Chapter 11

Zap stuck his pinky in his ear, making a face. “That has to have been the worst opening band ever,” he said.

“It’s up there,” Steve agreed, slurring a bit.

“How many drinks have you had so far?”

“Two more than I would have had if that band hadn’t been shit.”

“That’s how they’re trying to make a name for themselves,” Matt said, nodding.

“Well it—” Zap began but cut off mid-sentence. Both Steve and Zap turned their heads to stare at the tall, dreadlocked figure standing nearby. Matt had dressed in the exact same type of outfit he wore to work every day, making it actually seem a bit odd to see him without his red Securemarket™ apron. Matt was being followed by three young, attractive girls.

“Hey Matt,” Steve said, looking up at her co-worker. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Way fancy,” Matt replied.

“Matthew, introduce us,” one of the girls said. She had forest-green hair and emerald skin, with dark green spots running across her cheeks and nose like oversized freckles. Her eyes, too, were completely green, from pupil to iris to sclera.

“Yeah, introduce us,” another girl said, a human with short blue hair.

The third girl, a human brunette, simply slipped under Matt’s arm.

“Oh,” Matt said. “Guys, this,” he indicated the human brunette, “is Sarah. This is Fleur,” indicating the green-skinned mutant, “and this is Liss,” pointing to the blue-haired girl. “Girls, this is Zap and this is Steve. I work with them.”

The brunette, Sarah, smiled and said “Hi,” to Zap and Steve, but the other two girls didn’t really do much to acknowledge the pair.

Fleur moved to Matt’s front and looked up at him with huge eyes. “Tell me what you said before again,” she requested in a honey-sweet voice.

Matt grinned. “You are the summer breeze,” he said. “Your skin is like the velvet of lamb’s ear, and your eyes speak of sunny days and fields of heather.”

The girl made a happy squealing noise, and Zap and Steve exchanged a dubious look. It looked as though the other girls were going to request similar compliments, but a sudden cheer from the dance floor interrupted them.

Alan was onstage, dressed like a post-apocalyptic businessman. He wore a pair of black slacks, the cuffs of which were badly scuffed. He had a white button-down shirt that was partially tucked-in; its top button was undone and the sleeves were rolled up halfway up his arms. He wore a bright orange tie and his plain dirty blonde hair had been gelled so that it looked windblown. He was holding a well-used electric guitar.

The employees couldn’t quite believe that it was Alan onstage.

The rest of the band was arrayed behind him. A male human wearing an old fedora-style hat and a suit jacket over a t-shirt sat at the drum set. An inordinately tall human girl, who had on a white hat with bear ears on it, stood behind a keyboard array. A male red-skinned and -haired mutant held an electric guitar much like Alan’s.

Lastly, a pretty young woman with a long, black braid stood on the far end of stage right, cradling a bass guitar. She was wearing a pair of overalls and a green long-sleeved shirt underneath it.

“There!” Steve shouted, pointing. “That’s the girl, that’s Nalley!”

“Hey kids,” Alan said, smirking at the crowd, his voice amplified by a remote mic.

“Is that really our Alan?” Zap asked, bewildered.

“We are Sixth Gear!” Alan shouted. “And we are going to open with that song we always open with!”

The crowd roared its approval and the drummer began the song with a flourish. Sixth Gear’s opening song was an up-tempo piece with a complex bassline and vocal harmony. The employees were surprised to note that all of the band members except the drummer sang, forming harmonies and counter-melodies in both male and female vocals. Alan’s voice, a bold tenor, featured particularly during the verses.

Love had a Tea
And invited you and me
I showed up early
But you didn’t deign to show at all

I called your shell
Too bad I couldn’t tell
Whether you had left the thing
At home or just ignored my call

You always ruin my day
You never meet me halfway

Zap, grinning, stumbled down onto the dance floor. It took a few moments for Steve to notice that he’d gone, but she followed him down shortly thereafter, pushing through the tight crowd.

You never meet me halfway
and I can’t understand
Why you won’t just take the time
to take my grasping hand

I wish I could predict the things you do or say

But you, you never meet me halfway

The crowd had formed the closest thing to a mosh pit possible in a weapons-allowed bar, shoving each other and dancing wildly to the music. Steve and Zap joined in, throwing themselves into the crowd enthusiastically.

My birthday came
Expecting just the same
I was surprised to see
That you had figured you should come

At my protests
You took away my guests
To a party you had planned
And left me feeling pretty dumb

Why do you think it’s okay
You never meet me halfway

Zap turned back to Steve and shouted, grinning. “They’re good!”

“They are!” Steve agreed at the top of her lungs.

You never meet me halfway
and I can’t comprehend
Why you would leave me alone
until my bitter end

I wish you’d help me keep my woes at bay

But you, you never meet me halfway

The music abruptly cut to half-time and the rhythm guitar got quieter, making room for a complicated bass solo that Nalley performed, chewing on her lower lip as she concentrated on the improvisation. Zap and Steve cheered along with the crowd as Nalley’s hand danced up and down the bass’s frets and her other hand’s fingers flickered across the plasteel strings. As Nalley’s solo came to an end, the drummer dove into an energetic fill and the band went back into a fugued version of the chorus. All four of the singing members, including Alan and Nalley, formed a layered, round-style harmony.

The song ended with a dramatic out, and the audience burst into enthusiastic applause that Steve and Zap joined.

Alan grinned at the audience, his face glistening with sweat, and held up a hand until they had quieted a little.

“I heard that I’ve got a few of my co-workers in the audience,” Alan echoed through the mic. Steve and Zap let out a whoop and heard To’mas follow suit from somewhere behind them. “Well, this song’s dedicated to you guys. I like to call it ‘Fuck the Day Job’.”

A few songs later, Zap and Steve decided to leave the dance floor and refresh their collective buzz. They each had a glass of water at Zap’s insistence, then a shot of good vodka at Steve’s insistence. They were on their next drink when they actually stopped to look around.

“Good crowd,” Zap said, a little zoned out from the effects of the alcohol but still coherent. “Good concert.”

“Seriously,” Steve said. “Y’know, I allus thought that Alan was just boring. But there are all those people down there who just think he’s the shit. Those are fans, you know?”

“Yeah,” Zap replied. “Oh hey, look.” He pointed over to a corner of the bar area.

Steve followed Zap’s indication and saw To’mas in the corner of the bar. He had T’y pinned against the wall and was nose-to-nose with him, murmuring something quietly. The effect of To’mas’s proximity and words was obvious on T’y, as his face was flushed and eyes were half-lidded. A very alluring, svelte elf girl with multi-hued hair, presumably T’y’s girlfriend, was behind To’mas and had her arms around him, gently nibbling at his neck.

“Holy shit,” Steve said.

“Did you know To’mas was such a smooth operator?” Zap asked.

“You know,” Steve slurred, “I prolly should have. Never hit on me, though.”

“That’s odd,” Zap said.

Steve paused for a moment. “You think so?”

“Sure,” Zap said.

Steve mumbled something Zap couldn’t hear.

“What was that?” Zap asked, turning back toward Steve.

“Nothing,” Steve said. “Where’s Matt?”

“Over there,” Zap said, pointing. “Looks like he’s switched out one of his girls.”

Sure enough, Matt still had the mutant and brunette human clinging to him, but rather than the blue-haired girl there was instead a half-elf wearing a black golf cap backward.

Zap looked toward Steve, who shrugged and held up three fingers.

“I don’t think so,” Zap said. “That’d just be mean. ‘Oh, sorry, this girl’s cute so you’re going to have to go. Rule of Threes, you know.’”

Steve gazed at Zap for several seconds.

“What?” Zap asked, knitting his brow.

Steve mumbled something.

“I can’t hear you,” Zap said.

“Kiss me,” Steve said.

Zap’s eyes widened. “W-what?”

Steve lunged across the space between them, threw her arms around Zap’s neck and kissed him. After a moment’s hesitation, he returned the kiss. Behind them, rock and roll music blared.

Just like in the movies, Steve thought.