The week passed quickly. The Stardust got its repairs, and Ezekiel’s Flight took the stage to rehearse.
“C’mon everyone, let’s get this thing going.”
Jerry and Q broke from their moment of congenial, borderline flirtatious, conversation.
“Sorry, boss,” said Jerry. “What’s our set?”
“Good question. I was thinking: ‘Tarshan Spring,’ ‘Roughneck Roller Coaster,’ and ‘Comet Cavalcade’ to get the crowd going; then jump into ‘Jupiter’s Waltz,’ “Sunrise over Stockyards,’ and maybe…. ‘Farewell, O Martian?’”
“Sounds great! You okay with that, Q?”
The two exchanged an amicable glance.
“Sounds good to me.”
“Great. Then we’ll finish off the night with ‘Doomsday’ and the ‘Long, Hard Fall,” maybe adding ‘Phoenix Ascending’ as an encore if the audience is really into us.”
“And why wouldn’t they be?” said ART.
“Amazing! Even the robot is optimistic. Great. Okay. If we’re all in agreement, count us off, if you would.”
ART tapped his drumsticks together, and the band put their set in motion. Stephan ripped on guitar. Q’s fingers butterflied their way across the keyboard. ART never missed a beat. As for Jerry, well, he stayed safely and securely in the shadows. The run-through went without a hitch, including the balladic “O Martian.’ It was not until near the end of the set that Stephan noticed Izzit had taken a seat in the stands. As he strummed the final, dissonant chord of “Fall,” he turned his head to his audience of one.
“Hey, Izzit, what’s up?”
“Oh, just the usual humdrum managerial tasks…. I thought I might escape them for a short while and see how you were doing.”
“Happy to have ya! We made your eardrums bleed yet?”
“Not at all. You sound lovely. Really. It has been some time since we have had performers of your caliber grace our stage. Thank you so much for coming.”
“Well, the money was good, and your planet isn’t too bad. In fact, we’ve quite enjoyed ourselves. Some of us even more than others.”
Q and Jerry blushed.
“I’m so glad. Well, I shan’t waste any more of your time. As I mentioned before, there is always much to be done. I best return to it. It won’t do itself, you know?”
“Yeah, well thanks for dropping by… You going to join us for the after-party? No gig is complete without it.”
“No. I think it’s best that I didn’t. I do not feel all that well. I’d hate to spread the sickness to you, especially with you being foreign and all. You may not have the appropriate antibodies to combat it.”
“Suit yourself. The door’s open though.”
“Thank you. I wish you all the best of luck. Really.”
Izzit left as unceremoniously as he had entered.
“Nice guy, that Izzit. A bit flighty, but nice,” said Stephan. “Well, let’s finish off the set, shall we? The sooner we do that, the sooner we can begin planning the post-gig pleasantries. You ready to start off our redemption tour off with a bang?”
“Ziljain 7 won’t know what hit it,” said Jerry.
“And neither will you,” said Izzit, sadly to himself, as he stood just outside the door. He then shook his head and slunk back into his office.
The day of the event, crowds filed into the theater, their eyes a-twinkle underneath industry-blackened faces. Stephan watched them file in through a gap in the curtain. His face contorted to house a whimsical grin.
“Man, this is gonna be good.”
He fist-bumped the band.
“Thanks for this, Stephan,” said Jerry. “You know, for keeping us together and stuff.”
“You can thank we when the gig’s over, and we get paid. No celebration until the payout.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” said Q.
“A good question.”
Stephan turned his gaze back to the stage as Izzit made his way onto it. Everyone in the audience quieted down. While standing dead center in the spotlight, Izzit opened his arms up to the expectant crowd.
“My fellow Ziljains, it is my pleasure to introduce to you today a talent like no other. These fine performers have made no small effort to come here today, and every mile of their travels is greatly appreciated. So, would you please honor our esteemed guests with a warm welcome. Without further ado, I present the one… the only… Ezekiel’s Flight!”
The audience went wild. The loudest applause Stephan and the gang had ever heard swept over the venue. Caught up in the excitement, Stephan ecstatically charged onto the stage, and his bandmates hastily followed suit. Izzit faded into the background as the musicians took their places.
“How we doing tonight, Ziljain 7?” shouted Stephan, into the mic.
The audience gave a loud and incomprehensible shout.
“I hope you’re ready to have a good time. I know we are!”
Stephan looked back at his band, gave them a preparatory nod, and launched into his first power chord.
As soon as they began, the audience rose to their feet, with even those unfamiliar with the band clapping along to the melodies. During the second set, they wept as Jerry and Q treated them to a whimsical duet. By the time the third and final set finished, the audience was beyond emotions, in a trancelike state found somewhere between reality and the imagination. They were insatiable, begging for encore after encore until the band admitted they had nothing left…. except a bass solo. The band, especially Jerry, were reticent to give them this, for obvious reasons, but without other options, Stephan decided to acquiesce to their musical appetite.
“You ready to hear Jerry play his bass?”
They applauded all the more.
Stephan looked back at his old-time friend.
“You sure about this?”
“Kill it, like you’re the king of the world,” Stephan replied.
Jerry nodded and began to play. The crowd ate it up. Every note titillated their fancy. For the few fleeting moments that Jerry played, they were in heaven. Stephan crowed loudly as Jerry finished his solo.
“You here that guys? That is the sound of redemption.”
Jerry started to tear up. As he set down his bass, the audience gave the band a standing ovation.
“They’re waiting for you,” said Q, gesturing to the expecting crowd.
“Me?” said Jerry.
“Yeah, you. Go to them. You’ve earned it.”
Jerry grinned childishly, and launched himself into the crowd. He dipped low for a moment, then was brought back up again by a plethora of adoring fans. He surfed that crowd as it were waves on clear, blue waters, and when he returned, he was beyond words. While he was still trying to process what had just happened, Q kissed him. Jerry froze, as if all time had just stopped. When he did speak again, they were barely loud enough to be audible. The roar of the crowd did not help, though it did give them an impetus to draw nearer.
“I guess this means that you’re saying…?”
“Yes, I mean, in a manner of speaking.”
He wrapped his arms around him. Then Stephan hugged them all, including ART, who seemed rather uncomfortable with the entire situation.
“I will never understand humans and their obsession with physical affection.”
“Neither do we. It’s just something we do. It’s tradition. It’s family.”
Stephan just laughed.
A pool of light covered the band, as spotlights were joined by camera flashes, bathing them in synthetic glory they did not mind in the least.