by MB Panichi
Arienne my love, if I can’t have you nobody can. -Celestian
It’s Earth Year 2453 and hot lead guitarist Ari Walker and her slam-thrash band Shattered Crystal Enigma (SCE) have just embarked on their first interstellar tour. But they are not alone. Somewhere among the thousands of devoted fans is a demented stalker named Celestian who is determined to win Ari’s devotion—or be her destruction.
Too intense and focused on her music for a real relationship, Ari’s always been the love-’em-and-leave-’em type. Until she meets a woman whose power and passion matches Ari’s playing—and her heart—beat by beat. Badass drummer Rhynn Knight, SCE’s newest member, is ecstatic to be in the band of her dreams alongside the woman of her dreams.
As the tour continues and Ari’s new relationship takes center stage, the danger around them grows. Even the superior skills of SCE’s bodyguards can’t stop the stalker’s psychotic wrath. Is Celestian lurking in the darkness of the concert hall or hiding in plain sight?
Bella’s MB Panichi is a hard-rock girl at heart. A GCLS Goldie winner and talented drummer, MB is an obsessive science-fiction fan who likes placing human stories in worlds that don’t exist—but she would really love it if they did.
Lex Kent’s Reviews - If you like books about musicians and rock bands, I would recommend this. It’s been over two years since Panichi last released a book (...) I hope we don’t have to wait that long for another book from her.
Earth Date: September 2453
Nor-Am Continent, near the St. Louis Metroplex
The music still echoed in my head as I crossed the courtyard between the recording studio and the townhouse where the band was staying. My fingers twitched while I mentally played through the guitar solos I’d recorded, dancing over the fretboard of my favorite guitar, bending the strings, making them scream out the emotions in my heart. I scrutinized the notes I’d immortalized. Should I have held the last one longer? Were the transitions clean enough? Did the bend in the middle work?
After five hours putting down two solos and half a dozen overdubbed tracks, I was physically exhausted and brain fried. I’d listen to the tracks again tomorrow with fresh ears. As my bandmates so often reminded me, I needed to relax and chill.
I trudged along the cobblestone path through the deserted courtyard. A deep quiet had settled over the securely walled compound of Tyrannus Studios. Stars sprinkled across the blue-black sky which held only a hint of the deep, cold blackness of outer space. Growing up in the mineral mining and processing facilities in the Asteroid Belt, I was accustomed to the stars being practically within arm’s reach.
I shifted my grip on my guitar case and peered toward the darkened townhouse. Security lights at the door and along the walk lit my way with a soft golden glow. The path rambled through a scruffy lawn of desert grass accented with cacti.
I took the cutoff to the townhouse and climbed the three wide stairs. The front door slid open when I passed my hand over the palm reader beside the doorframe and stepped inside.
The foyer light barely lit the entryway while a dim floor lamp in the corner of the living room pushed shadows around. I leaned my battered guitar case against the couch and headed into the kitchen. Recessed, green-tinted lighting over the sink and back counter provided barely enough light to see, but I didn’t need much. All I wanted to do was grab a mug of tea, take it to my room, and crash.
The dark bulk of a bouquet of flowers rested in the center of the dining room table. I wondered if Nori had stolen them from the garden on the other side of the courtyard and if we were going to get bitched at because of it.
With a shake of my head, I chose a mug, set it under the beverage dispenser and tapped in my request for tea. As the machine gurgled and poured, I glanced back at the table. The blinking light from the dispenser skittered off the flowers. The petals, leaves, and the table beneath glistened wetly. Curious, I said, “Lights, bright.” I reached for my filled mug and then glanced back toward the table.
Thick red liquid droplets splattered across a bouquet of black roses and dripped down the sides of the crystal vase, puddling on the table. A stained white notecard rested among the roses. My stomach twisted with sick fear, but I couldn’t help leaning in to read the handwritten message on the card.
Arienne, my love, if I can’t have you, nobody can. Enjoy the flowers, my sweet musician. I am thinking of you. Always. And I will know if you’ve forsaken me. – Yours, Forever, Celestian
My whole body trembled. My stalker had found me again.
Earth Date: May 2453 (four months earlier)
Nor-Am Continent, Central Los Angeles Megalopolis
I picked the plas-sheet letter off the pile of fan mail in front of me and pushed it across the kitchen table toward my best friend and bass player, Nori Beaty. “Check this out. I think this one is nuts.”
Nori sipped a cup of caf and read the message out loud in an overly dramatic voice. “Arienne, I would die for you. When you look at the camera, I know you look only at me. Your eyes haunt my every waking moment. I dream of you when I sleep. When you’re on stage, I know you play for me alone. Your hands, caressing your guitar, are caressing my body, playing me and making me scream and beg like nobody else can. I am forever yours. Celestian.” Nori looked up, making a sour face. “Yup. This one is certifiable.”
I tucked a few loose strands of straight brown hair behind my ears. Weird fan mail wasn’t unusual. We’d all gotten our fair share of love notes, marriage proposals and declarations of devotion. Our band, Shattered Crystal Enigma, was well known in slam-thrash circles. We’d sold a lot of recordings, regularly filled concert venues and had a solid following. We had plenty of freak fans. But this Celestian pushed the limits. I said, “This is the fifth or sixth message I’ve gotten in the last couple months. It’s starting to seriously creep me out.”
“Did you tell Wayne?”
“No.” I didn’t want to whine to our manager about some bizarre fan. Over the years, I’d gotten love notes from prison inmates and lonely soldiers, and scathing fire-and-brimstone lectures and threats from angry religious zealots. This one felt different though, if only because of the persistence. “I saved the last few letters, just in case.”
“Go with your gut. If it feels weird, then pass it on to Wayne. It’s his job to deal with this kind of crap.”
I sighed. “Not like a bunch of stupid messages are going to hurt me, you know? It’s only words. If all they do is send me a bunch of creepy love notes, it’s not a big deal.”
Nori stood and refilled her thermal mug. “It’s a little like the guy who was sending crap to Toni last year from his prison cell. He was a maniac. But at least we knew he was behind bars for life.” She tapped a finger on the message. “You don’t know anything about this one.”
A sick feeling twisted my guts. “True.”
“So, send them to Wayne and let him worry about it.”
“Yeah. I will.” It was the safest route, and if it turned out to be nothing, I was no worse off.
“Where the hell is everyone? I thought we were rehearsing this afternoon?” Nori glanced at the chron on the wall.
“Toni and Dia are on their way but got held up in traffic. They were at Guitar Emporium because Dia heard they released a new sound module for her amp.”
Nori laughed. “Ten to one she comes home with a new toy.”
“She’s such a gear hound.” Unlike my bandmates, I didn’t buy a lot of equipment anymore. I had tried and true sounds that defined my style and worked for me. If I updated my sound or my amps, it was because the music called for it or something was broken beyond repair.
I hadn’t bought a new guitar in years. A few scratches marred my favorite’s deep blue surface and some of the wood-grain finish was worn, but she sang under my fingers and felt good in my hands. Our sponsors gave us guitars to try from time to time when new models came out. I used them for vids and as backups on stage, but when it came down to it, I reached for my baby.
The front door opened and Dia and Toni strode into the living room of the open-design house.
“Honey, we’re home!” Dia may have stood at barely a meter sixty-two, but she was a little powerhouse. Her wild black hair was tied back with colorful scarves and she wore a skimpy, multicolored silk blouse knotted just under her breasts, a short black skirt, and high-heeled, calf-height black boots.
Lead singer Toni Catone loomed over Dia at nearly two meters tall, even wearing low work boots. Dark skinned with liquid chocolate eyes and multicolored dreads hanging nearly to her waist, Toni intimidated in a skintight black tank and loose-cut black cargo shorts.
Nori said, “What’d you buy, Dee?”
Dia dumped a box and a bag on the coffee table in front of the sofa, smugly polishing her fingernails over her shirt as she crossed to the kitchen. “Custom programmable Jo Scarrel Sound Module, V21A, with multiphase inputs and triplex output. It’s totally sweet. I want to use it for the studio. Ric’s gonna swoon.” She took a glass from the cupboard, set it under the beverage dispenser and tapped in her request.
“All we need is the engineers drooling all over the sound board.” Toni draped her long body into the kitchen chair next to mine.
Nori looked at me. “Told ya she’d come home with toys.”
Dia flipped me a petulant glare. “At least all the cool kids love me.”
Toni snickered. “Get me an ale, Dia?” She glanced around. “Stacy’s not here yet?”
I hated to be the bearer of bad news, and I wanted to think the best of our erstwhile drummer, but it was getting harder and harder to excuse her increasingly destructive behavior. “I reminded her we were rehearsing, but she went out with a couple of her friends. Didn’t sound like she’d be back tonight.”
“Not if she was going to Central LA,” Dia said.
Toni took a couple swallows of the ale Dia put in front of her. “We’re recording in two weeks. We can’t afford to waste time in the studio working stuff out. She better not be fucking hungover tomorrow if she doesn’t show tonight.”
Nori muttered, “I’m getting tired of her crap.”
“She’s a great drummer,” I said.
Nori scowled. “Doesn’t do us any good if she’s too fucked up to play.”
“She’s getting worse,” Toni added. “Used to be only once in a while. Now, every couple weeks she’s partying and too out of it to practice. We’re finally getting somewhere, getting some real recognition. We need her with us one hundred percent.”
Nori nodded emphatically. “We’re all working our asses off. She needs to do the same and quit coasting.”
I had to agree. The music we wrote continued to become more complex. “I feel like we’re losing her, but I don’t understand why.”
Nori stood up and snapped impatiently, “She’s got a problem with intoxicants. We’ve been watching it happen for months and pretending it will go away. But it won’t unless we confront her and she takes responsibility for it.”
I knew Nori spoke from personal experience. She’d been sober for over a decade, but I remembered all too well when she’d hit rock bottom after we graduated out of basics school. I’d stood by her through rehab and the rocky, difficult years afterward, when we started to dream of this band. We were an item for a while, but eventually realized we made better friends than lovers.
“Are you talking about doing an intervention?” Dia asked.
Toni said, “She’s gonna freak if we confront her as a group.”
“It’s going to keep getting worse unless we do,” Nori pointed out. “It sucks. But if we want this, and we want her with us, she needs to get her shit under control.”
I dreaded the confrontation, but said, “I think Nori’s right.”
“When?” Toni asked.
Nori said, “Tomorrow, at rehearsal.”
“Are you sure?” Dia asked.
“Yes. Let me start it. Follow my lead.”
Toni chewed her bottom lip. “You’ve been thinking about this for a while.”
“I have. A lot.”
“Do you think it will work?” Dia asked.
“I don’t know. I hope so.”
Toni asked, “What happens when she freaks out?”
“I don’t know.”
Toni rubbed the back of her neck. “Do we want to risk it this close to studio time? We can’t afford to lose her right now, issues or no issues.”
Toni had a point. She was practical, as always. I wanted to do the right thing for Stacy, but whether it was right for the band at this point was another question. Stacy’s destructive behavior was escalating, but we couldn’t afford to screw up this studio session. Professionally we needed the new release to be mind-blowing. And when we finished recording, the tour had to be equally amazing. Trying to find a new drummer right now was potentially disastrous.
“I think I’m with Toni on this one,” Dia said. “I’d hate for her to freak out and quit or self-destruct right now. Let’s get the album recorded before we confront her.”
Nori focused her stare on me, raising a dark brow. I ran my fingers back through my hair, twisting a few strands idly as I considered our options. What was the best thing to do? This band was my dream and I didn’t want to throw it away when we were so close. “I think we need to wait,” I said finally, knowing it wasn’t the answer Nori wanted to hear. Nori felt strongly about confronting Stacy, but for the immediate future, keeping the band in one piece seemed more important.
The following afternoon I sat on the edge of my chair in our rehearsal space, running warm-up scales on my guitar. I was alone in the soundproofed room at the back of the house. The floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on a small yard surrounded by high fencing. Short, thick grass surrounded the patio and a rectangular swimming pool. The sun glinted off the still, blue-green water and light flooded the quiet rehearsal space. I hadn’t powered up my amps or the wireless connection from my guitar. I preferred doing warm-ups without amplification. Nori called it my Zen time, when I relaxed into the space, warming up my fingers and focusing my brain on playing.
I generally wrote and learned my parts separate from the band, ironing out solos and cleaning up tricky transitions outside rehearsals. I hated wasting everyone else’s time. Rehearsal was for putting all the pieces together, especially with recording sessions scheduled in a couple weeks. Studio time cost big money and the more time we spent preparing, the less money the record label needed to spend on studio time. The money we saved laying tracks would cover post-production that could make or break the release.
The studio door opened and Nori and Toni strolled in. Toni turned on the PA, checked her mic and organized plas-sheets of lyrics on her music stand.
Nori grabbed her bass and powered up her amp. “Dia’s right behind us. Stacy just got home. I imagine she’ll be down soon.”
I let the last bit of news flow past me. Stacy hadn’t made it home last night, so whether she was in any state to rehearse was yet to be seen. I hoped she wasn’t too hungover. I sucked in a long breath and let it out slowly, deciding not to get angry about something I couldn’t fix. I flipped on my amps, feeling the low buzz in my chest as the dual heads powered up. I killed the volume on my guitar and continued running warm-up scales and exercises.
A few minutes later, Dia strode in and headed straight for her guitars with a “Hey guys,” tossed in greeting. Three of her favorite guitars were lined up in a multi-stand. She grabbed one and flipped the power switch on her amp, pausing to watch the lights across the front flash from red to green before she sat on the folding chair to the right of her speaker stack.
Stacy wandered in about five minutes later, silently glancing around as she slipped behind her drums. Dark circles stained the skin under her eyes. Her hair was pulled back into a messy tail and her clothes rumpled. On the upside, she didn’t appear to be either stoned out of her mind or falling down intoxicated as she switched on the pre-amp that pushed her drums’ signal to the main PA.
Her kit was made up of electronic pads for the drums and cymbals. She had a ton of top-of-the-line sound mods programmed. Only the richest of the rich could afford to use real acoustic drums anymore, and the electronics were easier to mix into the band’s overall sound. Stacy tapped out a few beats as her power came up, flipping through the sound controls until she found what she wanted. She rattled off a quick riff around the twenty or so pads mounted on adjustable arms extending from a tubular rack. Her feet danced in sync on six footpads laid out on the floor. The solid thunk of bass drums rumbled through my chest. No doubt about it, Stacy had some serious chops. She made it look effortless as her drumsticks traveled across the matte-black surfaces of the trigger pads while her feet moved in tandem.
It only reminded me more forcefully why we needed her right now, despite her flaws.
Toni cleared her throat into the mic. “Okay, let’s start at the top of the set list and work our way down. Stop if you hear something that’s not working so we can clean it up. Stacy, count us off.”
Stacy slashed at the hi-hat pad for a four-count and we launched into the first tune. I plucked out the intricate opening riff, and then tapped a couple foot pedals, changing my tones as I joined Dia on the chord progression for the verse while Toni’s growling voice blasted through the PA. We transitioned smoothly from the verse to the chorus and back again, but when we hit the odd time signature in the bridge, Stacy blundered the transition and the rhythm stuttered and hesitated for a couple beats before dropping into place.
Toni signaled a stop.
Into the resulting quiet, Stacy muttered, “Sorry. I got it.”
Nori slid Stacy an irritated frown. “Start again at the chorus.”
Stacy counted off and we picked up and played through the transition without any issues. We’d worked on it before and I knew Stacy could play it. I tried to focus on my own playing, but Nori’s annoyed energy grated against me.
Fortunately, the tensions between Nori, Toni, and Stacy evened out. We cleaned up some changes we’d been working on, played through the set list, and after about three hours called it done. I flipped off my amps and took my time wiping down my guitar. The deep royal blue woodgrain body was scuffed, the finish worn and dulled where my arm rested across her angular top, the pick board scratched and the smooth wood of the fretboard stained by oils from my fingers. Her electronics had been updated over the years, but the way she played, the way she felt, hadn’t changed. She fit perfectly in my hands, comfortable and reassuring.
Nori was wiping down her bass with a soft cloth when Stacy stopped in front of her, waiting until Nori looked up.
Stacy’s expression was challenging. “If you have something to say to me, say it.”
Nori’s expression remained bland. “Your use of intoxicants concerns me.”
“Great. Thanks for caring. My use of intoxicants is none of your fucking business.”
“It is if it affects your playing.”
“My playing is fine. Get over yourself, Nori. Just because you have a problem using doesn’t mean we all do.”
Everyone in the room stopped. I held my breath.
Nori’s jaw clenched. “At least I deal with my problem. I know I’m an addict. You, on the other hand, need to start dealing with yours before it destroys you.”
“Fuck you. I don’t have a problem, so stay out of my life.”
Stacy stomped away, brushing roughly past Toni to get out the door.
Dia said, “Well, that was fun.”
Nori glanced at us with an irritated frown. “I told you. She’s a powder keg waiting to explode.”
Toni said, “We need to get through this recording session.”
I kept my silence. I saw both sides. Either way, it wasn’t good and a sick feeling twisted my stomach. I gently secured my guitar into her worn but well-padded touring case.
Dia said, “I’ll talk to her and explain we’re worried about the sessions going smoothly.”
“Let her cool down first,” Toni advised.
“Sure. I’m gonna go get something to eat.” Dia left the room and Toni followed her.
I considered Nori, who still sat with her bass in her hands, glaring at the floor. “You okay, Nor?”
“This is not going to get any better, whether Dia talks to her or not.”
I had no good answer to that, and I felt the threads of our band’s fabric starting to unravel. “It’ll all work out, one way or another.” Maybe I was hoping to make myself feel better.
We scattered to our own rooms after rehearsal. Stacy took off again without talking to anyone or saying when she’d be back. Not that we were her keepers, but my uneasiness increased, worrying that one of these times she simply wouldn’t return, whether it was because she overdosed, decided to leave the band, or got into trouble she couldn’t handle. The implications rattled in the back of my head.
After stowing my guitar in my room, I shucked my clothes and pulled a thigh-length, long-sleeve cover-up over my head. Grabbing my comp pad from the nightstand and a beach towel from the closet, I wandered through the living room and out the sliding glass door into the backyard.
The relentless Los Angeles sun baked the patio and pool. It was early evening, and the heat index was well over thirty-eight degrees Celsius. The glassteel awning fully covering the backyard was set to a clear but blurring opacity, letting in most of the sun’s heat and light while keeping out curious eyes. The panel slid out on runners extending from the roof of the two-story house, high enough over the full-story fencing to let in a breeze.
I was glad for the extra privacy, since we tended to nudity around the pool if we didn’t have guests. It was one of the highlights of living in a house with only women.
Dia was the only one who brought any guys around, and she was always careful to warn us. Stacy never brought anyone home, though it was common knowledge she hooked up outside the house often enough. And if Nori, Toni, or I ever brought home a date, it was another woman, so not a problem.
I stepped onto the concrete patio, burned the bottoms of my bare feet, and jumped over to the thick, coarse grass.
Dia floated on her back in the pool and lifted a hand to acknowledge me. Her long black hair fanned out in the water. Nori lay face down on a lounge chair at the edge of the pool, leaning on her elbows to read her comp pad. Her smooth latte-colored skin showed no tan lines. She looked up and grinned. “Hey, Ari, you made Hard Core Guitar magazine again.”
“Yeah? What’s it say?” I made my way across the grass toward the pool, leaving my comp pad and towel on a lounge chair and stripping off my cover-up.
Nori said, “Jo Lupine’s going on and on about the show at Mystique last week. Did she corner you there again?”
I rolled my eyes. Jo Lupine was a pain-in-the-ass fan and reporter who had a thing for me and made no attempt to hide it. She was obnoxious and rude and I avoided her as much as I could. Unfortunately, she was persistent. “Yeah. She was grilling me about the new songs and when we were going to be in the studio, and trying to get free show tickets, which I didn’t offer. I practically had to slap her hands off me.”
Dia said, “Good goddess.”
Nori continued reading. “She’s going on about how you’re this magnetic force on stage. Ha! And then she writes, and I quote, ‘But does this amazing specimen of hard-core perfection have a special someone she’s hiding? Her heart-rending lyrics would suggest it, but Ari Walker insists there is nobody in her life but her beloved guitar, and her focus is solely on her music. Sorry, ladies, this hot rocker is not on the market!’”
I groaned. “Ugh.”
“Glad she’s not obsessed with me,” Nori said.
I stepped to the edge of the pool and dove in, reveling in the feel of the cool water enveloping my bare skin. I swam to the surface, stretched out and lazily breaststroked the length of the pool. The water sluiced over my skin, exhilarating, cooling and calming all at the same time. It reminded me of the weightlessness of space, one of the few things I missed from my childhood.
The patio door opened, releasing the heavy strains of slam-thrash music along with the aroma of spicy cooking.
Toni poked her nose out. “Hey, anyone want some stir-fry?”
Nori said, “If you’re cooking, absolutely!”
“I’m in.” Dia swam for the pool’s ladder.
My stomach growled and I rolled over in the water. “Save some for me.”
I did a few more laps then climbed out. I padded across the hot cement to the chair and picked up the towel, drying my hair and wrapping it around my body as I entered the air-conditioned living room.
Tunes were cranked up. I recognized the latest demo release from a group of guys we’d played with locally a few times. Toni pushed a bowl of stir-fry across the counter toward me as I settled on the stool beside Nori, who gleefully spoke through a mouthful of food, “You rock, Tone. This is great.”
Toni leaned against the opposite side of the breakfast bar with her own bowl. “I’m sure you guys would starve without me.” The door buzzer sounded over the music.
“Expecting anyone?” Toni asked. We all shook our heads. Toni ran an appraising eye over us. Nori was stark naked. Dia and I had short towels wrapped around our bodies. “Guess since I’m the only one dressed, I’ll check the door.”
She slipped from the kitchen and crossed the living room, keying the security screen at the side of the door, “Hello?”
I watched as I chewed, knowing multiple camera views would be scrolling across the palm-sized screen above the control panel.
Nori asked, “Who is it?”
“Whoever it was is gone.”
Dia grumbled, “Damned neighbor kids doing ring and runs.”
I pushed away from the breakfast bar and joined Toni at the door. She flipped through the camera views and stopped on the overhead camera in front of the door. A red envelope rested on the doorstep. “Looks like someone got fan mail,” she said.
I stepped back and Toni palmed the lock. As soon as the door slid partially open, she grabbed the envelope and shut and locked the door again. She turned it over. “It’s for you, Ari.”
My stomach clenched sickly and I wished I hadn’t eaten. I was still getting weird net mail from Celestian. Attempts to send cease and desist notices had bounced back, address unknown. I sucked in a steadying breath and took the envelope from Toni, tearing the plastic strip to open it. My fingers shook as I removed a red, folded plas-sheet and saw the cursive silver handwriting.
My sweet Arienne; I miss you. You haven’t been out in a while. Are you hiding from me? You are the light in my life. I ache and I burn for you. You have such a beautiful body. I long to touch you, to run my hands over your gentle curves. I wish I were the water in your swimming pool, able to consume you whole and caress every centimeter of your skin. Forever and Always Yours, Celestian.
The plas-sheet and envelope slipped from my grip, fluttering to the floor. I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling horribly exposed and vulnerable. I needed to find my clothes. I needed a blanket and my bedroom, and no windows to the outside world.
Toni picked up the letter, her eyes widening as she read. Dia and Nori joined us.
Nori scanned the plas-sheet. “What a freak.”
Dia said, “I’m checking the security vids to see if anyone shows up.” She stalked to the desk in the corner and logged into the main house computer. The vid screen on the living room wall duplicated the monitor on the desk with several feeds from the video security system, showing views around the outside of the property.
Dia let the previous quarter hour play back. We stared at the monitor. Toni leaned over Dia’s shoulder and Nori rubbed my back. I leaned into her, needing the comfort and the warmth.
“There!” Dia stopped the feed from the front door camera, bringing it forward and enlarging the window. She backed it up a few seconds and then let it play again in slow motion. A few seconds in, the red envelope appeared out of thin air and floated slowly down to rest on the concrete of the entryway. It didn’t fall. It didn’t flutter. The movement seemed deliberate. The envelope was suspended in midair and set on the stoop as if by magic.
“What the hell?”
“Look really close.” Dia paused the feed. She stepped forward and traced her finger along the vid screen. “Look. It’s kind of wavery, like an outline.”
“But an outline of what?” Toni squinted and moved closer to the monitor.
Dia said, “A person. In a chameleon suit. I’ve seen it on spy shows. It bends light around so whoever is wearing it is virtually invisible against any background.”
“I really, really don’t like this.” I shuddered and swallowed hard in an attempt not to throw up. How long had this person been hiding, watching us? Seeing me swim naked? Looking in our windows? I heard what sounded very much like a whimper, and realized it was me.
Nori pulled me into a tight embrace. “We need to call the police and then call Wayne and let him know what’s going on.”
Toni said, “Save the vids. But, honestly, I doubt the police will do anything.”
Earth Date: June 2453
Moon Base Domed City
Drummer Rhynn Knight leaned against the matte black wall of the music club, swirling the dark green liquid in her glass. Heavy, throbbing rhythms and crunching guitar riffs assaulted her ears and reverberated in her chest. She rested one elbow on a high-top table, letting the tensions of a long workday ease out of her shoulders as the music rolled through her chest and the alcohol pumped through her veins.
Nightwalker was her favorite local slam-thrash band. Club Tranquility was her favorite hangout, as well as the best concert venue on Moon Base. She loved the driving music, the lights, and the boisterous fans. In a little while she’d join the gang slamming in the two-story high zero gravity cube to the side of the dance floor. But for the time being, she was content to watch her friends’ band and absorb the frenetic energy.
On the dance floor in front of the stage, her girlfriend Britt danced by herself and flirted with everyone. Her long red hair whipped around her head as she spun. Rhynn supposed Britt’s constant flirting with other women should have bothered her, but the only emotion she managed to dredge up was a slight irritation.
Britt sang lead in a slam-thrash band, though not Rhynn’s, and her brash aggression on stage usually crossed into her offstage life as well. Rhynn accepted Britt’s attitude, took it in stride. They’d been dating for nearly a year.
“You’re gonna lose her, Rhynny.”
Rhynn glanced across the table at the tall blonde glaring at the dance floor. Her roommate and bandmate Leigh downed the last of her drink and slammed the glass on the tabletop. “Your girlfriend is a bitch.”
Rhynn shrugged. She knew at some point Britt would get tired of her. Someone else would be sexier, more interesting, more doting. Britt wanted Rhynn because she was the available rock star of the hour. Rhynn’s band, Black Plague, was riding a wave of popularity in the slam-thrash community and she was friends with the guys in Nightwalker, so she had some clout.
She didn’t pretend to be in love with Britt and she knew Britt wasn’t in love with her. The sex was good. They got along. She was willing to leave well enough alone. Leigh reminded her constantly that she could do better, but it wasn’t like there was a wealth of prospects in the limited population of Moon Base.
Leigh waved down a waitress and ordered refills. Nightwalker finished their second set, and a theater-size vid screen dropped in front of the stage and announced the upcoming concert by Shattered Crystal Enigma, an all-female slam-thrash band—Rhynn’s favorite band of all time. SCE would be coming to Moon Base in a few months and Nightwalker was slated to be the opening band—the lucky bastards.
Rhynn almost cheered when one of SCE’s live concert videos started. The camera locked in on the lead guitarist and Rhynn felt her heart race. Ari Walker was so intense, so focused. Her fingers moved up and down the fretboard with careless ease. She was an accomplished guitarist and songwriter.
The band’s other guitarist, Dia Caban, jogged crossed the stage, and she and Ari played a riff together. Ari broke into a huge smile and the camera captured her joy as she and Dia leaned together to fire off an intricate run of notes.
Rhynn fixated on the vid screen, completely captured. Ari was breathtaking. Straight brown hair hung past her shoulders as she stalked toward center stage, casually handling her guitar until she stopped, head down, shredding like a master, her fingers a blur on the screen. Some people fell in love with movie stars. Rhynn had fallen in love with Ari Walker.
Leigh bumped her shoulder. “You’re drooling!”
“I got my tickets for the show so I can drool in person.”
“They are so going to rock this place.”
* * *
“Another day, another slice of the salary pie, huh, Rhynn?”
Rhynn looked away from the monitor on her desk to watch her workmate Krys fold his long, skinny body into the chair at the desk next to her own. “Something like that. You’re late.”
He snorted. “Things got a little crazy last night. Hell, you were at the club too. Weren’t you drinking?”
“Apparently not as much as you. Besides, this is second shift. What the hell time did you get home?”
“About an hour ago. The after-party was at Luke’s.”
“You’re a dumbass.”
He laughed as he logged into his terminal.
Rhynn glanced around the room full of low cubicles and desks to see if anyone else had noticed Krys straggle in, but everyone had their heads buried in their own work. Sighing, she returned her focus to the bland drudgery of verifying account entries. Krys may not be worried about getting laid off or fired, but she couldn’t afford to be so nonchalant. She was too practical to push her luck with the whims of upper management. Lately there’d been rumors about budget cuts and “re-orgs.” She’d gotten caught in that bullshit enough times to know to keep her head down and hope for the best.
Krys was an idiot to flout his lack of responsibility, but he was a decent enough guy. They had mutual friends; it was hard not to in a place like Moon Base. Transients came and went, but regulars who’d lived and worked there for more than a couple years, ended up knowing each other, at least in passing. She’d grown up here. Krys had been on Moon Base a year or so. She didn’t think he’d stay much longer. Most people didn’t.
She’d considered moving Earthside and trying something new, but she never got around to it. She had a comfortable life. Her mom lived here. She had a decent job, a band, friends. Moving to Earth would be more hassle than she needed.
Rhynn glanced down at her personal comp pad as it blinked awake on her desk. The room hummed with the click of keyboards and muted conversations. Leigh’s avatar popped up on the comp pad’s screen. The cartoonish and over-exaggerated image of a female thrash-metal fan waved silently, trying to get Rhynn’s attention. She was drawn with heavy black eye shadow and short spiked hair. Heavy chains draped around her neck and waist.
Rhynn scanned the office. Nobody was paying her any attention, so she tapped out a quick text reply. “At work. What’s up?”
Leigh’s avatar rolled its eyes. Text scrolled across the screen. “This is HUGE! You want a gig on October thirty-first?”
Rhynn typed, “No way. SCE show.”
“You wanna open for SCE and Nightwalker?”
Excitement surged and Rhynn nearly jumped up from her seat. Her fingers danced on the pad screen’s keyboard. R u shitting me? Seriously? SCE?
I know! Jose from Tranquility called to book the gig. I said yes! Leigh’s avatar twirled around waving her hands. Gotta go, I’m at work too! Later!
Rhynn stared at the screen as Leigh’s avatar grayed out and disappeared. Holy lunar hells! Opening for SCE? For real? Her heart pounded practically out of her chest. And then she wondered if Leigh was scamming her.
Another avatar popped up, this one a black wolf with glittering ice-blue eyes. The text scrolled in bright blue block letters.
SCE!!! Can u believe it?
Rhynn recognized her lead singer Vicki’s avatar and knew Leigh wasn’t playing jokes, because Vicki would literally kick Leigh’s ass over a joke like this. Rhynn typed back, Insane!
Krys muttered under his breath, “What’s going on? Tone down the silent excitement, man. Colter’s back.”
Rhynn blanked the comp pad screen with a flick of her finger and forced herself to appear calm and focused on her work. She didn’t dare gooseneck to see where their department head, Orren Colter, was standing. She imagined him hovering in the back of the room, arms crossed, beady eyes staring daggers into the backs of anyone who didn’t look busy. If he caught her communicating with her friends on work time, he’d dock her pay and write her up. If she didn’t get her accounts cleared by the end of the day, he’d either dump more work into her queue or read her the riot act about time-sensitive data, the company’s bottom line, shareholder value, blah, blah, blah. Three concurrent abuses and she’d be looking for a new job.
The spreadsheet data blurred on the monitor as her mind wandered. She thought about the video of SCE she’d seen the night before. She couldn’t believe her band was going to open for Shattered Crystal Enigma. She wondered if they’d get to meet the band. She could admit to herself it was all about Ari Walker. She’d probably faint on the spot if the woman even looked at her. Lunar hells, this was going to be unbelievable.