‘Options’, a place that rarely hosted live bands. It catered to people who wanted to dance to the current music of the times. As they entered the club Cristina paused, stunned to hear her own voice, their bands latest hit remixed especially for dancing, playing over the speaker system in the club.
She appraised the mood of people in the club who were dancing to a Duae Lunae’s single. As Alix grabbed her hand and led her in the direction of a table that Julie had spotted that was close to the dance floor.
“This is awesome,” Cristina said as Alix pulled her along behind him. Before they reached the table Julie was holding for them they were already heading for the dance floor. Caught up in the emotions of the moment, they were dancing to their own music.
The dance floor was packed with people having fun. Everyone enjoyed the fruits of something they had worked hard to capture in the studio over a year and a half ago. It was a song that Cristina and Keith collaborated to write. Alix recalled complaining about a couple of transitions, which, for whatever reason, were nearly impossible for him. Now, after having played them nearly every day or night and sometimes twice a day while on tour, he could play the entire song almost without thinking about it.
It was surreal in a special way that both Alix and Cristina enjoyed but did maybe could not fully appreciate. The local authorities had banned the sale of their song whether on single or complete Mod cards. Yet people were excited about it and dancing to the music.
Julie embraced Cristina as the song ended and they started to leave the dance floor. “See, they love your music.”
Alix grabbed Cristina’s wrist. “Stay, we can dance for a bit.”
“Really,” Cristina said with some mild surprise.
“Yeah, this is pretty damned cool.” He indicated the lighted dance floor that even responded to where each foot was placed, with different colors and effects.
Chase pulled Julie toward him, away from Cristina and Alix, seeking privacy for a few moments to kiss her and sit at their table. As the next song began, the foursome met again on the dance floor, continuing to dance to a song from Andromeda’s band, Overt Expression. Julie shouted over the music to tell Cristina that this band was reputed the best in the city. Cristina nodded, but then paid particular attention to the music, its structure and the transitions. After listening for a few minutes while she danced, the song was ending. She decided Overt Expression did things a little differently in shaping their sound, but she liked what she heard. She especially liked the singer’s voice and thought he might be a good candidate for collaboration like Alix suggested, perhaps singing in duet.
Chase had already headed for the table that Julie reserved in passing. It was along a wall, close to the dance floor. First he and then Julie sat down to catch their breaths. He waved to Alix and Cristina who seemed to be searching for the table. As the four of them gathered at the table, a waitress arrived, introduced herself as Maureen, Mo for short and took their drink orders.
“This is a pretty cool place,” Alix said. “I mean how cool was it that they were playing our song when we entered?”
“That was a nice coincidence,” Cristina confirmed.
“You have to be a major act to get played in a dance club like this,” Chase said. “And to have someone remix the song for a dance version…well, that’s at least flattering, I think.”
“It means you’ve arrived in the local scene,” Julie amplified Chases words. “And all this crap about the embargo will only increase your fame.”
“It gives us a bad reputation,” Cristina protested.
“Which is not a bad thing with the counter culture, especially in this city. You know, your Mods are probably the hottest thing in town right now because no one has it and can’t get it because of the ban.”
“Someone will go on the railcar to New Milan or Star City and buy some copies and bring them back here to resell them at a scalped price,” Cristina offered her concerns. “Or worse for us, they’ll bootleg them and black market them.”
Chase nodded his concurrence then added. “But that happens anyway. The true fans that support the band don’t get their music that way. They never have. But in this instance, the embargo will force even the fans to get the music through illegal means. They authorities are taking some kind of strange stand for whatever reason. We need to know why they are doing it, but it really is pretty-much token as far as killing the song. The single and complete Mods have already sold well and will be played in clubs regardless of their efforts. They have to know that. As for the publicity, you couldn’t buy this level of attention.”
The waitress returned with their drinks and lingered for a few moments, seeming to be staring at Cristina. Then she turned away and started to go back to her duties, but abruptly wheeled around, whether from finally recognizing her or gaining the nerve to ask, “You’re her, aren’t you? You’re Cristina!”
Cristina smiled, “Uh, yeah.”
“I knew it! I friggin’ knew it!” Then she looked at Alix, “You’re that guy…the bass player!”
“That would be me.” Alix confessed. He was used to the relative anonymity of the role as well as the instrument he played in the band.
“I heard on the news you were in town,” she said.
She turned around looking for someone to tell, wanting to trumpet her find, but then decided that maybe that was not such a good idea. She turned back. “Look I’ll keep your secret because if I spread the word this club would erupt and chaos will ensue.”
“We appreciate that,” Chase said.
Cristina looked directly into the waitresses eyes, “We are just here to dance and have some fun. We appreciate your discretion.”
Alix leaned toward the waitress and took her hand. In his palm was a promo card with the band’s pictures and global network message addresses. “This is how to reach the band or us individually. Send us a note and direct it to me or Cristina and we’ll respond to you directly.”
She smiled in response. “No one is going to believe this. But it’s pretty cool. I’m such a fan!”
Julie pulled out a framecap from her bag and pointed it at Maureen, “Here, the three of you stand together.”
“Great!” Mo exclaiming, and then looked around to make sure she was not needed.
“I’ll send the picture directly to your Global network address,” Julie said as she captured two images.
“That would be wonderful,” Mo said.
“Here,” Julie offered the plane to her, “Key in your address.” When she had finished, Julie clicked send. “There you are. It should be waiting for you.”
“This is really nice of you, all of you.”
Cristina smiled. “I’ve known four other ladies named Maureen and every one of them was a good person and great friend.”
“I have to get back to tables,” Mo said. “I’ll be right back. Are you okay with the drinks?”
“Yeah, everything is fine,” Chase said.
“You can bring refreshes when you come back,” Alix said.
“You got it.” Mo smiled.
Cristina eyed Alix as the waitress walked away from the table. “You were flirting with her.”
“I was just being friendly with a fan.”
“I know flirting when I see it.”
“You’re jealous?” Alix laughed. “I don’t believe you’re jealous. Like there is anyone that could ever compete with you!”
Cristina looked away.
“I don’t believe it!”
“Come,” Julie said as she stood up and grabbed Cristina’s wrist. “We’ll be right back,” Julie said to Chase and Alix.
“What’s that about?” Alix asked.
“You were coming on a little bit strong to Mo, there.”
“Well, she’s cute. Don’t ya think?”
“Women always seem to be able to tell when a man is flirting. If the girl is cute it is always a very bad thing. That turns it into a threatening situation that you can’t win. And then you sort of denied it while playing incredulous that Cristina would ever think anyone could compete with her. That just compounded the wrongness of what you did.”
“I’m not used to being the focus of attention, I guess. I kind of like it, but I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s just I’ve never been famous. Maybe I’m not now, not yet or whatever. But I was feeling that, mostly. I’d never think of hurting Cristina.”
“Well, when the girls get back you need to explain that to Cristina,” Chase advised.
“I’m fortunate,” Alix said. “I mean look at me. Who would ever imagine that Cristina would be with me? She’s the star. I’m just someone in the background.”
“You’re both stars.”
“Chase, even the waitress knew Cristina’s name. She called me the bass player. I’m okay with it because I understand it and I’m used to that. At least she got that much right, you know? So, that’s how it is. Cristina is the focus of the audience whenever she sings. I get it. I’m focusing on her when I’m playing. Hell, look at her! Who’s not focused on her? Even you, Chase.”
“It is hard to tear my eyes away from Julie,” Chase confessed. “But when I do Cristina is where they end up.”
“I’m afraid to go to sleep. I fear waking up from this dream I’m living. If I open my eyes will it be just as it was before? Before a few days ago, Cristina hardly acknowledged me except when it was something pertaining to the band and my playing bass. I was content with that much attention. For ten years that was the extent of my relationship with her. But now that there has been something more, how can I ever want to return to how it was?”
Chase sat silent, feeling for Alix’s sentiments. He too was in love with Cristina, but at least he had another love in his life. Julie captured his heart before he met Cristina, and so he was immunized enough to the effect of Cristina’s charm. The attraction he could resist, and he had resisted, to his own amazement.
When Julie and Cristina returned to the table, they were both silent.
“I’m sorry I was flirting,” Alix said. “I’m not used to getting attention like that. Even so she didn’t know my name, so that’s how important I am to her.”
Cristina glanced at Alix, but then looked away.
“Look, I was having fun. That’s all it was. There’s nothing intended by it. She doesn’t begin to compare to you.”
“She’s cute,” Cristina said.
“Yeah, she is,” Alix admitted. “But I’m in love with you.”
Mo returned to the table with refills on their drinks, and set them down on the table and then collected the payment wand transmissions for them. “So, if you don’t mind me asking, where’s everyone else?”
“They are chillin’ in New Milan,” Cristina said. “We are taking a break before heading into the studio to record a new Mod in a few weeks.”
“A new Mod? That’s exciting news!”
“Most of the songs are written. We really just have a couple we need to hammer out the final details on. Everyone’s resting up for that.”
“I can’t wait to hear it. My boyfriend and I are huge fans,” she said. “We were both excited when we heard you were in town.”
“Yeah, well we met a couple at the airport. They were fans too. It’s nice to know we have support here. Apparently she or her boyfriend decided to spread the news that we were in town.”
“I’d never do that. You’re my friends, now.” Mo flashed a smile.
“Not that it is entirely a bad thing,” Chase said. “Considering what all is going on, being in the city is a good thing for the media to focus on and speculate.”
“Maybe it has some people worried,” Julie said.
“Hey, it’s what it is,” Alix said. “I have no problem with people knowing that we’re in town. I just have a problem with the town thinking we have done something in our music that we’ve not.”
“Yeah,” Mo said. “That’s total crap and the direct consequence of local paranoia. The youth scene scares older people. They think that it’s all the result of outside influences, like it carried subversive messages through music and the arts.”
“They think that a New Milan band cannot possibly be popular here unless they are doing something unusual and strange,” Chase offered his analysis. “So someone thinks that maybe they heard something strange in a song and mentions it to someone. Eventually the rumor spreads and the uninformed who have probably never heard the song decides to create an embargo, just in case.”
“There’s nothing hidden in the music,” Cristina stated. “I promise.”
“I know that,” Mo said. “I think most of the people who are into your band know that as well. It’s just a bunch of overly paranoid people stirring up trouble.”
“Thank you for understanding,” Cristina said and she slipped down from her stool and embraced Maureen, lingering for a few moments then as they parted Cristina smiled at her.
“You’re real people and that is friggin’ awesome!” she said as she laughed.
Cristina looked at her. “Of course we’re real people. What else would we be?”
“Well, I don’t know. It’s just I’ve never met anyone famous before.”
“We really appreciate you being a fan,” Alix said. “Even though I don’t think we’re quite as famous as you think.”
When Mo left to tend to other tables, Chase said had to go to the restroom and he excused himself from the table. As he walked he was still thinking about how close Alix came to straining his relationship with Cristina and how he would never want to do that with Julie. He entered the restroom, but immediately sensed something was unusual and inappropriate. Before he could react or take flight, two men seized him. They pressed him up against the cold porcelain tile wall, while a third man pounded a solidly delivered fist into his stomach. Then all three stepped back allowing him to collapse onto the hard tile floor.
“What…the…fuck?” Chase asked while struggling to regain his breath.
“You know what we need. Tell us what you know,” one of the three said. Chase looked up through sweat and tears, but he could not tell which one of his assailants had actually spoken.
“Tell you what?”
“You were with them.”
Two men grabbed him and again pinned him against the wall. “The Resurrection,” the third man said.
Suddenly, Alix entered the restroom. Immediately the third man turned and warned him, “Get out!”
“What’s going on here?”
“It’s none of yer concern.”
“Chase is my friend, so I guess that makes it my concern.”
“Have it your way then,” the third man slugged Alix up the side of his head, sending Alix flying back against a wall of urinals. Alix looked up at his assailant from the floor, rage filling him as he tried to stand up but received a kick in the stomach.
Suddenly, flames erupted from the hair of all three men. Individually they panicked as they attempted to apply water from sinks to douse the fires. In the meanwhile Alix crawled over to Chase and checked to see if he was okay before standing up and facing the three men, who having extinguished their hair now squared off before him. “Gentlemen, this is not over. We’re watching – both of you.”
They hurried out of the door, leaving Alix and Chase alone. “I guess growing up as a street urchin has some benefits, after all. I know how to bluff,” Alix said, and then laughed as he reached down, offering his hand to assist Chase in getting back to his feet.
“Thanks.” Chase stared at Alix. “The flames?”
“Yeah, well…I was playing with the orb the other day and a flame started dancing in the palm of my hand. I had no idea I could ignite hair. I guess it was the heat of battle so to speak. Literally.”
“Well, regardless of how, it came in handy. I’m glad you came along when you did.”
“What was that about?” Alix asked as he assisted Chase to the sinks where Chase washed his hands and splashed some water on his face even as Alix did the same.
“They think I’m involved in something I’m not. Have you ever heard of The Resurrection?”
Alix looked away then looked back. “I assume you mean the covert group.”
“You’ve heard of them.”
“Yeah, they are part of the underground,” Alix said. “You know how it is: music, counter-culture, being young and all that. Somehow a few people you know are interconnected, usually people you grew up with.”
Chase continued to clean up, using a damp towel to blot blood from his slacks and shirt. “You’re involved?”
“Me, no. There’re a couple of guys Pete and I used to hang out with when we were kids. They’re in a clandestine group, but it is not The Resurrection. But their group was approached for a sort of alliance.”
When they emerged from the restroom, Chase paused at a water fountain, and then swished water around inside his mouth and spat out bloody saliva into the drain. He consumed several gulps of water afterwards. Then, after Alix had done the same they both returned to the table.
“What happened to you?” Julie asked as she took a closer look at the bruises and cut on Chase’s face.
“The floor was wet,” Alix said.
“I don’t believe that,” Julie growled.
“Well it was a restroom, you know.”
“And what about you?” Cristina asked Alix.
“Muggers,” Alix admitted. “Three of them, but Chase and I fought them off.”
“No,” Chase said. “That’s not exactly what happened. Alix saved my ass.”
“It’s kind of hard to tell that. He looks almost as bad as you do,” Cristina said as she used a napkin to blot blood from a slight cut on Alix’s forehead.
“Did they take your payment wand?” Julie asked.
“No, I wish it was that simple,” Chase said.
“I think you need to explain,” Julie suggested as she was reaching for her purse to see if she had anything better than a napkin to treat a cut.
“What’s going on?” Cristina asked, first looking at Chase and then Alix.
“This is probably not a good place to discuss this, but I doubt there’s a better place. For all I know they have us under constant surveillance,” Chase prefaced, then paused.
“Who are they?” Cristina asked.
“Agents of The Colonial Authority,” Julie said.
“Yeah,” Chase agreed. “They’ve been following us for sometime now.”
“They can do that?” Alix asked.
“In their warped minds they think they have probable cause. But even if they didn’t, they can do whatever they want and justify it afterwards. We have no rights where they’re concerned. All they have to claim is that it’s a matter of colonial security and the public is threatened,” Julie said.
“And now we’re on their list too,” Alix said.
“It wasn’t like we weren’t already on it,” Cristina said.
Chase nodded. “I didn’t want to speculate, but now I think that the embargo has something to do with this.”
“This is about Paul, isn’t it?”
“It goes well beyond him,” Chase replied to Cristina’s query. “He sends his love, by the way.”
“Yeah, he knows.”
“Since just after you met him in Haven.”
“You’ve lost me,” Alix protested.
“You know. Paul’s my twin,” Cristina said.