And when the day comes,
a thousand million stars will shine for me, invisibly,
Getting back into tour-mode was something that Pete Astor could manage fairly effortlessly. When he led his Dead Junkies onto the main stage at the Carnaby Exhibition Centre in Darwin, he felt totally in touch with what he was supposed to be doing and not at all aware of the gap of one year, all but three weeks, since he had been sacked off his last tour. As he had remarked to Wendy during the course of the day, his only real problem was remembering which band he was supposed to be playing with.
The Australian winter turned out to be very much like a summary of an entire year of the British climate. In the North, the weather was summery with temperatures in the mid-twenties. Travelling anti-clockwise around the coast, the tour entered wetter, cooler conditions like a British spring and then something recognizable as winter in the south. Nobody seemed inclined to try out the skiing during the two-day trip to Tasmania, but the opportunity was there.
The musicians settled into the usual routine of gigs, clubs, interviews, fun and games at the hotels and some sight-seeing. Their usual us-and-them attitude to the support staff was tempered only slightly by the knowledge that they had their record company's Vice President In Charge Of Everything in their ranks.
Wendy celebrated her birthday in Melbourne and no one asked which one it was. She was only mildly embarrassed when the members of Intoxicant dragged her on stage so that Pete Astor could get the audience to sing Happy Birthday To Wezzer.
The last gig of the Australian leg of the tour was an open-air festival at the Rockhampton Sports Ground. The annual event enjoyed mixed fortunes in terms of weather, and it was regarded as a demonstration of Aussie toughness and an ability to take whatever the skies chose to hurl down. This year, there had been no rain for a week and the previous weekend had been very windy. As a result, the ground was firm and totally un-boggy on a still, fairly sunny Saturday, and the organizers were expecting a record crowd -in terms of both physical and virtual presence. Danny Di Mento had decided to give the event an international dimension by broadcasting it live and as it happened on the Internet.
Intoxicant were top of the bill with the Dead Junkies taking the penultimate slot. When the sun went down, the lights and the mass of equipment kept the stage area very warm and crews hot and bothered as they rushed around in tee-shirts. When the brilliant beams of the light show played on the crowd, they showed the tougher Aussies leaping about wearing just a pair of shorts.
There were cries of "Go home, you Pommy bastards!" mixed in with the cheers when the Dead Junkies filed out onto the stage. For an instant, Pete Astor considered turning round and going home, just to find out what would happened next. Then he got on with the job, knowing that he would be blamed for the riot that would follow if his band refused to play.
The set became a jam session after the first few numbers as members of local bands wandered on and off stage to perform guest spots. Pete Astor took it as a compliment that the Aussies knew his music well enough to come and join in. The response confirmed to him that the crowd was enjoying what the augmented DJs were doing and there was no sense that everyone was just marking time until the headliners came on.
With what should have been about twenty minutes of the set left, Astor noticed Syd Melchior standing beside him. "Are we over-running with all these guys joining in?" he remarked.
"No, I was just getting bored back there," said Syd. "And I've always fancied doing your next number."
"Help yourself," Astor said with a shrug.
The crowd noise stayed much the same but Astor noticed the lightness of faces turned up toward the stage when he announced, "Guest vocals on this next number, Mr. Sydney Melchior!" and Syd got cheers that might have contained as much surprise as enthusiasm.
In a quick look round the stage while Conrad Bone was announcing the next number, Astor noticed that Dexie Jordan had taken over from Eddy Edwards on bass guitar. Then Blood Axe was on stage at the opposite rear corner, giving them double drumming.
The organizers were wandering around, looking lost, when the DJ's set moved, surprisingly seamlessly, into the Intoxicant set with a mixture of musicians from both bands on stage and no one bothering to make a formal announcement of the change-over.
When they came to one of Intoxicant's new numbers, Pete Astor unplugged and wandered off stage for a drink and a rest, letting Ryan Calvin take over. The set just rumbled on as a glorious jam session, with musicians wandering on- and off-stage when they felt that they wanted to make a contribution.
Astor was on the sidelines, watching the show and marvelling at how well the anarchy was working, when Syd Melchior said, "Pete, get your ass back on stage. Something's going to happen, man."
Syd was leading left and right halves of the audience in a wolf-howling contest when Astor plugged in again. The full version of The Portal felt different somehow. When it was over and the band was into the next number of the set and the audience was still yelling its appreciation for the previous item, Astor realized that the difference was that he was feeling quite supercharged instead of wasted.
He wondered briefly if something had gone wrong with Kiron's energy transfer process and a blockage had dumped the power back on its source. Then Dexie was setting the scene for the next number of a familiar set. So Pete Astor put everything else out of his mind and concentrated on enjoying himself.
Astor's new number, Sotir closed the show. Even then, over an hour past the official finishing time, the musicians left the stage feeling as if they had done some serious damage to the fabric of the universe but that they could still manage some more. Pete Astor was feeling on top of the world; but also slightly uneasy. He was aware that something very different had happened at the gig, and he wasn't sure whether that was a good or a bad thing.
None of the musicians felt like sleeping, even if their entourage was drooping. Syd Melchior introduced the others to a local millionaire, who had blagged his way back-stage, and it was 'All back to Steve's place for a party!' -which took care of the rest of the night.
Rockhampton's early risers were starting their breakfasts when the gang of musicians straggled back to their hotel. In the lobby, one of the porters handed Syd Melchior a local newspaper, which was folded to an inside page.
"Listen up, guys, here's a review," said Syd.
"Pommy bastards go home?" laughed Blood Axe.
"After seeing Incantation and the Dead Junkies in Darwin," Syd announced, "I was struck by how well the two acts fitted together, despite all the stories about a state of virtual war existing between the two bands. The RSG Winter Festival confirmed my feeling. We saw a separated beginning and end at Darwin. Rockhampton gave us the connecting middle bit.
"With members of both bands ignoring a purely artificial division between them, it is now clear that the whole evening's performance amounts to a two-act opera. The first half poses problems, most notably in If We Could Dream, and these problems are resolved in the awesome musical spectacle of the full version of The Portal and the explosive revelation of Sotir.
"The Rockhampton gig is a blueprint for how the rest of the tour could be structured. Except that the musicians would need the conditioning and the stamina of professional athletes to be able to perform at that level several times a week. So I'm not optimistic. Pity. RSG was exceptional, and if there's any substance in Syd Melchior's hints about what Pete Astor has up his sleeve for next year, I'd even dare to compare the Intoxicated Junkies to Pete Astor's British friends the legendary D'Iem Hadar. As good if not better?"
"Deferably," yawned Conrad Bone.
"When the Aurora started during The Portal, it seemed to echo what was happening on stage. And by the time they got to Sotir, well, Nature was providing the sort of light show you couldn't buy for a million dollars. And when the full crew of the Junkies and Intoxicant, plus a whole gang of locals, let us draw breath again, the crowd was almost -only almost because we Winter Festival Aussies are tough, the crowd was almost calling Enough! instead of More! This was almost the ultimate gig -except these guys will always be trying to take that one more step. Anyone do me a cheap flight to Japan?"
"I think they liked us," said Dexie. "What d'you reckon, Pete?"
"I think he's asleep on his feet," laughed Blood Axe.
"Yeah," said Astor blankly.
"What d'you reckon to doing last night's set in Japan?" added Syd.
"What, you want to make the name official?" laughed Blood Axe. "The Intoxicated Junkies Tour?"
"Just think of all the extra dosh we'd make from a new set of T-shirts and tour jackets," said Ronny Bone.
"I've always suspected Syd really wanted to be an opera star," laughed Astor. "Except Ange wouldn't let him get fat enough to be a tenor."
"Yeah, we'll have to call him Siegfried from now on," laughed Dexie.
"I think he just wants to be the head honcho of a bigger band myself," remarked Blood Axe.
"Yeah, well, you lot can bloody scoff, but I think this guy's got a point," said Syd.
"Except that I don't make my career decisions at half-seven in the morning," said Astor.
"Yeah, but we can think about it next time we're awake," Syd insisted.
"And I reckon we hit the ultimate wave last night, so what's the point of going on?" Astor added.
"To hit the ultimate-plus-one wave," said Syd.
"Wave One-Oh-One," laughed Astor. "Good album title."
"It's sort of flexi-time, really, isn't it? Working together?" Eddy Edwards realized. "You do an hour and a half spread over the whole evening. Or more if you're feeling energetic."
"As long as everyone doesn't want to do the first hour and a half then bugger off," laughed Ryan.
"But this guy's dead right," said Syd. "We are doing the two halves of one set. If you think about it, the DJs' set leads up to If We Could Dream, then it starts heading towards The Portal, feeding into the start of our set. And the only direction our set can possible go is towards Sotir. Last night proved the whole thing really works big time if you join the two halves."
"Tell me about it when I'm awake," said Astor, heading for a lift. "See you later, guys."
"Good idea," yawned Blood Axe. "I'm knackered. I think I'll only be able to trash half my room."
"I knew Blood would be the first to crack," laughed Ryan. "It's foreign to his nature to get himself noticed because of the brilliant music instead of being an absolute arse who can only behave like a hooligan."
Astor yawned deeply. "Is Blood really going to get into a trashing competition with the Doms?"
Blood Axe yawned even more dramatically. "Remembering the financial consequences, I very much doubt it."
"Good point." Syd echoed the yawns and joined the general drift toward the lifts, satisfied that he had planted the seed of a good idea, as far as amalgamating the bands was concerned.
The tour was due to move on to New Zealand on Wednesday, which meant that the band had three days off after the festival gig. On the Monday afternoon, which was bright and sunny after a thoroughly wet Sunday, Pete Astor decided to mix himself up a helping of Charm and find out what Kiron thought of the latest helping of 'Energy for The Others'.
Astor sensed at once that there was something different about Kiron's environment when the drug began to take effect. There was new richness and sense of purpose in the shifting coloured shapes, which included shades of green for the first time ever, and he could hear, dimly, something that sounded like extremely weird soundtrack music to the ultimate science fiction film.
"What's happening, Kiron?" Astor asked much more than a purely rhetorical question.
"Something really far out, Pete. I mean, really far out." There was a relaxed, almost spaced-out element in Kiron's resonant voice. "I don't know where to start explaining it."
"Try the beginning. And using words of one syllable or less."
"Okay, the thing of it is that suddenly, there was just so much energy. I never imagined there could be so much. Although I knew it's possible in theory. But it's a very rare occurrence."
"How rare?" Astor said into a pause.
"Certainly less than once in a lifetime. Anyway, just to give it a label, the effect is called a sotir..."
"Not a vosmeigan sotir, by any chance?"
"You know about sotirs, Pete?"
"I've read some stuff about them but I have no idea how much, if any, of it is, well, true? If that's the right word."
"So what did your reading tell you, Pete?"
"In the context of black magic, it's possible to create a sotir for a demon or whatever. Which is a form of energy transfer. For which the demon should be duly grateful. But if it goes too far, the sotir can become a vosmeigan sotir, which drains the life out of the person in contact with the demon and transfers all of his life energy to the demon. Hence the need for necromancers to be cautious in their contacts with extra-dimensional beings. Hence magic circles, and all that. There was also some stuff about syldan sotirs, but it's in some totally obscure language no one's been able to translate much of. Just that name and an awful warning not to mess with it."
"That sounds like the exact opposite of what I've found out, Pete."
"No surprises there. Black magic literature, if you can call it that, is full of disinformation and outright lies. So what do you know about sotirs, Kiron?"
"Well, what we had before your last gig is what other humans have termed a vosmi-sotir. Which is indeed a transfer of energy, but not exclusively from one individual. As I explained before, your species can achieve a form of collective energy generation..."
"Big battles, rock concerts, that sort of thing..."
"Right. And the vosmi-sotir is a flow of energy that your species can't use but mine can if it's channelled to us through suitable individuals. Like yourself and the members of D'Iem Hadar. But what you seem to have created is what I've found out is called a syl-sotir. It seems to be an assembly effect involving the bands Bright Lights, or however they choose to pronounce it, Drachensblut, your orchestra, your weird Welsh band, the bands on your tour... All the special people with yourself as a primary focussing agent."
"Right," said Astor, expressing confident incomprehension.
"Are you familiar with the term feed-back, Pete?" Kiron tried another tack.
"Yeah, it's what you get when a microphone picks up the sound from a speaker and it just goes round and round in a loop, getting louder and squealier until everything blows up."
"Except that with a syl-sotir, there's none of that reinforcement and concentration affecting you, so you're in no danger of blowing up. There's just more power being generated... Do you know the term synergism?"
"I've heard of it but I don't really know what it means."
"It means the effect is greater from the combination than the sum from the individual parts."
"Like a nuclear chain reaction?"
"Only more controlled. And a certain amount of the energy is returned to the channel. To you, in fact."
"Which does what for me?"
"That I'm not sure of yet. I'm in the awkward position of knowing that we two have created something special but not how we did it. Or the best way to exploit it. Or what it will do for you. The beneficiaries of such arrangements have always kept that secret to themselves. Your species and mine. In fact, I'm in much the same position as you were at the start of our contact. I have members of my own species offering me partnership agreements and I don't know what my contribution to the partnership is worth..."
"So they may be offering you peanuts?"
"Exactly. Except that, unlike yourself, I'm in a position to find out if they are offering peanuts."
"Your ignorance isn't likely to remain blissful?"
"So you're negotiating and trying to find out whatever you can about this Syldan Sotir? Or whatever."
"Something like that."
"So what's in it for me? Which is curiosity rather than greed, by the way."
"Difficult to say, Pete. It's beneficial, in a certain sense..."
"Does that doubtful tone means it's like having eternal life but continuing to age and getting totally decrepit eventually?"
"I don't really know, to be honest. It seems contacts between my species and yours at syl-sotir level have a history of the humans becoming greedy and demanding more and more until they screw things up big-time."
"Which humans? Name four."
"Have you heard of Ardesh?"
"As in Alexander the Great?"
"The one I heard about is supposed to have conquered most of your planet hundreds or thousands of human lifetimes ago."
"That sounds like a bit of an exaggeration. Mind you, I suppose he did conquer most of the bits he knew about. Have you got Adolf Hitler on your list?"
"Not a name I know, Pete."
"World War Two as a syldan sotir. Can't wait for the movie!"
"Movie?" Kiron repeated, baffled.
"So, anyway," Astor decided not to explain his line of thought, "it all goes wrong in the end? Alexander croaked in his early thirties, I seem to remember."
"Your species tends to assume that once they've achieved a certain level of control over other members of your species, they don't need the contact with my species any more."
"They reckon being Vice-President In Charge Of Absolutely Everything is self-sustaining?"
"More the president or emperor rather than a mere deputy."
"So what you're saying is the human end of things finds that everything's going his way and he stops making an effort to keep the energy flow going? Or he starts making the wrong sort of effort. Like the wrong sort of snow?"
"I don't understand where snow comes into it, but the whole thing just breaks down and the member of my species has to start all over again looking for a new energy source."
"Everyone loses, your species and mine, when the whole thing goes belly up?"
"Which is why I'm looking to make the best bargain I can at my end. And waiting nervously for your next demand."
"For whatever you want and you think I can give you."
"I'm not really sure I need anything at the moment," Astor realized.
"Won't last, Pete." There was a laugh in Kiron's voice, which seemed to become infinitely distant in the space of one short sentence as the Charm wore off.
Astor came out of his excursion with the sensation of having stepped up to the door of opportunity only to find it locked. Clearly, he had built Kiron Sounds to a level where his bands were providing serious quantities of energy in The Others' terms. But the senior partner to the business was now locked in contract negotiations and the guys down in the engine room would have to await developments.
In the meantime, Pete Astor now knew that he had the potential for tainted greatness that was fatally laced with self-destruction at an early age -which was more or less what he had been expecting out of life anyway.
If his income from sales of his CDs and the Kiron Sounds empire continued to grow at the current rate, he would be in the fortunate position of not having to rely on lottery wins from Kiron for petty cash. The road to independence from the architect of his good fortune lay clearly marked, yet Astor felt no urge to take it.
Astor felt that he was in more danger from other humans trying to stop him doing what he was currenly doing, or trying to take away what he had built, than from Kiron. It seemed sensible to keep the faith with Kiron. And if that decision turned out to be lethal, well, he had never expected to live forever. And whatever the future held, he considered himself a long way ahead of the game.
As he completed the transition from one alternate reality to another, he realized that he should try to get some of the sound-track from Kiron's domain down on tape. Whatever came out of the exercise, he would be able to use it -either as material for new DJs numbers or as the basis of a new mini-career as a composer of avant-garde music.
Someone knocked on his door as Astor was rewinding a cassette, having filled up one side of a C60 around making himself a cup of coffee and drinking it.
"Yo!" called Astor.
Wendy looked into the room then withdrew her head. "Yes, you owe me a million dollars," she said to someone outside.
"Are you talking about me behind my back?" Astor complained.
Wendy stepped into the room, followed by Caroline. "I just bet Caroline a million Aussie dollars you'd be cooped up in the room with your guitar instead of getting out and enjoying the sunshine."
Astor put on a frown. "What makes you think I need a dose of skin cancer?"
"Miserable git. Are you making some coffee?"
"Wasn't planning on it." Astor put his guitar aside and turned his attention to the coffee machine. "What have you done with the kid?"
"Astrid's gone up North with Ally, surfing again."
"Gluttons for punishment, eh?"
"Unlike some people, they know how to enjoy themselves."
"Some of us can do that without leaping about like a mad thing, Mummy."
"Are you trying to annoy me?"
"Have you noticed the reactions people have to my harem?" Astor added to Caroline. "When they see Astrid and me, its ageing rocker with teenage girlfriend. But with Wendy around, it's boring husband, wife and daughter. Or daughters, if Ally's there too. They never seem to get as far as ageing rocker, best friend and niece. And niece's friend."
"Or maybe ageing rocker, permanent concubine and temporary concubines?" scoffed Wendy.
"I hope you don't want any biscuits with your coffee because I've eaten them all," Astor added.
"They'll have biscuits in Japan, you know." Wendy accepted a mug of coffee, then turned to Caroline. "He was trying to tell me all you get to eat in Japan is raw fish and whale blubber for every meal."
"I was looking forward to seeing Japan until you told me that," laughed Caroline.
"And you have to sleep on the floor. And they give you a wooden pillow," Astor added.
"Just what is it you've got against Japan?" demanded Wendy.
"It's full of Japs," said Astor.
"And?" said Wendy.
"Isn't that enough?"
"You petty bloody Brit."
"I didn't get where I am today thanks to any favours from the bloody Japs," stated Astor.
"There's no answer to that," laughed Caroline.
"So I get the last word?" said Astor. "Far out!"
Wendy fixed him with a basilisk stare, which Astor met without flinching. He didn't care who knew that he was a man secure in his beliefs and in his way of life, no matter how much, or how little, time he had left to enjoy them.
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.