July 4, 2374
Zeta Cygni Dyson Sphere
2010 hours GST
If there were any doubts about whether Cianbro Corporation could handle the monumental task of refurbishing the Dyson sphere for the WDF's needs, the afternoon's activities went a long way towards allaying them. Within a matter of hours, the area around Settlement Evaluation Outpost One had been rapidly expanded and cultivated with firm soil and hardy grasses, spreading outwards for miles. Maintenance depots had landed on the outskirts of the area, ready for immediate use and providing a convenient place for catering, medical, and restroom facilities.
Although it would take weeks, or perhaps even months, for Cianbro to reactivate, adapt, and improve the sphere's systems for controlling the solar output from Zeta Cygni, the functioning ships of Battlegroup Quevillon had been pressed into service to serve as the mounting anchors for a massive variable sunshield. Even now they hovered at station-keeping several miles above the outpost, muting the relentless light and producing a reasonable amount of shade.
The crowning glory of Cianbro's achievements today was, in Mylene Sterling's opinion, the setup, reinforcement, activation, and testing of a 50,000-seat amphitheatre in just under an hour. This was complete with all the amenities for a rocking good time, including power generators, holographic AV arrays, dressing rooms, storage areas, and souvenir kiosks.
(Not that there would be any souvenirs provided tonight, at least by Cianbro, but the intent was the important thing.)
This'll cost me a pretty credit, Mylene reflected backstage as she tuned her beloved Fender Precision Bass, but it will definitely be worth it! Besides, it's not like I'm entirely lacking for cash... She chuckled to herself, looking around the green room behind the stage. Around her, the rest of her band made the last-minute preparations for a very impromptu concert.
A bespectacled face with hair in orange dreadlocks poked its way around the green room's doors. "Mylene, fifteen minutes 'til curtain! Fifteen minutes to curtain, Mylene!"
Mylene looked over her shoulder, and grinned. "I hear ya, Scoot. Get the pre-show check started, we'll be out in ten." The band's perennial gopher nodded briskly and withdrew from the room.
Mylene glanced at the other members of her band. "You guys ready?" A chorus of nods and affirmative sounds were her answer. "All right, then."
She got up from her seat and slung her guitar on her back. Guvava hopped over from the nearby endtable, scampered up her arm, and perched on her shoulder.
"Let's rock this place."
Out front, the newly prepared plain and hillsides were still filling up with the audience for this most impromptu of concerts. Humans, near-humans, not-so-near-humans, and micronized Zentraedi from the crews of the Frank Lloyd Wright, the Voronda Elendil, and Battlegroup Quevillon took up the seats; still more spilled out onto the gently sloping hills above and to either side, sitting on the fresh grass or relaxing on army blankets. Further back, full-sized Zentraedi from the Kridanik Fleet and Battlegroup Quevillon sat and chatted, each side regaling the other with tales from the past several decades. Those who couldn't attend in person, still on the various ships orbiting above, would watch the concert over the hastily restarted WDF Armed Forces network (currently transmitting through the whole of WDF-active space, which at the moment consisted of... well, the Dyson sphere).
The closest section - the open space between the front row of proper seats and what would be the orchestra pit for a stage show - was reserved for the "Close Personal Friends" of Mylene Flare and family. It was filled with WDF survivors from the assembled ships, Zentraedi old-timers, good friends of all the participants, the WDF high command (consisting solely of Baron Wolfgang Amadaeus von Fahrvergnügen), and of course, Max and Miria Sterling with their recently-reunited daughters.
Emilia Sterling smiled to herself, watching as her other sisters settled in for the show. Komilia and Therèse were holding court with the mercenary pilot squadron they had forged together over the years. Members of the Voronda Elendil's command staff sat near and behind Maia and Miranda Sterling, who were sprawled out for a moment's relaxation before the performance. Xeralia had shucked her small-scale Zentraedi dress uniform, trading it for a much more casual and comfortable T-shirt and sweatpants. She was seated next to the newest member of the Sterling family, who was still getting used to being micronized.
"This is the. Weirdest. Sensation. Ever," Miracle Sterling muttered to herself, staring wide-eyed at pretty much everything around her, taking in the view from a totally new perspective. "My body feels all weird, and I still can't get over how big everything is."
"Oh, you'll get used to it," Xeralia replied, offhandedly. "Besides, there are advantages to being micronized..."
Mira looked skeptical. "Oh? Such as?"
The adopted daughter of the Sterlings leaned close and murmured in the youngest's ear, "For one, better and broader choices in dates."
Miracle's eyes widened. "Oooh..."
Emilia quietly laughed, reclining on her own Cianbro-issue beach towel. She too had removed the trappings of her company formals, opting instead for a WDF Destroid-jockey jumpsuit from her Solaris days, open in the front to reveal a Fire Bomber t-shirt she had obtained from one of Mylene's earliest concert tours.
Presently the area around the bandstand began to darken. Emilia watched with pride as the hastily-erected sunshield went to work, shifting the local solar spectrum from late-afternoon mildness to the shade of a summer twilight, and then darker still, almost blacking out the area entirely. There were no stars in the faux night sky, but Emilia wasn't worried about that. The engineers could always get that feature implemented in the second deployment. Pete was still mulling over whether to go with a Wedge City-style holo-assisted environment or something else entirely, but for the moment he was in the crowd as well, ready to enjoy the show.
A hush settled over the crowd. Nearby, Max and Miria Sterling could be seen, sitting up a little straighter, each with an arm around the other as they intently studied the stage. It wouldn't be long now...
There was quiet as the band members took the stage in the darkness. There was also a soft, subliminal hum, which emanated from the concert speakers and the overhead stage lights as they all powered up from standby mode. The audience waited with bated breath.
At 8:30:00.000 pm, Galactic Standard Time, they could breathe again. With no preamble whatsoever, a rapid drum beat cut through the darkness, joined by rhythm and bass guitar, as the stage lights flared to full brightness and revealed Mylene Flare Sterling at front stage center.
I must've dreamed a thousand dreams
Been haunted by a million screams
But I can hear the marching feet
They're moving into the street
Now did you read the news today?
They say the danger's gone away!
But I can see the fires still alight
They're burning into the night
There's too many men
There's too many people
Making too many problems
And there's not much love to go 'round
Just tell me why
This is a land of confusion!
Now this is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Use them and let's start tryin'
To make this a place worth livin' in
For three solid hours, Mylene Flare and her band rocked them, rolled them, and brought the metaphorical house down. The band's selections ran the gamut, from songs popularized during the WDF's golden age, to the harder-edged but hopeful tunes that marked the period after the fall of the Wayward Son. Old favorites from such notable bands as Card No. 1, the Clay Pigeons, and the Macross Marauders gave the assembled audience trips down memory lane, while more recent tunes by such bands as Fire Bomber, Vision and the Revengers, and Basic Nastiness brought the long-absent old-time newcomers up to speed. They even dipped into the reservoir of pre-Contact Earth rock-'n-roll, throwing down such ancient tracks as Black Flag's "Rise Above" and a blistering rock rendition of "Do You Wanna Dance".
Every member of the band was allowed to shine; Mylene wasn't about to hog the spotlight or play favorites. Even so, several of her own compositions met with enthusiastic applause as she plied the microphone and her Fender P-Bass with skill, verve, and sheer chutzpah. "Rescue Me" told the story of the lives of her fellow WDF fugitives. While the rest of the band took a break, Mylene's solo bass guitar composition - the very same one that had caught Ray Lovelock's attention in Iacon, 85 years ago - brought a hushed silence to the crowd, then an upswell of confidence as the bass guitar shifted from respectful solemnity to full-power playfulness. Even "The Ballad of Scott Bernard" got pulled back onto the playlist -
Let me tell you all about this steely-eyed missile man
Never lets a single rocket do the job when sixty can
From Rigel out to Deneb the spacers all regard
As king of all the Alpha jocks the man called Scott Bernard
- which prompted an array of reactions from the assembled crowd, to wit: amused chuckles from the WDF old-guards who remembered the true origin of the legendary Lieutenant Commander, nodding approval from many of the Zentraedi and Meltrandi soldiers, swelling pride from the crew of the Voronda Elendil, and complete and utter breakage by Maia and Miranda Sterling. Not at the song itself, which was a rock-solid traditional space chantey in the Salusian mold, but at the befuddled, embarrassed reaction of the song's subject matter - namely Scott Bernard himself.
There were only a few moments of quiet before the band swung into the next song, and the opening riff brought one of the biggest roars yet. Almost everyone there recognized it instantly: a pre-Contact song from Earth, made hugely popular several times during the WDF's salad days by Card No. 1, for whom it had been a standard throughout the three centuries of the Golden Age. After the WDF's fall, few bands had dared touch it for fear of its strong WDF associations turning the listening public against them. Most of the audience hadn't heard it played live since before 2288.
Thus, so excited were most of the people in the audience to hear "Sultans of Swing" again that it took them a few minutes to notice the new member who had joined the band to play it. Slowly it began to dawn on them, as Mylene put her own mischievous spin on the old familiar lyrics (Alpha jocks, they're foolin' around in the corner / Drunk and dressed in their armor and their platform soles. / I don't give a damn about any Alpha-flyin' man; / That ain't what I call rock an' roll), that the band had acquired a third guitarist. No one noticed where she came from, but there she was: a slim woman, shorter than Mylene, with a long, heavy fall of raven hair and a no-bullshit air about her. She had on tanker boots and old jeans with frayed knees, a faded black tank top baring tattooed, well-defined arms, and a cherry-red Gibson Explorer, and she was laying down the lead guitar line just like Gryphon used to do it. A few of the people watching thought for a second that she was Yuri Daniels, but no - no, she looked that familiar, but...
... a slow seismic wave of sound rippled through the crowd as it started to dawn on the old-timers who she was. It never quite became a full-throated roar, because most of them weren't 100% sure - some of them had heard that the woman they suspected she was had died - but it never quite died away, either, until after the penultimate verse, when the band suddenly cut its sound back dramatically. For a second some in the audience thought they'd stopped, but no - Mylene was still keeping the bass line going, quietly, almost tentatively. She kept at it for a few bars, suspending the listeners in time, bringing them along with her; then she grinned and announced:
"And now, let me introduce you to some of my best friends! On the electric guitar, from New Japan, Mr. Oji 'Gabriel' Tanaka!"
Tanaka tossed out a riff, his own metal-style interpretation of the song's signature hook, and then joined Mylene's flow with a subdued rhythm line.
"On synthesizers and keyboards, direct from the twentieth century, the incomparable Mr. Thomas Dolby!"
Dolby threw down a rock-organ flourish on one of the several keyboards around him, then settled into the pattern. As Mylene introduced each member of the group in turn, that member tossed in a statement of his own and then joined the song again, slowly rebuilding the sound of the full band around Mylene's continuing bass line.
"On the other electric guitar, the Macross Marauder himself, Mr. Jack McKinney! On drums, our very own half-ton of fun, Doktor Tektonik, the Honourable J. Maurice MacEchearn the Third! From the Lost City of Oranbega, the galaxy's greatest brass section for hire, Baron Zoria and his Circle of Horns!"
And then, finally - with the full sound of the band restored and rocking the rhythm line at full steam - Mylene reached the woman with the red Explorer and announced with glee,
"And on the other other electric guitar, our very special guest star, the incalculably talented Miss Lynn Minmay!"
The fully unleashed roar of a crowd that hadn't quite dared to believe nearly drowned out the band for a moment, but Minmay put a stop to that personally, slamming down the signature riff with the full weight of the band behind her. Then she stepped to the mic and delivered the final verse herself, with Mylene and the others joining her for the last line:
Now the man he steps right up to the microphone
He says at last just as the time bell rings
Thank you, good night, now it's time to go home
Let me make it fast, there's one more thing:
We are the Sultans - we are the Sultans of Swing...
They spun the trailing solo and outro for what seemed like hours - good hours, not dull ones - to some members of the audience, finally bringing it down with a thunderous finish. But they didn't give their listeners any time to catch their breath. Riding the tide of the thunderous applause, Minmay plucked out a sprightly, almost tropical beat, which was immediately picked up by the surprisingly light touch of MacEchearn's tritanium drum sounds, Dolby's chiming synth, and Mylene's barely audible bass. On the second stanza, the other guitarists joined in, bringing the musical line to more prominence, and the bass guitar got stronger.
Like the rest of her siblings, Mylene Sterling had not been idle during the two weeks before the Dyson sphere's arrival. She, her band, and even Lynn Minmay had knuckled down and scoured the newsfeeds, infosites, history books, and their own memories for the notable people and events over the past century (and beyond). The original idea had been to create a "So You've Just Returned From Beyond The Outer Rim" book for the returnees, written in Derek Bacon's inimitable style, but in the process, the two singers had realized that with a little bit of work, they could put their own spin on the presentation.
So, it was with a wide grin on her face that Mylene launched into "We Didn't Start the Fire" with a decidedly updated set of lyrics:
Gryphon, Yuri, Zoner, Kei; Wedge Rats save the day
GENOM corp. and Coyleans, Ol' Wormtown goes boom
Zeta Cygni, Fahrvergnügen, Wayward Son 'n Fritz Koopman
Invid Scouts, Dralthi bouts, the Kludge can clear the room
Asrial and Jeremy, Max 'n Miria in a tree
Exedore and Breetai, Bodolza goes bye-bye
Freespacers, Zardonese, Salusia's got a new Queen
Cybertron and Unicron, Wedge Defenders say 'Hi'!
As Mylene and Minmay traded off the verses (and sometimes even individual words), the holojumbotron at the back of the stage rapidly projected super-sized images and videos of who and what they sang about. Though many of the historical excerpts weren't exactly what the audience would consider positive and uplifting in most circumstances, the presentation of them, punctuated with the two singers' sheer energy and defiance made them easier to cope with. Yes, the fires of history and conflict still burned, but they were doing the best they could to endure and fight it, every moment of every day.
Thunder Force, Clay Pigeons, Indignation's back again
Fire Bomber, Funkotron, Battlegroup Quevillon
Kingpin, Dragon, New Japan, Hammer-Darkwing is The Man
Vision's band is on the scene, the Big Net Crash isn't keen
Federation takes control, GENOM Tower leaves a hole
Corp Sector, in the red; Martin, Eiko, get wed!
Flarefire now on tour, Bajor's under Cardie law,
'nother damn Kilrathi War, I can't take it anymore!
We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the galaxy's turning
We didn't start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on...
With the fading bars, Mylene and her band moved into a more hard-edged, techno phase of the program. Dolby's synths and rapid riffs and beeps began to be more prominent among the musical selections. They sang of quantum mechanics and hacking packets, a special treat for some of the old-type gweeps in the audience. There were songs of standing up against the darkness, and of seeking security in the arms of another.
After another tribal techno track, Mylene hauled out the song that had gotten her big break with Fire Bomber: "Stone In Love". Emilia was surprised by that choice; it had been years since she'd heard her baby sister perform it. But that was nothing compared to watching Miria Sterling's reactions to Mylene's performance and modified lyrics - first a startled jolt of recognition at the song and its subject matter, her emerald eyes widening... and then possibly the biggest smile any of the sisters could recall having seen on their mother's face as she laughed and collapsed into the arms of her husband, who looked extremely bemused by it all.
There were cheers and applause as Mylene, Minmay, and McKinney wrapped up the classic rock track. They allowing themselves a brief breather and to do some tuning before the next song. Minmay, grabbing a convenient water bottle, watched as Mylene looked thoughtful and then stepped up to the microphone. The applause had been dying down, but it didn't take much for Mylene to get them worked up again.
"You all having a good time?"
There was an answering roar.
There was a second roar, louder than the first. Nodding in satisfaction, Mylene pulled her bass guitar around to tune it. The audience quieted some (but not much) as she fiddled with the controls. Guvava watched from his perch, apparently in anticipation. Those familiar with Mylene's pet (who always accompanied her concerts and even had a fan base of his own) and his reactions began to wonder: what was she planning now?
"We've never played this one in public before," Mylene said, almost to herself, and the undercurrent in her voice silenced the buzz of the audience. She looked up, and finally addressed them. "I wrote it... well, a long time ago... but I promised myself I wouldn't perform it until I had an audience with my parents and all my sisters in it." Smiling, she added, "Well, that time is now."
At that moment, McKinney launched into a sharp, precise lead guitar line, backed by Joe MacEchearn's hi-hat and snare. Mylene grinned and jumped in right on cue with the bass guitar line, setting up a background pulse. She leaned towards the mic and began to sing, looking straight at her parents as she did so:
He's got a road map of Jupiter
A radar fix on the stars
All along the highway
She's got a liquid-crystal compass
A picture book of the rivers
Under the Sahara...
The bass, guitar, and drums abruptly increased in intensity, adding a powerful instrumental 'sting' to Mylene's next words:
They travel in the time of the prophets
On a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun
Like lovers and heroes, and the restless part of everyone
We're only at home when we're on the run
On the run!
The music softened briefly, but Mylene's words remained intent, her eyes flashing with energy and her fingers filled with power as she kept the bass line going.
He's got a star map of Hollywood
A list of cheap motels
All along the freeway
She's got a sister out in Vegas
The promise of a decent job
Far away from her hometown
Tanaka plucked his guitar in such a way to make it sound like a sonar ping, and Mylene's gaze met each of her sisters', her expression intense, making the song into a description and a celebration of the travels and travails they all had experienced over the past 85 years:
They travel on the road to redemption
A highway out of yesterday - that tomorrow will bring
Like lovers and heroes, birds in the last days of spring
We're only at home when we're on the wing
On the wing...
The music built, and now Mylene launched into the refrain, adding a more powerful bass line, telling the truth as she saw it, of the quintessential paradox of those who traveled the stars and had the inheritance of immortality in their veins:
When we are young
Wandering the face of the Earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we're only immortal
For a limited time!
The refrain was repeated, joined in by the rest of the band, and then another verse began. By this point, Minmay had gotten the flow of the music in her head, and added an extra searing electric guitar line on her Gibson, forming an instrumental parallel to Mylene's lyrics:
Time is a gypsy caravan
Steals away in the night
To leave you stranded in Dreamland
Distance is a long-range filter
Memory a flickering light
Left behind in the heartland
Mylene grinned, and together the two singers braided their voices for the next verse, as if they'd rehearsed the song for months, and weren't just now singing this song together for the first time ever:
We travel in the dark of the new moon
A starry highway traced on the map of the sky
Like lovers and heroes, lonely as the eagle's cry
We're only at home when we're on the fly
On the fly...
What followed for the next minute was an intense guitar jam, Mylene's Fender P-Bass forming the foundation, as McKinney, Tanaka, and Minmay progressively intensified the rhythm and lead electric guitar lines to a level of sheer aural brilliance. It culminated at a plateau, giving Mylene the chance to sing the refrain once more.
The second time the refrain was sung, the entire band joined in.
The third time, the audience joined in, the sound of thousands of voices raised in chorus with the pink-haired singer. Looking out over the crowd, Mylene sang the final verse to them all:
We travel on the road to adventure
On a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun
Like lovers and heroes, and the restless part of everyone
We're only at home when we're on the run
On the run!
With a final crash of drums and bass, the music ended, and the sky was filled with cheers. Riding the momentum of the applause, Mylene and Tanaka launched into one of Fire Bomber's old favorites, the duet version of "Planet Dance". Minmay, looking extremely amused by it all, joined in on harmonica at all the right places. The performance continued, through some African tribal guitar-techno work that featured woodwinds from Baron Zoria's circle and Jack McKinney, of all people, E-Bowing his guitar to stand in for a violinist.
"A Hush Like 200 Million Years", one of Mylene's early solo tracks, was in Japanese (she'd written it while living briefly on Tomodachi), but that didn't put a damper on Mylene's enthusiasm for the performance. It was quickly followed up by more techno-trance tracks, which were accompanied by highlight videos on the holojumbotron of the past year's Anti-Gravity Racing League's Final Four races.
The next song opened with Mylene playing a solo bass line for several measures. The drums of Dr. Tektonik, McKinney's guitar and Dolby's keyboards soon joined her. The backing instruments still soft, she sang into the mic, giving a hopeful, pleading quality to her words.
Mother, mother; tell your children
That their time has just begun
I have suffered for my anger
There's wars that can't be won
Father, father; please believe me
Oh, I am laying down my guns
I am broken like an arrow
Forgive this wayward son!
Mylene shifted into a deeper register, her words stronger and more insistent, as her band increased the strength of the music behind her and joined her in the chorus.
Everybody needs somebody to love
Everybody needs somebody to hate
(please believe me)
'cause they can't get enough
And it's hard to hold on
When there's no one to lean on!
With that, she began to encourage the audience to join in her cries to the heavens, which they willingly did so, their voices joining her own.
Faith! You know you're gonna live thru the rain
You got to keep the faith
Faith! Don't let your love turn to hate
You gotta keep the faith
(Keep the faith)
(Keep the faith)
Lord we better keep the faith
As the song continued, the electric guitars became more powerful, the choruses more full, the drums setting up a nigh-subsonic rumble. Mylene worked the crowd and the band in equal measures. Though the lyrics sometimes seemed to be rather dire, her performance transformed them into a challenge to the universe, that despite what the galaxy threw at her, she wasn't about to stay down. She was a clear demonstration of the principle that it's the quality of the performance and the actions of the performer that define the intent of the song, even more than just the words and music.
She smoothly blended into a guitar jam instrumental with her other guitarists for about a half-minute. Then MacEchearn's drums rapped out a deep pulse that could be felt through the stage and the front rows of the audience. Mylene leaned in close to the mic and, in an insistent voice, described a portion of her life in the past decades:
I've been walking in the footsteps
Of society's lies
I don't like what I see no more
Sometimes I wish that I was blind
Sometimes I wait forever
To stand out in the rain
So no one sees me cryin'
When I wash away the pain
There's things I've done I can't erase
Every night we fall from grace
It's hard with the world in your face
Trying to hold on, trying to hold on
Her plea for understanding expressed, Mylene once again challenged the audience, leading them into a resounding chorus of the song's refrain. The vocal part raced on to the final stanzas, propelled by the audience and band, proclaiming the essential truth of the song for everyone to hear.
Everybody needs somebody to love
Everybody needs -
Everybody needs the faith!
Her band swung through the outro in an avalanche of drums and braided guitar lines. As the applause rose once more, the good Doktor T. immediately launched into a six-way jam of power drums, guitars, and synths. Mylene, McKinney, Minmay, and Tanaka traded guitar lines, making the music something like a high-speed high-tech surfer riff.
Down in the audience, about a quarter through the instrumental jam, Komilia had a thought. She glanced over at Therèse, who was nodding in time to the music, and then nudged her in the side. Snapped out of her headbanging, Terry looked back at her eldest sister - not with annoyance but curiosity. Komilia nodded towards Therèse, then jerked her head towards the stage.
Therèse blinked. She stared at Komi for a moment... and then she slowly smiled and nodded in reply. Moving like wraiths, hidden by the shadows outside the glare of the stage lights, the two gathered up the rest of their sisters (including Miracle, who was intensely puzzled by all the sneaking about), then slipped around to the side.
Up on stage, the surfer-rock-techno jam was just wrapping up. The guitars and drums trailed off, allowing Dolby to change to a kind of spacey, sustained synth, playing a series of chords from memory. Oji Tanaka, who blended his electric's staccato notes with that of the synth, soon joined him. They repeated this again, then paused.
A second, an eternity passed, and then Dolby began playing the same notes, an octave lower, with a more contemporary piano sound added to the original synth. MacEchearn and Mylene immediately began supporting him with a straight drum-and-bass line. McKinney and Minmay interjected bits of guitar "exclamations" as well. Mylene smiled and began to step up to the microphone; but before she could get in place, she (and the audience) got a surprise.
Komilia was already there.
World turns black and white,
Pictures in an empty room -
Your love's like falling down,
Better change your tune...
Yeah, to reach for the golden ring,
Reach for the sky!
Baby, just spread your wings -
As Komilia sang, she began to gesture to the audience and move in time to the music. The motions seemed random, and in a way they were, but they were also a condensation of the emotions of the song, of Komilia's own personal feelings. She reached for the sky in anticipation and triumph:
And get higher and higher,
Straight up we'll climb!
We'll get higher and higher,
Leave it all behind...
With a devil-may-care smile, one that very few had seen in the past eight decades, Komilia spun in place. The microphone stand swiveled out of her grasp and spun into the waiting hands of Emilia. With a ferocious grin, Emi belted out the next verse with barely-restrained violence and gleeful abandon:
Run run runaway
Like a train rolling off the track
Got the truth being left behind
Fall between the cracks!
Standing on broken dreams,
Never losing sight! Ah!
Well, just spread your wings -
At this, Komilia slid next to her younger sister at the mic, and they braided their voices together:
We'll get higher and higher
Straight up we'll climb!
We'll get higher and higher,
Leave it all behind...
The twosome handed the microphone to the next available Sterling, who happened to be Miranda. Holding the microphone stand in one hand, she reached out towards the front rows with the other, as if drying the eyes of someone close to her. Then she cupped the hand to her chest, as if holding someone precious close for safety, security, and comfort. It energized her siblings, gave them purpose, as they knew just whose tears she was holding.
So baby, dry your eyes,
Save all the tears you've cried
Oh, that's what dreams
Are made of...
Maia took up the verse at this point, her voice strong and challenging, ready to protect her family, to fight for what and whom she believed in, never giving up on her dreams:
'Cause we belong
In a world that must be strong!
Oh that's what dreams
Are made of...
Mylene immediately launched into a sharp bass line for the instrumental, immediately echoed by Oji Tanaka, who supported her. Jack McKinney and Lynn Minmay ended up having a sort of "Dueling Marauders on Lead Guitar" deal going on between them, each one trying to one-up the other as they traded off the lead guitar line. Mylene grinned, proud of her band, rocking together like the Clay Pigeons did back in '45.
Now it was Therèse who took the lead, sometimes playing air guitar with the mic stand, sometimes just shifting her position, but always immersed in the music. The energy in her body was palpable, visible in her clenched fists and in her defiant, triumphant face:
Yeah! We'll get higher and higher
Straight up we'll climb
Higher and higher,
Leave it all behind!
Oh, we'll get higher and higher
Who knows what we'll find?
Xeralia stepped forward, taking the microphone from her younger sister. Her expression was almost maternal, her arms reaching forward, hands ready to clean and comfort. But her teal eyes were focused on a certain pair in the audience - her parents, sitting in the front row, their own eyes glistening with pride and love.
So baby, dry your eyes,
Save all the tears you've cried,
Oh, that's what dreams
Are made of!
The sisters gathered together - even Miracle Sterling, who looked embarrassed, but also proud to be there - their arms outstretched, now taking the entirety of the audience and the band into their "embrace" as they made eye contact with each one of them:
Oh baby, we belong,
In a world that must be strong!
Oh, that's what dreams
Are made of...
For the second bridge, Minmay quickly rolled her guitar line across the band's major rhythms, quickly doing some doubling and signaling to them that the song was wrapping up. As the other guitars died down, Mylene took several steps forward. Her motions smooth and deliberate, she bowed her head, holding her bass guitar close to her heart. Guvava, who had been riding along, took a respectful position on her shoulder.
And in the end,
On dreams we will depend!
'Cause that's what love
Is made of...
The song finally ended as Dolby's final synth notes and Mylene's bass notes softly trailed off into the darkness over the audience.
Mylene stood there, silent, her face in shadow, alone in her private thoughts.
The stage lights cut out as abruptly as they'd switched on to begin the show three hours earlier.
And the crowd went wild.
It took them three encores to get off the stage, but it was most certainly worth it. Amidst cheers and applause, Mylene, her band, and her sisters went backstage, flushed and tired but still exuberant. There, they were welcomed (and handed bottles of water) by Scooter Lindley, Mylene's orange-dreadlocked backstage manager, who informed them that there were people waiting for them out in the hallway to the green room and the other backstage stadium facilities.
Mylene grinned, clapped Scooter on the shoulder, and called out to the band and her siblings. "You ready to run the gauntlet and brave the crowds?"
"Lead on, my Mylene," rumbled Joe MacEchearn with a smile.
"If we get mobbed, we can always play Bowling With Hoffmanites," added Jack McKinney. "That usually clears people out the way in a hurry."
"Har-de-har-har," replied Joe, who then noogied Jack, mussing up his hair.
"Ow! Hey! Watch the hair!"
Laughing, Mylene led the way to the backstage double doors. She pushed the panic bars and flung the doors open to the sound of cheers and applause. Beyond stood all the Southern Cross Crusaders, some of the core crew of the Voronda Elendil, Xeralia's aide and some of her other micronized officers - and most importantly, Max and Miria Sterling.
They handled the gauntlet as quickly but gracefully as they could manage it, helped by the fact that their well-wishers all knew that they wanted to be finished with the congratulations fast and didn't hold it against them. Before long, they were through, out the doors at the back, and off to a slightly more private party.
The "living room" aboard the Flarefire - a comfortable space with beat-up old couches and cheap but sturdy carpeting on the floor - had been the site of a lot of after-show parties over the decades, but few as convivial as tonight's, and never one with guests of honor quite so honored. The occasion was as much a Sterling family reunion as a band party, and nobody seemed to mind either way. It was a little like the get-together the seven sisters had had on their first night in the system, only with guests.
One of those guests laughed for the first time in what felt like a long time, tossing back a beer, and admitted gaily,
"All right, Mylene, all right! I admit it. You were right. It was worth it to come here." Lynn Minmay - technically Lin Min-Mei, but the other version was her very-well-known stage name from the old days - popped the top on another beer and asked archly, "But now what?"
Mylene grinned. "Hell, Min, that's the easy part. First we remaster all your old albums and get them back out on microdisc. Then you record a new single or two with my band. And then? Then I got two words for you, girl: Comeback. Tour." She held up her hands as if framing a marquee. " 'Lynn Minmay and Mylene Flare: Live Legends!' "
Minmay blinked, then laughed. "Mylene, I like the way you think." She tapped her beer bottle against Mylene's in a toast.
From the far side of the room, a familiar voice - usually mellow and easygoing, occasionally hard and commanding - was raised in an uncharacteristically querulous tone:
"But the rum!"
Jon Hawkes's deep, amused voice - hardly even slurred - replied patiently, "Yes, Xera, the rum is gone."
"Why is the rum gone?"
Slumped in the corner of one of the beat-up sofas, Komilia shook her head with an indulgent smile. "Shouldn't have tried to keep up with Boozey, Xera!" she remarked. "We call him that for a reason... "
"But why is the rum gone?!" Xeralia demanded, gesturing with an empty bottle - more because she knew it would draw a laugh than because she was really that out of it.
Back on Mylene's couch, she and Minmay had gotten into a discussion of other musicians, former band mates, and other fellow travelers. Komilia missed the beginning - she was busy just soaking in the happy atmosphere - but a familiar name grabbed her attention.
Mylene snorted. "Basara Nekki was an effete snob. I took his head and had his woman before his blood was even cold."
Minmay burst out giggling. "You didn't really... ?"
Mylene grinned slyly. "No, of course not. Any woman who would be Basara's? Not going there!"
"Well, I think the party's getting ready to wrap up," Therèse remarked on the other side of the room, where she sprawled on a beanbag chair watching the goings-on.
"Oh, what makes you say that?" asked Maia, who had been deep in conversation with Komilia's executive officer.
"Xmas just left the room with Joe MacEchearn. When Carole's getting some? That's usually a good sign for the rest of us." She grinned at Maia's gobsmacked expression, and at Sparks' knowing smile.
"You're kidding me. Her... and him?" Maia made little size-matching gestures. "Don't Hoffmanites usually go in for people who are... well... a little more in their strength range?"
Carella Sansen shrugged. "Beats me, Maia. Truth told, none of us know what Carole's genetic lineage is. We've never asked, she's never offered. Hey, if they're both happy and don't hurt each other, that's good enough for me."
"Huh. Well, I'll be."
"You know, that reminds me," said Miria suddenly. "There is something here I cannot understand."
Her daughters stopped their side conversations and regarded their mother curiously. With a glint in her eyes that could have been impishness or severity, Miria looked from one to the other, taking them all in with a sweep of her gaze. Then she said:
"Here I have seven of the eight most beautiful daughters in the galaxy, left entirely to their own devices for eight decades... and have I even one grandchild to show for it? I have not. How can this be?"
The sisters blinked, then gave each other uncomfortable looks. Nobody quite seemed to know how to take the question, let alone answer it.
"Um... I've been busy?" Emilia said lamely.
"... I use protection," Miranda mumbled, her voice almost inaudible.
"I, uh, don't see myself as the maternal type," Maia remarked.
"Noooot even getting into this," Mylene declared.
"The only men I know are Zentraedi! Ugh!" Xeralia announced.
"I just haven't met the right guy," a mildly indignant Therèse insisted.
Max Sterling shook his head and took a swing of his beer, smiling indulgently as his wife kept their daughters on the hook for as long as she could.
"Actually, y'know, I really thought I had met the right guy once, about, oh... 40 years ago?" Komilia said positively. "He was in the band that opened for Mylene in '35, '36."
"(Oh God,)" Mylene muttered, turning her face away so Miria wouldn't see her smile.
"Whaaaat?" Xeralia demanded, having missed Mylene's facial expression. "Vision's band? Mylene, you never mentioned that in your newsletters, you little minx!" She glared unsteadily at the pink-haired singer, then directed intent eyes towards the eldest sister. "Okay, Komi, dish! What happened?"
Komilia shrugged. "He was already kind of involved," she said, "and we both decided to do the right thing. Or, well, not to do the wrong one." She waited for her father to take another drink, then added offhandedly, "Oh, and he turned out to be Gryphon."
Max coughed explosively, showering the twins with beer foam to cries of dismay.
"What?" Emilia blurted.
Komilia shrugged. "Neither one of us realized it at first. He was incognito, I was incognito... "
"Komilia, great Zarquon," Emilia sputtered. "How could you not know? He was your wingleader. You worked for the man. For, for eons!"
"Give me a break, I wasn't exactly expecting to run into him there, all right? Besides, that's why they call it a disguise."
Maia stopped wiping at her shirt long enough to snort. "Oh, yeah, great disguise. I remember taking one look at that album cover and thinking, 'Oh, so that's what he's doing now. ... Hate the mustache.' "
That set Xeralia off again; she tipped over, giggling uncontrollably, into Miranda's arms.
Miria, smiling, decided to let them all off the hook. "Well, I'm sure one of you will get around to it someday. Or not. Either way I'm very proud of all of you." Her smile became a little wistful, a little hesitant, as she added, "I hope you can forgive your father and me for disappearing as we did. It was not the way we intended matters to turn out."
"Hey, Mom," Therèse said, smiling and putting a hand on Miria's forearm. "We went through this already, didn't we? We're just glad you're back."
"Question is... now what?" Maia mused. "Wolfgang's speech was nice and all, but... there's an awful lot to do before any of it can happen. I mean, the law won't come after us on sight any more, like they did when GENOM practically ran the old UG, but we're still not the most popular people in the galaxy, and we're gonna buy a ton of trouble if we just up and say 'Hey! We're the WDF! We're back! Didja miss us?' "
Max, having recovered his composure, smiled. "It's not quite time for that, no. Not yet, and probably not for a while," he admitted. "We've been too long out of the loop, your mother and I, not to mention the rest of Breetai's group and Wolfgang. But there are a few things that can be done while we get up to speed. Emilia and her people are going to be busy with Lord F's plans for the sphere - "
"Understatement of the century, Dad," Emilia interjected. "I never thought I'd live to see a day when we'd get a chance to enact the Vigue Protocol." She grinned, but didn't elaborate.
"- so she's definitely taken care of," he continued, not missing a beat.
"Mylene, your role in what is to come will be critical," Miria said. "You have become the light in the darkness I asked you to be, years ago. Now you must take matters to the next stage and start preparing the way for the banishment of that darkness. Are you ready?"
Mylene grinned, her emerald eyes shining with delight and determination.
"I've been ready for this my whole life, Mom," she replied. "I keep my promises."
"Komilia, Therèse - what we're asking Mylene to do will be dangerous. Now more than ever, she'll need you by her side."
Komilia smiled. "We'll be there."
"We'll all be there," Carella Sansen put in, earning a grin from Mylene, a grateful smile from Miria, and to Therèse's amusement, a slight blush from Komilia.
"Xeralia," Miria said, nudging the redheaded Sterling with a foot. "Are you conscious?" she asked sternly.
Xeralia popped upright. "Yes!" she declared, a little too loud. Then, grinning sheepishly, she moderated her tone a little. "Uh, yes. I'll probably even remember what we're all saying!"
Miria laughed. "You and your battlegroup will now be under Breetai's direct command," she said. "He will likely be sending you to seek out certain elements of the Zentraedi fleets that have, ah, drifted from the ideals of the Alliance somewhat in his absence and... reacquaint them with his authority." She smiled. "I will be sending my new Quadrono Squadron to serve as your elite guard. I trust you will continue Miracle's education while she's under your command?"
Xera grinned and looked past Miria at the youngest sister, who was sprawled asleep on the couch at the far side of the room. Miracle, it appeared, had cashed out early, as the excitement of the day (and her first time micronized) had finally worn her out.
"Dispense a little frontier justice and teach the newb how to party? I think I can handle that!" she said with a big wink.
"And us?" Miranda asked.
Now it was Max's turn to give a knowing smile.
"You two, and your mother and me? Our mission hasn't changed at all," he said. "The Nazgûl have to find the answers to what really happened in Musashi City that day."
Maia snorted in half-disbelief. "Oh, sure, give us a hard one next time," she said, and then added, "At least we've now got a full Division that's interested in the answers as well."
Max grinned, patting his daughter's knee and went on, "And Miria and I have to find the one man Wolfgang thinks can pull it all together."
Maia nodded, understanding. "Gryphon."
"Not Zoner?" Miranda wondered. "And the Lovely Angels?"
"Oh, we'll need them too, before it's over - but Gryphon is the key to the whole mess. Everything proceeds from whatever happened to him on Musashi. His name has to be cleared for the WDF's to be cleared. Plus, Wolfgang thinks we can't make a true comeback without him leading the way... and I'm inclined to agree."
"He hasn't been seen in years, Dad," Komilia pointed out. "There hasn't been a confirmed sighting since the '50s. Wherever he's gone, he's gone deep." If he's still alive, she didn't add aloud, but there would be time enough to discuss that concern later.
Miria smiled - her rather predatory smile, the smile of a Meltrandi warrior locked on a target.
"We will find him," she said. "He cannot hide from me."
"Look out, galaxy," Mylene remarked. "Miria Fallyna's back, and she's on the hunt!"
Maia grinned and held up her beer. "I'll drink to that!"
"We'll all drink to that," Emilia declared.
Max Sterling clinked his bottle against his wife's and his daughters', caught Komilia's eye and made certain she wasn't going to cause any more trouble, then took a drink and leaned back, his free arm around Miria's shoulders, savoring the moment. They'd made it back, back from what had sometimes felt like the edge of the universe, and found the core of their real universe still intact. Not just intact - stronger than ever before.
Komilia, Maia, Miranda, Xeralia, Therèse, Emilia, Mylene, he said to himself. God, how you've grown.
It's good to be home, he thought, closing his eyes.
"Reunion, Part 6: Revelry" - An Exile Mini-Story by Philip Jeremy Moyer and Benjamin D. Hutchins
Reunion Mini-Serial Plotted by Philip J. Moyer
Lyric Assistance by Geoff Depew
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(c) 2007 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited