The show was everything Zwain dreamed it would be. The crowd was amazing. Everybody performed flawlessly. The night was perfect.
Then came time for the big one. Zwain worked months and months on perfecting ‘The Boy’. It meant too much to Zwain for it to be half-assed.
It was only Zwain in the beginning. He would take lead guitar on this song, and Mandy was going to provide backup; didn’t mind. The song started slowly and solemnly; a ballad, telling the tale of a boy growing up in a harsh world all alone.
Duece layered in some light drums. Filling in the gaps between the notes Zwain was playing with gentle taps on the toms and cymbals. Then Tony joined in with his bass, followed by Mandy with backup guitar. Each instrument added in another layer of emotion. Slowly it intensified, building up for something bigger. Mandy stood back to back Zwain, her hand raised in the air, ready to sweep downwards across her strings. Zwain assumed a similar pose. His haunting vocals quivering through the night and trailing off to nothing, leaving only the drums and bass guitar.
With a flicker of anticipation both Mandy and Zwain thrust their hands downwards unleashing a catastrophic roar through the speakers, rendering the crowd aghast. Flames shot up from the corners of the stage in unison and the ballad transformed into a full out rock song, pumping out into the night.
The audience went wild! The mosh pit became more dangerous than it had been all show. Bloody noses reopened, opposite eyes were blackened. Everyone was loving it.
Mandy and Zwain spread themselves out on the front of the stage, playing out to the crowd. Every now and then Zwain would return to the microphone to get the next part of the song out. The song continued to escalate. Building in intensity until finally all the other instruments trailer off leaving Zwain to his guitar solo. ‘The’ guitar solo.
Zwain’s fingers moved like magic. No human eye could even perceive the speed at which they moved. Even Mandy’s movements seemed like a snail’s pace by comparison. Zwain was on fire. He dropped his hand down that same couple of frets that Chris had showed him and windmilled the guitar pick across the strings.
The sound resonated out of the speakers at a volume far more intense than anything else played that night. Visible rings emanated from the speakers on both sides of the stage, converging on a single point at the back of the audience.
Duece looked at Mandy; Mandy looked at Tony. Their eyes widened in surprise.
Out of the corner of his eye, Zwain caught a single blue flicker. The blue flicker blinked rapidly and grew in intensity until finally a bright blue tear opened up in the fabric of the air. An image of a red, rocky wasteland was visible, surrounded by swirling blue tendrils. Zwain could almost make out the brown tents of some sort of camp.
“What… the… fuck?” Duece yelled as he stood up from behind his drum-kit.
The audience cheered even louder, thinking that this was all part of the show. No one noticed that the band had stopped playing. This was the most insane lights show they had ever seen.
Zwain stared into the gaping portal, completely immobilized.
It’s so dark down here. Where am I? It feels like I’ve been walking for miles.
Memories came flooding back, cascading all over his brain.
Huh, this cave wall is made out of metal? Oh what’s the dim glow right there?
The delerium of what happened to him after the fall was finally clearing up and Zwain could remember everything. He remembered–
* * *
— pressing the dimly lit button. The doors opened with a whoosh as the air within rushed out to meet Zwain. Lights turned on all down a blue metallic hallway. His pupils constricted to save his retinas from the sudden and complete change in light. Holding a bloodied hand above his brow, to shield his eyes as best he could, Zwain stepped forward into the hallway.
The hand didn’t help much, the light was coming from all around. The walls, the ceiling and even the floor. Zwain slowed his pace so that he could let his eyes adjust and get used to where he was. After a few minutes he felt confident enough to move forward and continued following the hall. His head hurt, and he could feel the warm blood slightly flowing down the side of his head. He probed the source and it sent a searing pain all through his body forcing Zwain to wince.
“I can worry about that later,” he told himself, “I just want to get through this place and out of this… hallway?”
Zwain’s voice echoed down the sterile hallway with such clarity that it bounced back at him as clearly as it had left his lips. Zwain almost thought it was another person, until he realized it was exactly what he just said.
He finally found another doorway. It has the same dim orange button to the right side of it. Zwain pressed this, and once again the door opened, more lights illuminating a large room.
Zwain entered and this time he was greeted by something other than this own voice. “New life form detected. Stasis sleep deactivated. Chelsea has now started the boot up process.”
Zwain spun around in a panic. Unsure of what to do, he squatted down and clenched his fists, ready to deal with who, or whatever this Chelsea was, once she booted up. In the corner he caught a glimpse of what appeared to humanoid. It was bald, and its skin was rather pale looking. The right pant-leg of the alien creature was pulled up enough to reveal a wooden prosthetic. It gave Zwain a brief chuckle to see something so primitive amidst what appeared to be extremely advanced technology, especially when compared to the old computers that the library contained.
That reminded Zwain of some of those space books he read. This felt very similar to those stories. He looked over to the far end if the room and saw what must be the control panel. Zwain rushed over there and pulled the seat in close, looking down at the keys. He saw all the familiar letters of his own alphabet.
“English? You know, for an alien ship you are awfully accommodating,” Zwain said thinking that the keys must have morphed based on whoever was viewing them. Which, according the books, conveniently tended to happen on these types of alien vessels.
Zwain punched the key marked ‘Enter’. This usually worked on the old computers that he tried before. A flat screen flipped out of the dashboard and turned itself on. The robotic female voice returned and said, “Chelsea is only thirty three point nine three eight seven percent booted up. Please wait for her before using the computer systems. If it is an emergency, please punch in the following code and let Christopher know as soon as possible.”
Zwain entered the code that was given to him. He didn’t know whether this was an emergency or not, but he needed to get back out and try and get those kids back from the Ravagers. Tiffany was not so far gone, not if he cried out his name in terror as he fell.
The screen flashed a series of letters and numbers. Zwain understood them individually, but together the were utter nonsense. He tapped the enter key again, and the female robotic voice asked, “Are you sure you wish to proceed? Chelsea is now seventy eight point three six five nine percent booted. She will be more than willing to give you a hand.”
Zwain wasn’t so sure. How many times did some robot show up and snap the neck of a stowaway on the alien’s ship? He thought it was best not to find out if it was true. He scanned the screen once again. He didn’t want to randomly punch in numbers, thinking it would screw up the system and if this Chelsea wasn’t hostile before, she might be afterwards.
Zwain hit the enter button once more. The voice returned, “Failure to wait for full computer system boot up has now resulted in the destination not being store for future travel. If you wish to travel to this destination once again, you will be required to collect atmospheric particles very shortly after the portal has closed.
“Portal?” was all that escaped Zwain’s lips as the wall directly in front of him slowly slid out of the way revealing a giant window that showed the red bedrock of the wasteland he travelled through to get to the Ravager camp. Through invisible speakers, both inside and out, a loud song played. It was short, only a few bars, but those notes were about to be permanently ingrained on Zwain’s memory. They would become the basis for his entire epic ballad.
A blue flicker started growing on the horizon. It flashed a few times and then split wide open. Zwain couldn’t make out what as on the other side, it looked sort of dark. The robot voice returned, “The portal is now open, since Chelsea is only at ninety five point five four six two percent loaded, the ship can not be flown through the portal in a timely manner. Would you like to use the emergency escape hatch?”
Now this is what Zwain was waiting for. Never mind the portal on the other side, he needed to get back to the university. He reached forward and slammed down the enter key, half expecting the machine to understand his enthusiasm.
A siren tore through the air piercing through Zwain’s eardrums. He stumbled backwards knocking over the chair he was sitting in. He tumbled to the floor with a thud, hitting his head on the stairwell leading up to the captain’s chair. The lights around him started pulsing red in time with the siren. As Zwain got up to his feet he spotted a hole in the ceiling opening up. He stood beneath it and waited for a ladder to drop.
Zwain was beginning to wonder why when a sharp hiss sounded beneath his feet. Zwain looked down in time to see the hole that was in the ceiling whip past his body. The rush of the morning air whipped against his face as the ship fell further and further away from him. Zwain twisted his head around to see that he was flying away in a perfect trajectory for the portal.
“No!” he yelled, “I have to get to the kids, don’t send me through the portal! No!”
The portal got bigger and bigger, as Zwain closed in on it. His whole world started falling–
* * *
–into place. Everything fell into place. The song and how Chris knew what to change to make it right. The portal and how it brought him to this time. Zwain knew it all as he stared at the red landscape beyond.
The crowd finally settled, realizing that this was not part of the show. Some people backed away from it, not sure what was going to happen. Others continued to murmur excitedly at the crazy shit happening before their eyes.
Mandy, Duece and Tony all approached Zwain. Zwain turned to them and said, “I remember. I remember how I ended up here. That portal. And Chris, the guy who helped me finish that solo, it must’ve been his ship that opened it originally.”
Tony squinted to get a good look at the portal before him. “So, that’s your home, man?”
Zwain nodded, “Well, it kinda looks like it. That scorched looking stone, the orange of the afternoon sun. It has to be.”
Duece shuffled his feet, he had no smart-ass remark for this, “So what now?” He had tears welling up in his eyes. Mandy did as well, and she hugged Duece with all her might.
“Yeah, are you going back for the kids?” she asked.
Zwain thought about all the times he had waited for this moment. A chance to go home. A chance to get back to save the kids. Then he wondered if this was the same portal, will this return him to mere moments after he went missing, or will it be seven years later. He had no idea how this portal worked and Chris was not here to explain it to him.
In his current state, could he even hope to save those kids. He was getting soft around the edges these days. So many variables ran through his mind. He stared back at the portal, his mind racing. Zwain reflected on all that he done since coming here. Meeting Tony, starting the band. The way that they have stood behind him this past week. Zwain turned around and face them.
“For seven years this has been my home. I have thought about returning to wastelands numerous times. I’m still thinking about it, but I’ve come to the realization that home is not a place out there for me to return to, but a place in here,” he pounded a fist into his heart, ” a place where you feel the most welcomed. Now, I will not let what happened to those kids happen ever again, but if I were to go and try to save them right now it would be suicide. That helps nobody. At least if I stay back here, I can make a difference. A difference that might change the future enough so that my future never even comes to be. I guess you could say… I am home… And what in the hell are you looking at?” he said glaring a Duece.
“Just seeing if your hand is going to start disappearing. Anyone up for a round of ‘Johnny B. Goode’?”
Zwain rolled his eyes and smiled, “You little shithead. Come here!” Zwain stepped forward to start up a group hug, but stopped in his tracks. The look of horror on Tony’s face caught him off guard. Mandy’s face also twisted into an expression of sheer fright as she clung to Duece. Duece’s eyes flicked up over Zwain’s shoulder and his mouth opened in a silent yell.
Zwain turned just in time to see green hulking monsters charge out of the portal.