WITH THE BAND • by Alexander Burns

Ike Garrison staggered from his bunk to the small sink on the opposite wall of his cabin, awoken from a fitful sleep by an abrupt jerk of the ship. He grasped the sink to steady himself and felt the unmistakable tremor of a bass guitar through the hull. Was that a sound check?

Ike had not seen another human being in over a month, since leaving Jelier Point at the edge of civilized space. He was one of the few civilians, and the only journalist, who’d ever gone so far from Earth. So far, it had been incredibly dull. The first scheduled show wasn’t for another four days. Ike’s editor had tasked him with producing an article a week during this tour, but so far there had been nothing to write about. The members of the band weren’t talkative when sober, and weren’t coherent during their various states of not-soberness.

The ship lurched again. Something in the distance rattled; Ike suspected the airlock, which had been looking shaky since he came aboard. Outside his cabin viewport, powerful spotlights illuminated the colorful clouds of the Tarantula Nebula. They were playing, and he knew this wasn’t a scheduled stop. An impromptu show and they didn’t wake him. Assholes. Who were they even playing for? Who lived in the Tarantula Nebula?

Ike scooped up his blank computer pad and headed for the observation deck. The melodramatically titled Summoner was at least fifty years old, made before they thought safety belts and anti-proton brakes were a good idea. The captain’s chair was special because it was a bucket seat. The engines shook and rattled and the artificial gravity had a tendency to glitch. Ike would say the food smelled funny, but his nose had already adjusted to the general funk of everything around him, so he didn’t notice.

He heard the familiar opening chords of the performance long before he reached the observation deck. As obsolete and decrepit as the ship was, the sound system was state of the art, turning the entire cruiser into the biggest amp in the galaxy. Ike pounded on the observation deck door a moment before it finally responded and opened with a groan that implied it had been sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic for the past century.

The observation deck was a madhouse. A thousand screaming fans crammed into a space built to hold perhaps three hundred, they jostled shoulder to shoulder, heads tilted back, eyes cast upward in wonder. Most of the audience was Sanduleak, a species whose own planet had been destroyed by a nova almost two hundred thousand years ago. They were extremely thin by human standards, whole generations living aboard space-bourn cities without ever seeing a planet. One of their drifting communities must have floated across Summoner’s path in the last few hours.

Ike squeezed through and found a spot where he could observe and write. Beyond the transparent hull above the crowd, Virtuoso Of The Serious Combat (Ike was assured something was lost in the translation; he would argue that many things were lost in the translation when it came to Virtuoso Of The Serious Combat) rocked their fucking socks off. The band floated on a glowing platform, rooted in place with gravity boots. Their instruments flashed. An elaborate laser show, shimmering in the gravity beams that tethered the platform to the ship, lit up the darkness around them. The Iron Acrobat sent one of his drumsticks spinning into the void but replaced it without missing a beat. The errant drumstick bounced off the observation deck hull, eliciting a roar from the crowd.

The rest of the band was equally demonstrative. Lead singer Eighth Unspeakable Warden screamed into the mic as each of his four arms flailed, occasionally gesturing to one of his bandmates for a solo. The Secret Earl That Grasps fell to her knees and shredded on a fifteen-string guitar. Brilliance of the Canyon serenely plunked away on the bass. Brilliance of the Canyon’s vat brother, Billy, grinned from ear to nasal cavity as he pounded the keys of his keyboard.

The Secret Earl that Grasps’s solo abruptly ended and the band fell into a dramatic pause. Eighth Unspeakable Warden flipped off the Tarantula Nebula, and from the back of the platform a bright burst of energy spat toward the nearby clouds. A hush fell over the crowd.

The nebula ignited in horrific fiery glory. As the hydrogen and plasma of the nearby clouds exploded into brilliant shades that Ike wasn’t sure his human eyes were supposed to register, the band resumed their song.

The crowd stared in stunned silence at the burning nebula for a few seconds. Then they went insane with delight.

Ike felt the ship shift beneath him as the Summoner began its retreat from this doomed sector of space. He smiled and bent to his notepad. He had his story. Humanity had attained the stars, conquered inhospitable environments, settled worlds, and retrieved probes from black holes. But of all their accomplishments, rock had gone the farthest.

Alexander Burns lives in Fort Worth, TX. He writes because he doesn’t have a basement in which to build robots or time machines. His work has appeared at Every Day Fiction, A Thousand Faces, 10Flash, The Future Fire, and Big Pulp.

This story was sponsored by
Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.

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