There is no ending, no beginning
There is only the whirlpool of life,
And your place in it –wherever that may be.
For no apparent reason, Astor found himself straining to make out the shape. One part of his mind knew that it had to be just a hallucination and fugitive. And yet he also sensed that the shape had some hidden meaning. "Call me Kiron," said a voice in his head.
"Hi, Kiron," thought Astor. "Far out! A talking tripster."
"Hi, Peter," said the resonant voice in his head. "Although our conversation seems to you to be just a hallucination, I can assure you that it is taking place. You just have to be in a slightly altered case of consciousness to let it happen."
"Wow!" said Astor. There didn't seem to be else to say.
"While the link lasts, I would like to give you a quick explanation of why I contacted you. Your species provides a source of energy that we can use. And the energy field is at its strongest when a large group of your species is closely engaged in a common purpose. In the past, we could use the energy only when your species was engaged in a serious battle, or a large-scale religious service. Fortunately, as your species gave up large battles and large numbers turned away from religion, it began to provide us with major sporting events, which can serve much the same purpose. More recently, we have refined our techniques and we can now take advantage of a wide range of your activities on a smaller scale."
"This all sounds very science fiction." Astor felt a little silly talking to himself, but he was on his own and it didn't really matter.
"Science fiction is speculation about what might happen if someone is clever enough to make it happen," said Kiron. "And even within your own species, there has always been a sufficient range of available knowledge to make the devices that some take for granted seem like magic to more primitive people. And the concept of magic covers the way your species usually explains previous contacts with mine."
"I have this strange feeling that if I could see you clearly, you'd have horns, maybe a goat's head and certainly a goat's legs with cloven hooves. Not to mention a forked tail."
"It's a recognized fact that your species tends to see what it expects to see at first, and what is actually there only if it has to. It's doubtful if your species can actually see mine. Informed opinion suggests that you impose a form on an unclear perception because that is how you are used to dealing with your experiences."
"So if I see you as just a vague sort of dark shape, that just means I'm not in a very imaginative frame of mind?"
"Possibly. But if we can get on while the link lasts? Our historical experience is that individuals of our species can develop sympathetic attachments to members of yours. Without taking too much time over explanations, these people help us to focus the energy and use it."
"Are we talking witches' covens and black magic rituals here?" said Astor sceptically.
"And white magic and formal religion. Your saints and demons are just aspects of perception, imposed by the individuals concerned."
"And what are you going to use all this energy for? Anything destructive to my species, for instance?"
"For uses connected only with my species. In much the same way that life-forms on your planet use the energy emitted by your Sun. Whether or not you use that energy, or how you use it, is irrelevant to your Sun."
"You mean it just shines? And whether or not the rays hit a planet or just vanish into outer space, the Sun keeps on shining regardless?"
"Precisely. Just as your species will generate your form of energy whether or not we use it. Our use of it is irrelevant to your species. But, unlike the analogy of your Sun, your species can generate the energy to order, if you like. You can create greater quantities at suitable events with a high emotional content. In your specific case, I mean at your concerts."
"Yes, I have noticed one or two weird happenings recently," Astor admitted. "And so have others. Was that you?"
"Indeed it was. Being chosen in this way was a shock to me; but a very pleasant one; and it takes some time to adjust and locate the focus of the energy."
"Well, blow my brain!"
"Naturally, if you are offering me the advantage of the energy flow, I am obliged to make changes to your circumstances to your benefit."
"You're not dark and deep and evil and grabbing everything you can, then?"
"Saints and demons, Peter. We are an ethical species setting a course between the extremes invented by yours."
"So what do you want me to do for you? And what can you do for me?"
"For me, create more energy at your concerts. For you, think of something achievable. I believe the link is weakening. Can you reproduce the circumstances of this contact sometime in the near future?"
"I guess so. Tomorrow? If we're on the same twenty-four-hour clock? I don't like to do too much Charm on one day."
"Our species have entirely different concepts of time but I shall try to use yours for the sake of convenience."
"Knowing I probably wouldn't understand your concept of time anyway? Or are you too polite to say that?"
"Probably." Kiron managed to convey amusement without an accompaniment of ghostly laughter. "Until tomorrow, Peter."
The shimmering pattern brightened slowly, blotting out the darker shape. Then the pattern faded out, leaving Astor in the familiar surroundings of his recording studio feeling very dry and in need of a long, cold drink. He headed for the kitchen.
Wendy had persuaded a past boyfriend to install a filter to take the high level of chalk out of their water supply. She came from a soft-water region and she saw no reason to put up with the strange taste of Southern water. Astor rinsed out the drinking glass on the kitchen window ledge and filled it full. He drank slowly to avoid a headache caused by the cold liquid. Then he returned to the recording studio.
The bootleg CD was still playing. A playing time of seventy-one minutes made it excellent value for money, Astor told himself. He put his guitar into the rack and sat down at the mixing desk and lit a cigarette. He was having trouble with reality.
As an experienced Charm user, he knew that his experience had been due to another cause. He had used that particular batch of the drug several times before and the effect had always been the warm glow and a sense of contentment and relaxation, and heightened musical appreciation. So what had happened? Had he suddenly turned schizophrenic and was he hearing voices? Or did he have mediumistic powers and was Kiron his spirit guide? Or had he developed dementia like Joan of Arc's, with her guidance from canonized saints?
The phone began to ring. Wondering if someone was offering him a job, Astor put thinking about his trip on hold and lifted the receiver.
"Hello, Peter, it's Mum," said a familiar voice with the usual note of resigned censure.
"Hi, Mom," Astor said brightly, knowing that the phoney Americanism would tell his mother that he was not in the mood for a ticking off.
"I hear you got fired from the tour."
"Yeah, I did it deliberately so I wouldn't have to visit you and Eric when I was in your vicinity."
Astor's parents had divorced when he was ten years old. His mother had moved away with an old school friend, who had two daughters from a previous marriage, an ex-wife who was tidily married off and no longer entitled to make any claims on him, and a much better income than Clive Astor, Pete's father.
Pete had stayed with his father because he had not wanted to move away from his friends, because he had passed the entrance examination for an excellent local grammar school and because the new man in his mother's life had a ready-made family of two daughters and it was felt that it would be better not to surround Pete with a gang of new people.
"You don't sound too cut-up about it," said his mother.
"What's the point?" Astor shrugged down the phone. "Even if I get all bitter and twisted about it, I'm still sacked."
"But you are making phone calls to get back into things again? You're not sitting around ... brooding?" The rider was disapproval of a laid-back attitude learned from Pete's long-suffering father, who refused to let life's set-backs raise his blood pressure. It was also a ticking off for Pete's own well-known tendency to sit around smoking illegal substances and the fun and games reported in the tabloids over his drug bust.
"I'm expecting the phone to ring with an offer of a job any second, Mom."
"Just as long as you're making the effort. You're very talented if you'll only make the effort. You got a decent settlement out of them?"
"Just make sure you spend some of it on some decent clothes and some proper food instead of all the junk food the people in your business live on."
"Yeah, Wendy keeps giving me the food lecture."
"Oh, well." His mother had never approved of Wendy. "I wish you'd try harder to keep in touch, Peter."
"You might even get a visit out of me if I'm out of work long enough and in need of some free food and drink."
"You're certainly your father's child, Peter."
"Only joking, Mom. And I really am expecting phone calls."
"All right, I'll get off the line and leave you to your lounging about. Just see if you can fit in a bit of hoovering while you're free."
"God! Don't remind me. Thanks for your concern about my career, Mom. It's much appreciated. 'Bye for now."
The telephone began to ring again almost as soon as he had put the receiver down. Astor lifted it and gave his number.
"Hi, Pete, Ed Stegley," said a half-familiar voice. "I was just about to hang up."
"That was my mother giving me the third degree," groaned Astor. "And telling me to make myself available for work."
"Yeah, I heard you're in circulation again," laughed Stegley. "Hence the call."
"In circulation's a polite way of putting it."
"Sacked for a drug bust! Very Sixties, I must say!"
"No, sacked because Intox got bootlegged on the strength of a new number of mine and the Raiders didn't. And the bleedin' accountants are petrified in case someone sues them."
"Sue them? For what?"
"Because a bunch of Yank psychologists reckon my material could have quote, ‘a triggering effect on unstable individuals', unquote."
"Far out! And I've heard the bootleg, which is bloody good. But your ex-record company reckons they sacked you on account of the drug bust, not because of this other stuff."
"Yeah, well, they would, wouldn't they? Bunch of doshan bleedin' accountants and PR men. They don't want to give crooked lawyers big ideas. So anyway, this isn't a social call, you said?"
"Righty, how would you like the opportunity to work with Hellen D'Amnation, me old mate?"
"I'd rather have my guts eaten out by starving, plague-ridden rats than work with The Wild Woman of Rock. Isn't that what everyone says? I take it you're in a spot of trouble?"
"The record company's accountants are moaning about studio time and she's just fired the eighth session guitarist off her new album. And we still have to lay down two more tracks by Thursday. So we need someone with a thick skin who can be relied on to play what's on the charts and ignore abuse."
"Okay, I want danger money and I don't want to be in the same studio area as Madam. In fact, if you can keep her in her soundproof box, that would suit me fine."
"Standard terms plus a small bonus for a rush job. And you hire your own bodyguards."
"Okay, you know the fax number?" said Astor.
"Engraved on my consciousness. So can you get here by about half-one? Ready for a long haul?"
"You'd better get faxing quick, Ed."
As soon as the contract was signed and delivered, Astor left a note for Wendy and headed for London with the hire car. He surrendered it at the depot nearest to the recording studio in Wardour Street and, feeling affluent, took a taxi for the final leg of his journey.
Hellen D'Amnation was twenty-three, currently highly marketable and a spoilt brat with too much money. The current Wild Woman of Rock was busy trying to stretch the envelope of outrageousness on a range of youth television programmes and she had achieved the ultimate accolade of being parodied as a character called Pissn D'Erision in an alternative comic strip. She was heavily into the yoof-liberation trip of bad language, loose living and as much in the way of drugs as she could lay her hands on, according to a much quoted biographical sketch released by her personal manager.
Her band had a bald female drummer called Bash, a keyboard player called Einstein, because his first name was Albert, and a guitarist called Smokin', who thought he was a combination of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend. All three were about the same age as the vocalist and leader, who had given her stage name to the band, but slightly less outrageous in order not to steal her glory. They were also slow learners.
A stream of session musicians had been brought in to play the backing tracks on the album to give them some musical content. The record company's executives expected the band to have learned the numbers by the time they took them out on the road. If not, they could be allowed to mime. What the audience really wanted was to see Hellen being outrageous. What went on around her was irrelevant.
There was nothing more calculated to set Hellen going than the sight of an over-forty guitarist with a well-preserved Fender Stratocaster, which had grown old in his hands through earning a living. Astor let the dinosaur jokes roll over him and fade into the distance. He was on an hourly rate and he was getting paid for all the time that the prima donna wasted. Even so, by the time he had played seventeen takes of the penultimate number on the new album, most of them virtually identical, he was more than ready to phone Wendy about a lift home.
Hellen D'Amnation and her entourage swanned off to get changed for a night out. Astor and the surviving session musicians retired across the road to a pub for a meal and a drink on the record company. A drummer and two of the backing vocalists had been paid off during the day. Ed Stegley was looking very glad that the end of his ordeal was in sight.
The journey back to Warleigh in Wendy's van gave Astor an opportunity to fill her in on the highlights of the recent tour and his ejection from Intoxicant at the behest of their record company. Wendy was amused to hear that he was working again for the same company but on a different label. In her turn, she provided highlights of her current conservation and anti-wrecker campaigns, knowing that Pete Astor was just as committed in his total indifference to good causes.
Wednesday was an unusually difficult day, which seemed to drag on and on after a late start. Pete Astor had been able to allow plenty of time for his twenty-mile journey to the edge of the vehicle exclusion zone around the City of London. Nobody cared if Soho got blown off the map; in fact, there were those who would welcome the sacrifice. Astor was prepared to let it remain intact for a while if he could earn money there.
When he headed back to his car at the end of the day, Astor was ready to push the button on Hellen D'Amnation and her band. His latest rush of unpopularity was due entirely to one of the engineers recalling one of Astor's musical views in Hellen D's hearing. But even at the risk of being fired twice in the same week, Astor had not been prepared to change his opinion that, when it comes to female vocalists, there's Sandy Denny and there's everyone else.
Hellen D had not appreciated being lumped in with ‘everyone else'. In fact, the lady had assured Astor that he would never work again in the music business just before concluding her working day at four-thirty. Astor had proved her wrong by spending a further two hours re-recording material for earlier tracks of the album, replacing work that had been junked by a change of concept.
It was not until he got home that he remembered that he had arranged to contact Kiron, his mysterious spirit entity. The next day would have to do, he decided, wondering if working for a living was a concept that affected he, she or it. He had assumed that Kiron was male but as they lacked a common concept of time, gender might also involve a lack of equivalence.
If the Others, as he had named Kiron and his kind, had been feeding off energy produced by humans for thousands of years, or doing something else incomprehensible with it, they had to know all about human life and its demands. Any creature that could speak such fluent, if somewhat over-correct, English had to know that humans are a fundamentally unreliable species because they have yet to gain total control over their circumstances. In the meantime, some scraps of very strange music had been running round in his head for a couple of days and Astor wanted to get them down on paper as a preliminary to developing them.
When he made himself comfortable in his recording studio with a pipe of Charm and the bootleg CD on Thursday morning, Astor pushed his paranoid leanings aside. If Kiron wanted to form a partnership with him, then he would have to allow Pete Astor plenty of room for manoeuvre. Astor half expected the Other to threaten to strike him dead with a thunderbolt for being a day late for their appointment. Such was not the behaviour of a creature which trod the middle path between saint and demon, but Astor had no way of knowing if he could trust Kiron or if he existed at all.
As before, Astor noticed, through his feeling of well-being, the bright spot of light, which progressed slowly into the engulfing field of coloured shapes and, he noted, some very weird background music, which had to be the source of the persistent tunes in his head.
"Hi, Peter," said the voice in his mind.
"Hi, Kiron, sorry I'm late but I was working yesterday."
"Yes, I suspected as much. I had a few glimmerings of energy but nothing compared to one of your concerts."
"I suppose you know about the tour?"
"I know only what you tell me."
"What, you mean you don't have some means of keeping an eye on things down here? Like your actual omnipotent and omnipresent deity?"
"I think you have a somewhat false notion of how our species interact." Kiron sounded amused. "Our only interest in you is the energy fields that you produce. Although reports of conversations with other members of your species do help us to build up a rough picture of your plane of existence, for want of a better description. Curiosity is a trait that we have in common."
"So you don't know I got fired off the tour, then?"
"Not until you explain what you mean."
Astor supplied a summary of how he had come to be on tour with Intoxicant, why he had been chucked off the tour and why the bursts of energy associated with his new song had ended.
"This is a nuisance," Kiron told him. "What are the chances of your joining another tour in the immediate future?"
"Not good right away. These things take time to set up."
"Is there anything we could do to accelerate the process?"
"How are you fixed for getting me into band that's going on tour? One that needs new material from a new member?"
"Sounds somewhat complicated, Peter."
"How am I fixed for winning the pools or the lottery? With that kind of bread behind me, I could lay on a whole series of special gigs playing anything that turns you guys on."
"We do have a certain capacity for enhancing positive potentials. What your species terms good luck. What would be required for you to win the pools, for instance?"
"Time-travel a copy of next Sunday's paper to me so I can fill in a winning pools coupon."
"I don't think that would be possible, Peter. How else might it be done? What exactly is involved in creating the circumstances necessary for winning the pools? In basic terms?"
"Basically, arranging things so that eight particular Australian football matches end in draws where they score goals. Yeah, and also that none of the other matches on the coupon are draws too. And that no one else picks my eight teams."
"I'm not sure we could manage the affairs of your species on that scale, Peter. Ah! I've just been in contact with another of my species. Your lottery merely involves predicting which six of forty-nine numbered spheres will be delivered to a collection point in two days' time, subjective, in your time-reference. Correct?"
"Well, yes, but your ‘merely' covers odds against of about fourteen million to one. Or are you telling me you could arrange for a particular combination to come up?"
"Think of six numbers, Peter."
"Well, the first one has got to be thirteen. We should have six-six-six in there too. Okay, eighteen, that's the sum of three sixes. Twenty-six, two thirteens, and thirty-nine, three thirteens. And then just to make life difficult for anyone else, forty and forty-one to give us three consecutive numbers."
"And winning this lottery will let you to create energy fields for our benefit while providing you with material benefits?"
"Something for each of us, right," said Astor.
"It shall be done," said Kiron. "Contact me again when you are in a position to begin to generate your energy."
Astor thought about writing the numbers down but his field of vision was a dazzling array of coloured shapes and black lines. Luckily, he could remember his reasons for selecting the individual numbers and his indulgence in the variations of cannabis sativa had not totally destroyed his short-term memory. Even so, when his vision returned to normal, he made a point of writing down the numbers and tucking the folded piece of paper into his wallet. Then he jotted down more scraps of Kiron's weird background music, feeling that there had to be something that he could do with them.
Looking out of a rear window through a clear panel in the music room's sound-absorbing baffles, Astor saw a figure moving in the sunlit back garden. Wendy was hanging out some washing on a blustery, sunny day. Astor went downstairs and sneaked up behind her. Wendy squealed when he grabbed her round the waist and growled menacingly.
"Yo, Wendy," Astor breathed in her ear, "where do you enter for the lottery around here?"
"The newsagent next to the garden shop, you rotten sod." Wendy pushed him away with a laugh. "The one with the big sign in his window saying Do the lottery here. Why, are you feeling lucky? You think with all the bad luck you've had, you're due a change for the better?"
"Are you going to tell me life isn't like that?" laughed Astor.
"No point if you know already."
Astor collected his leather jacket and zipped it up. The world was warm in places where the sun was shining and cold in shadows. There was no queue to enter the lottery. Astor was able to take his time at the little counter with the rack of entry forms. The newsagent pushed the form into his terminal, relieved Astor of a £1 coin, and returned the form and a ticket with the details of his entry printed on it.
Astor kept his surprise to himself. He had never entered the lottery before and he had assumed that his entry form would be stamped with a code of some sort. Someone had told him once about a fluorescent highlighter pen for students. The pen left a brightly coloured pad of thin rubbery latex on the page and the latex could be removed by rubbing it off to return the book to an apparently unused condition.
Astor had been toying with the idea of doing the same thing on a lottery entry with a black marker, which would allow him to rub off a losing entry and replace it with a winning combination of numbers. Unfortunately, the system was too cleverly organized to permit such cheating.
Still, he told himself as he headed back to his home, he had invested the princely sum of £1 in finding out how real Kiron was. If he became loaded with loot on Saturday, he would have to take his hallucinatory buddy a lot more seriously.
Somehow, he suspected that he would just end up a quid poorer. That's the way life works, after all.
Under the circumstances, he decided, actually watching the lottery draw on television would make him a sad bastard. He would do what any reasonable person does and check his numbers against those printed in a Sunday newspaper.
No trees were consumed by Farrago & Farrago and Henry T. Smith Productions, 10/12 SK6 4EG, UK in creating this material for Jon A. Gored. Sole © Jon A. Gored, 2001.