The Story So Far
The rock band Sun has just returned to Earth after spending seven harrowing months on an alien planet where music has very real magical properties. They have come back to search for the music that will put out a cataclysmic fire threatening to destroy Taihandria, the medieval country they have been living in. Two Taihandrians have accompanied them to Earth. This excerpt opens with the band meeting their manager, Jack Brand, who hasn’t heard a word from them in seven months.
Chapter Three: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mick was in the hotel bar when Sun’s manager, Jack Brand, arrived. He was sitting at a table in the corner so as not to attract too much attention with his medieval-looking clothes. Ordinarily Mick loved the limelight, but until Sun had their cover story straight and they had spoken with their families, he didn’t want the press descending on them. The lads didn’t need their faces on the covers of the tabloids before their parents even knew they were alive and well.
Jack looked around and Mick waved him over. Mick knew he was in for a rough time by the incensed expression on his manager’s face.
“You’ve got a lot of explaining to do,” Jack said, pointing his finger at Mick, “and it had better be good. I mean really, really good.”
“It’s better than good,” replied Mick, getting up and embracing his friend in a bear hug, surprising the heck out of Jack, who blinked away the emotion that threatened to overwhelm him. “And it’s amazing to see you. Sit down, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Jack pulled out a chair where Mick had a scotch waiting for him.
“I need this.” Jack picked up the liquor and swirled it around before tossing it down.
“Seeing you after all this time is like seeing a ghost. Where are the others?”
“They’ll be down shortly.”
Jack leaned back and surveyed Mick, shaking his head. “You look different—you’ve lost a great deal of weight. In that get-up and looking so skinny I almost didn’t recognize you. So what the hell happened to you? You know, pulling a stunt like that is enough to get you locked up in some countries.”
Mick tried to interrupt but Jack had too much pent-up anger and anxiety to release.
“We—the crew and I—we swore you were all killed! Your folks went spare. The only thing that’s kept the lot of them sane is the police investigation that couldn’t prove shite, but especially that your DNA wasn’t splattered across the god-damned stage. And they haven’t closed the investigation. You’re going to have to answer some questions from more than a few people.” Jack finished with some heat. “I still don’t know how you could do that to people you care about.”
“We didn’t ‘do’ anything. We had no choice about what happened to us. It was a bizarre accident, and that’s the god’s truth.”
“An accident? You accidentally disappear for seven months? Without a ‘so long, thanks for all the fish’ to anyone? Come on, Mick, I’m not buying it.”
“It’s the honest to god’s truth,” Mick repeated, leaning forward. “Well, just think about it—why would we just take off and disappear for over half a year during our most successful tour ever? We were on top; everything was going swimmingly! Of course we didn’t want to just vanish!”
“The record company had a fit when you didn’t turn up for the studio time,” Jack replied. “They were going to drop you from the label, but then, of course, sales skyrocketed because everyone thought you were dead. Good thing it was the last gig of the tour, or you wouldn’t have a penny left: all the promoters would have sued the pants off Sun. But I guess you planned it that way.”
“We didn’t plan any of it! It really was the most fantastic accident anyone’s ever had, or ever even heard of.”
“You seriously want me to believe it was an accident that you took off by some mysterious means in the middle of a concert and then disappeared for seven effing months, letting everyone think you were dead?” Jack fixed Mick with an angry look.
“That’s really what you’re going with? C’mon, Mick, you can do better. You have to, or I’m out of here.”
“I’m completely serious. It was an accident. We didn’t disappear on purpose. The guys will be here shortly, and you’ll see what I mean.”
Stuart and Patrick entered just at that moment and made their way over to the table. Stuart clapped Jack on the back, and when he got no answering smile, sat down, grinning from ear to ear. Patrick summoned the waiter and they ordered drinks. Jack sat stone-faced.
“Have you told him?” Patrick asked, and Mick shook his head.
“We know you’re upset and we don’t blame you,” Stuart grinned. “But you won’t blame us when you hear what happened. We’re just so bloody glad to be alive and home, you’ve no idea.”
“Yeah, we’ve been through hell,” added Patrick.
“So tell me already! What the fuck happened to you?”
“You remember that explosion on stage? Right in the middle of ‘The Summoning’?” Stuart spoke with barely suppressed excitement. “It opened a kind of wormhole—well, not really a wormhole, or we would have been crushed to death—but a passageway to another world, maybe even another dimension! We were sucked through the opening and stuck there in an alien world, and we thought we’d never get back!”
Jack stared at them. “You mean I dropped everything and rushed all this way to listen to this load of twaddle! Kidnapped by aliens? You guys have got a lot of nerve!” He stood and snatched up his coat and scarf from the bench. Mick grabbed his sleeve.
“Sit down, Jack. We’re telling the truth, and we can prove it, but this whole business has to be strictly on the QT. It could cause an enormous stir if word of this got out and it would probably ruin not just our lives, but those of our Arethean friends. We brought stuff back from that alien world, and an electron microscope will show we’re not bullshitting you. Now sit down, and hear us out.”
Jack was not convinced and was about to shake off Mick’s hand and leave, when something in the band members’ earnest faces made him pause. He had been with them long enough to know when they were taking the piss, and he had been in on their prank with Colin’s harp. But this seemed different, and sceptical though he was, he decided he would hear whatever cockamamie story they had come up with—for now.
So he sat down and listened to Mick and Stuart explain about their seven-month sojourn in Arethea, how its cultural development was roughly similar to late medieval or early renaissance Europe, and how they were initially imprisoned and caught up in some political turmoil between two factions, the Taih and some people called the Solanese, searching all the while for a way to return to Earth. Patrick occasionally interrupted to reinforce how much hardship they had endured.
“Outhouses and garderobes and no modern toilet paper! Try that on for size and you’ll understand what it was like. Although Robin told me the plumbing in Solil was quite reasonable,” he added as an afterthought.
Jack listened to their outlandish tale, clearly unconvinced. Stuart even went so far as to bring out drawings and charts and laid them out on the table.
“These are the major constellations in the stellar system we were able to map. As soon as I can get to an observatory, I’m going to set up a program to find these stars, and you’ll see we’re not shitting you.”
“Seriously?” Jack said when they had finished. “You expect me to believe that all this time you’ve been on another planet? I was thinking maybe you joined a secret cult or became Scientologists. Colin’s weird enough to do that. But you expect me to believe this crap about space travel and, better yet, aliens?”
“You’re about to meet one. Brace yourself,” replied Mick, smiling, for Robin and Manon were just entering the bar.
Jack looked up and spied Robin with a stunningly beautiful dark-haired girl on his arm, and both were dressed as strangely as Mick, Patrick, and Stuart.
“Oh, great, even Rob and his friend are dressed like bloody hobbits,” Jack muttered. “What the fuck?”
“Jackie!” said Robin, approaching and holding out his hand. Jack rose and shook it reluctantly, all the while unable to take his eyes off the girl.
Robin turned to her, beaming.
“Manon, this is our manager, Jack Brand. Jack, this is Manon Valen, my wife.”
“Robin got married?” Jack’s jaw dropped open. Recollecting himself, he held out his hand to Manon. “Pleased to meet you,” he mumbled, but Manon ignored his outstretched hand and made an odd gesture with her own hands. Jack could only stare.
Manon’s extraordinary beauty had that effect on people, and Mick was delighted by this reaction, although Robin was a little embarrassed. Was everyone going to react that way to Manon and to the news that he’d gotten married?
“Meciara,” she said, as Robin pulled a chair out for her to sit down.
“I guess congratulations are in order, Robin. When and where did you tie the knot?” Jack asked, still captivated by the girl’s graceful movements.
“Some time ago,” Robin said evasively. “While we were away. But we’ll actually need to do it again here, so Manon can get papers—a passport and visa and all that.” Robin glanced quickly at Manon, hoping she hadn’t taken in what he’d said and noted that she hadn’t quite understood or heard, distracted by the noise in the bar. He hurried on with a further distraction, summoning the barmaid. “Can we get a drink? I could use one. Manon, would you like a glass of wine?”
“And Fandor Valen, Manon’s brother, will also need papers so they both can come with us to England,” said Mick, meanwhile.
“You’ve no passports?” Jack looked from Manon to Robin. “Why not?”
“What is passpor?” Manon enquired, looking at Robin, and Jack listened with sharp interest, noting her accent. It was not quite French or Italian sounding, though she had that south European style of beauty. But nothing he could place.
“It’s a document proving your identity. Everyone has them for traveling.”
“Are you from hereabouts? Europe, I mean?” Jack addressed Manon, wondering how it was possible she’d never heard of passports. Manon shook her head.
“My brother and I are from Taihandria.”
Jack was clearly puzzled. He had never heard of the place, and seeing his look, Robin spoke with a nervous smile.
“How much have you been told about what happened to us? Has Mick explained about the explosion and the—um, sort of wormhole?”
“Aw, come on, Robin, not you too! You can’t expect me to believe that bullshit. It just won’t wash. I want the real story now. You owe me that much.”
Manon spoke to Robin rapidly in Solanese. Robin glanced at Mick.
“He’s still in the room, sleeping.”
“Not a good idea to leave him on his own this soon.” Robin got to his feet, but just then Fandor entered on the arm of a pretty girl wearing the uniform of a desk clerk. Spying them, he sauntered over to the table.
“Ah, here you are. I got stuck in that funny box that goes up and down between the floors. But Fortuna sent this lovely lady to save me, and so I am arrived at last.” Fandor pulled out a chair and sat down, winking at the girl, who giggled and seemed reluctant to leave them, smiling at Fandor. She took a card from the pocket of her uniform and handed it to him.
“Do not ’ezitate to call me if you need anyzing else,” she said, batting her heavily mascaraed eyelashes at the handsome Solanese. “Bonjour.”
“Meciara,” Fandor grinned. He turned to the company as she left. “Your pardon for my tardiness. Do I interrupt your affairs?”
Robin made the introduction and Jack looked with thinning patience at the newcomer.
“Why is everyone dressed like something out of Romeo and Juliet?”
“Wrong play, mate. All’s Well That Ends Well,” quipped Mick as Robin signalled the barkeep and ordered a scotch for Fandor. He got the waitress to leave the bottle.
“Very funny, Mick. You were about to tell me what really happened, where you lot disappeared to for the last seven months.”
“Honest to god, Jack, on a stack of bibles, that’s the truth,” insisted Mick. “All of us will swear to it. And Manon and Fandor are from Arethea, from Taihandria, a country in that world. They’ve come to Earth with us to search for something important that went missing from their world and ended up here. Oh, and Robin did get married to Manon on Arethea, so she had to come with him anyway,” Mick added, enjoying the bewildered look on Jack’s face as he looked from one to the other of the members of the band and not a single one burst out laughing. They were all regarding him with serious expressions.
“Well, I don’t believe you, of course.” Jack folded his arms and sat back in his chair. He indicated Manon and Fandor. “So these are your aliens? Riiight.”