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Tensions and rivalries run wild when Voyager passes through a region of space known for their shared love of music.
21st - 23rd, 26th - 29th November 2018
2nd, 10th - 14th, 16th - 19th, 23rd, 24th December 2018
22nd & 29th December 2001
26th January 2002
Crowds of angry people pushing homemade banners and signs as high as they could swarmed an already busy town square. The star had barely peeked over the horizon, the air extremely chilly. Street lamps were starting to dim, leaving only the flashing signs and screen sprawled across every side of every building as the only decent source of light. At least until every since screen changed to a man holding a microphone, with the crowd behind him.
"This is Hourly News live at the entertainment district. What you're seeing here is only a fraction of the scenes playing out across the planet after last week's..." the man stopped to emote shock, he also shuddered from the cold, "dramatics. We've never seen a reaction quite like this." As if on cue a fight broke out in the middle of the crowd, it quickly spread.
The reporter quickly moved out of the way so the camera could get a better shot. "How can a harmless, peaceful competition turn into such a violent, disgraceful show of events? A lot of people are calling for disqualification, while others are torn over whether to cancel or postpone the festivities." So much shouting from the brawl behind him almost drowned him out. The camera focused on a group tearing up another's banner.
"Breaking news!" the man bellowed into his mic, bringing the camera back on him with his finger by his ear. "The tour are arriving. We go now live to our orbital cameras. Now remember, be civil folks."
All of the screens changed once again to darkness, most of the crowd fell eerily silent. A few ships appeared abruptly from warp, prompting all sorts of mixed cheers and jeers from the crowd. One of the vessels the cameras focused on most of all; Voyager.
The crowd were deafening by the time it circled out of the camera's view. The man raised his microphone volume so he could be heard while other ships arrived, "amazing, the atmosphere here is tense and electric. No one knows what will happen over the next few days. One thing is for sure, we're in for one hell of a show."
On board Voyager, a few were watching the same thing at the Conference Room table. Unlike the town square, they did so in a tense silence. Even Neelix looked like he was ready to give up.
"If you've been living in your cellar the last few weeks, you'll be wondering 'just how did this happen?'. Well, lets take a look, shall we...?"
Kathryn touched a little panel beside her to turn it off.
"That's a no," Tom glumly said.
For once no one scolded or glared at him for breaking the silence.
Kathryn shook her head, "yes... lets talk about it." Nearly everyone looked on, shocked. "But I want to hear it from you." Her eyes pointed towards one corner of the table, the occupants there grew increasingly uncomfortable.
Three Weeks Earlier
The usual people were at their usual places. Everyone's eyes were on Tom as he worked at his station.
"Bring us into orbit, Mr Paris," Kathryn ordered.
"Yes ma'am," Tom said without taking his eyes off the console.
"As soon as we're in orbit set us to auto pilot," Chakotay ordered.
"Aye sir," Tom said.
"Harry, lets see the planet," Kathryn said.
Harry nodded in response, and he worked on his console.
The viewscreen changed its view to show a beautiful green and blue planet. The light from a nearby star was reflecting off the northern atmosphere.
"What a beautiful planet. Maybe I should extend shoreleave so we can spend Christmas here. Nothing could possibly go wrong this year," Kathryn said.
Everyone glanced at each other nervously. Almost, Chakotay eyed her half empty mug of coffee with a frown.
"I'm getting the heebie jeebies here," Harry stuttered.
Jessie nodded, "yeah me too."
"Kathryn," Chakotay whispered to get Kathryn's attention. She swayed across towards him, pressing her elbow on the arm rest and leaned on her hand, a smile spread across her face. "Did you put more than one spoonful in again?"
"No," Kathryn answered, pouting on purpose, "what's everyone's problem? If we stay put, what could happen?"
Chakotay noticed the serving spoon sitting halfway down a jar of coffee by her feet.
"Oh I don't know, remember last year?" Tom chuckled.
A lot of the bridge had to stop and think about what he meant since it was the least eventful.
"We barely got out alive," Harry laughed awkwardly.
Tom swivelled his chair around, "I know right, but in my defence, the nebula was shaped like a tree." The two of them laughed at the memory.
Kathryn scowled, "what are you little boys talking about? What nebula?"
Tom and Harry stopped laughing abruptly with a squeak as if they lost the ability to breathe. For Harry it certainly felt that way too.
Jessie smiled and looked over her shoulder, "oh you mean the time when you drunk drove into an alien's fireworks festival and started wailing Christmas songs over a lightyear radius?" The two stared at her accusingly, Tom used a zipping motion across his lips. "That was a good year, but weren't we supposed to keep it a secret?" she giggled instead.
Kathryn growled intensely. Chakotay meanwhile fished the coffee jar up to refill her mug, his hand shaking fiercely.
Tom grit his teeth, "I hate you so much."
"Then my work here is done," Jessie smiled.
"Phew saved by the comm," Harry muttered under his breath. "Captain, the Z5 is hailing us."
"Is that the Goth one or the one built by a colourblind ninny?" Kathryn asked in a hush tone.
Chakotay smirked, "Goth, one of." He sat up straight and tried to look serious, "on screen."
The viewscreen's image changed once again to show the bridge of the Z5. They were greeted by Lilly hogging the Captain's chair while her brother sulked behind her.
"Oh, there's two of them," Kathryn realised, then slouched in her chair to finish her mug.
Chakotay laughed nervously, "what's the matter? Please don't tell us that these people have rules someone like Tom will break, or customs that Tom will offend."
Tom frowned, "double the hey!"
"No, apparently big bro's dealt with this sector a few times. It used to be war central here yonks ago, so we've been buying all their leftovers, so to speak," Lilly replied.
Dave cleared his throat, cueing an annoyed glance up. "Tell them about the Tour."
"I was getting to that!" Lilly hissed with wide eyes. He matched her stare when she turned to face Voyager. "It looks like we've arrived just in time for the annual peace tour."
"Oh I can't wait to miss it," Tom said.
Jessie rolled her eyes, "that's why you're insulted twice."
Lilly sniggered behind her hand. "No apparently it's quite fun."
Dave saw his moment and stepped forward. "Yeah we joined in last year while we were in between letters." He noticed a few confused stares on Voyager's bridge. Kathryn got it and laughed, at least he thought she did but she did have a coffee by her lips. "The Y range weren't our proudest moment."
"Why?" Duncan piped up. Everyone but Jessie were shocked as they hadn't seen him, or knew he was around. Jessie laughed and picked him up from under her console.
"Oh, between the Dellia X-One Million and Z1. Okay go on," Tom said.
Lilly didn't look amused, "great stuff, you should take part in the tour."
"Oh god, no. I plan to go this year," Dave stammered fearfully. The exchange got everyone curious. "It's a competition instead of a war. The races here decided to settle their differences peacefully by doing something they all enjoyed."
Kathryn perked up, "oh please be coffee."
Lilly decided to ignore her and direct her answer to Chakotay. "A music contest." Kathryn groaned in disappointment.
"Ohno, nobody tell the Doctor," Chakotay stuttered. "The last thing we need is his ego boosted."
Harry looked very interested, "oh like instrument playing?" Jessie shuddered, only Duncan and the Liger crew saw. They quickly shook their heads. "Aaaw."
"No it's a teamwork event. Each planet submit at least one musical act to take part. Unfortunately we've missed the auditions," Lilly said.
Dave looked confused for a moment but she elbowed him. He nodded sympathetically. "But we've been invited to follow the tour and watch, take part. It's a hoot. Now if you'll excuse me for no reason." He ran off. Everyone could hear him shouting, "Kim, no I don't trust you with the drums!"
Lilly rolled her eyes up, "he's aged more than I have but he's still the teen moron who fancied himself as a rock star. Lame."
Kathryn glanced briefly at Chakotay with a tiny smirk on her face. "So Tom and Harry can still audition after all? I could do with a good laugh," Kathryn said.
"Hey," both Tom and Harry complained. However Harry wasn't done, "he only knows how to play one song on the recorder, and it's terrible." Tom glared at his friend.
Chakotay shook his head, "when does the tour leave this planet? Do we have time to have a look around like we planned?"
Lilly nodded, "oh sure. Apparently this planet won last year and they have this all day festival before they go. That's why it's so busy in orbit. We start here and circle around for the final."
"I suggest we let the crew decide if they want to stay here, or follow the tour," Chakotay said.
Kathryn thought about it, sipped her coffee, then nodded. "Within reason of course," she said with a straight face. It slipped into a giggle, "maybe Doctor and Neelix can join Harry's band and do their own YMCA dance. Then we can call them the Annoying People."
Chakotay took the mug off her since it looked empty, then he noticed it wasn't and what was left looked a bit milky and lumpy. One sniff took his breath away, the fumes were already giving him a hangover. "Tom?" he groaned threateningly. As soon as he looked up Tom had vanished, but his chair was swinging around on the spot. He heard the turbolift door close.
Lena and Kiara were heading towards a small cafe in the middle of a town. It was summer at this part of the planet, so the sun was shining brightly and people were walking around with light clothes on.
"I still don't see why I have to put up with you," Lena muttered.
Kiara smiled, "cos mum's busy getting her stomach pumped and dad's pestering his animal guide."
Lena sighed a little impatiently when they reached the cafe. Kiara was about to go inside when Lena noticed a poster, so stopped to look at it. Kiara waited in the doorway.
"It's probably that tour thing Naomi was going on about," Kiara said in a dreary voice.
Lena tried to read the poster but she couldn't. Her gaze travelled back to the picture that caught her eye in the first place; a massive stage surrounded by speakers with five people with blurred faces holding microphones. "I thought it was some boring old snooze trip. It's a music competition?"
Kiara groaned and stepped out from the door, allowing it to close. "I hope you're not thinking of entering."
"Why not?" Lena huffed in offense.
"Come on Lena, this is a legit thing with stages and crowds bigger than the Mess Hall," Kiara chuckled. Lena's eyes narrowing didn't put her off, it encouraged her. "You can't show up and sing cheesy covers, you'll be laughed off."
Lena laughed mockingly, "how would some aliens know they're covers? How do you know if there is or isn't a penalty about it?"
"Alright," Kiara pretended to sound annoyed with a sparkle in her eye, "if you insist on embarrassing yourself, I will too..." Lena snorted slightly and bit her lip, Kiara blushed. "Take part, not embarrass myself."
"I know what you meant," Lena giggled. This time Kiara was offended. "You do a couple songs when everyone's pissed, and you think you're a band."
"Better than doing one song when you and everyone are pissed, and thinking you're a band," Kiara said mischievously.
Somebody inside the cafe made the mistake of leaving it. They stepped out just in time to witness a second hand Janeway stare.
"I'm serious. We've done a lot more since, you haven't. You'll not last," Lena said.
"What makes you think you will? Craig's flat and tone deaf, your routines are all over the place so you all sound wobbly, and you sound like Tom pretending to do an impression of a woman," Kiara grumbled.
Lena gasped angrily, "you... I was just putting it on, I don't do that any... we don't speak of that anymore!"
Kiara laughed at her again, "okay squeaky. Now you don't have anything remotely interesting about you. Good luck." Lena's darkening scowl killed off any amusement she had left.
The man who had left the cafe carefully stepped closer, sweating a little. "Excuse me." He was immediately stared at, "um perhaps you'd like an automatic translator menu? We have a..."
Lena snatched one from him, Kiara hoped the thought of food would calm her down a bit. "Listen, that interesting comment was a little too..." Kiara said.
"I know, you're not really sorry but you gotta innocent little brat rep to keep," Lena muttered. She snapped the menu closed while Kiara's jaw dropped. "I'll have the round, pizza looking thing." With little care she pushed the menu towards Kiara's hands, expecting her to take it.
"You know why I really came with you? I was trying, but you can forget it," Kiara huffed and stormed off.
Lena rolled her eyes, "yep, there it is. Everything's my fault, nothing's yours!"
"I'm telling!" Kiara shouted back at her.
"Wow, I never saw that coming," Lena said clearly sarcastically. She noticed the waiter staring at her nervously. "Do I get my own table or...?" He panicked and showed her in.
Many of the vessels in orbit of the planet began to break away in packs. A group of four shot into warp, all going in the same direction. Voyager joined the second bunch, along with their Liger allies.
Little did either crew know their launch was watched by the excited millions of people on numerous worlds.
The atmosphere was more than a little awkward as Lena lead her bandmates into the Holodeck, ranting all the way.
Once inside there was finally a very brief breather. Jessie took full advantage of it, "so we're auditioning for a music contest so you can humiliate Kiara? Where do I sign?" she said the last part overdramatically.
"Oh please, that's not it," Lena grumbled. "I would've done it anyway, and I've already sent in the audition."
Craig did a double take, "oh god, I'm sorry. I didn't think I drank that much last night."
Lena stared, befuddled at him. "What? No, I have old footage of our performances. I sent them. Apparently that's allowed if we're late to the auditions."
James shook his head and sighed, looking indifferent to everything. "So, why are we here then?"
"Duh," Lena scoffed, "we're in. We've got to practice our first song."
"Right," James sighed, averting his eyes to the side.
Jessie frantically glanced between them, "no, it's not alright. Maybe you should have asked us first before entering us all into this competition. I'm okay with performing in front of no more than a hundred, after a drink or two, but this? How many people are going to be watching?"
Lena shrugged absentmindedly, "I dunno, thousands." Jessie's face drained of all colour. "Oh come on, you can't see how a hundred people are reacting, so what difference does it make?"
"A few dozen more drinks, it seems," Craig tried to lighten the mood. Jessie glared him into a puddle of goo for the trouble.
The doors opened again to the group's confusion. Lena scowled at the three new arrivals. "Ohno," she stomped over to get in their way, "we were here first."
Kiara clicked her tongue then sighed. "It wasn't reserved and there was no program running. We can't all be telepathic superheroes, you know."
Naomi meekly turned to the side to face only Kiara, "maybe we should practise somewhere else."
"No, there's nowhere else," Kiara protested.
"Don't tell me the pre-schoolers got in," Lena sniggered. The rest of her group all tensed and looked away.
Kiara's brow lowered, "apparently they liked our maturer style."
"Whiny songs are mature, who knew?" Lena muttered.
Craig hurriedly stepped forward, clearing his throat. "It's okay, the Holodeck can be anything we want. We can both use it." The two girls stared at him blankly, making him laugh nervously. "We can take turns?"
Kiara shrivelled up her face in disgust, "so I have to watch my tart of a mother prance around and screech, while you three sway in the back? No thanks."
"Oh," Lena growled, stepping right up to her, "who are you calling a tart?"
"I thought you would like that since it's another word for food," Kiara said indifferently.
Craig cringed and made a little whiny sound, "or the other group can wait outside?"
James shook his head, he intentionally did a loud sigh to get their attention. "Or like what I thought Craig was going to suggest, divide the Holodeck into two different rooms. One each."
"That figures," Craig scoffed. For the third time in five minutes he was stared at, once again by Jessie and this time James as well.
"Meaning?" Jessie asked with a dangerous glint in her eye.
Craig's eyes widened, he started to shake. "No meaning, just blabbing."
"Fine, but can our room be soundproof?" Kiara said flippantly.
Lena's eye twitched, "yeah, we don't want to hear you lot."
Everyone else groaned.
"So how many words are you carefully handing out to your bandmates?" Kiara asked sweetly.
"Why do you always bring your only fan onto the stage, it looks really awkward," Lena asked back while glancing toward Bryan.
The rest of Lena's group walked off to the side. Jessie massaged the bridge of her nose, "forget different rooms, we need different quadrants."
James briefly smiled, "I'll start with different buildings. Go from there." He walked off to the arch computer.
"This isn't going to be easy," Craig sighed sadly.
Jessie nodded, "I know, thousands of people watching, judging me. I dunno how I'm going to manage."
Craig suddenly grew very nervous. "I was going to suggest what my school teacher told me, but..." he shuddered violently, "knowing my luck, Neelix would be front row."
"Er..." Jessie didn't get what he meant at first. When she did she twisted her face.
Fortunately for the both of them the grid faded away, and in its place a small stage inside a long hall appeared. James walked back over to the rest of the group. "I just duplicated the one we use." He looked across at the two temporarily not arguing teens nearby gazing around. "They're exactly the same. There's nothing to fight about."
"Don't look at me, I never start the fights, she does," Kiara said.
Lena stopped and glared at her, "I start the fights, do I?"
"Erm, can I just butt in? If we don't start practising, neither band has a chance at winning this competition," Craig said.
Lena and Kiara glanced at one another. They both nodded eventually.
"Ok, we're getting this stage," Kiara said.
"No, we were here first. It's not far to the other stage!" Lena yelled.
Everyone groaned yet again.
The air space around the first destination seemed to be even busier than the last planet. A musty red looking planet covered in lights. Ships were flying haphazardly all over.
Voyager attempted to get into their assigned parking spot at one of the orbital stations, but had to give way for a couple of identical ships with flashing lights on the top whizzing by.
They were told that the arena was at the quiet part of town, right in the outskirts. The visitor's land shuttle had been driving for a good hour through bustling city streets with blinking lights everywhere, the buildings so high they could barely see the sky. When they could, lots of different shuttles would fly over, all in the same direction they were going.
"I don't see why we couldn't just beam to our dressing room," Jessie said. The streets they were driving through were getting busier with people, the knot in her throat was tightening.
Sitting across from her, Dave shrugged nonchalantly. "It's all part of the tour experience. I'm not too keen on it either..." A man serving drinks stopped to serve the opposite of the bus, completely distracting him. Of course he took two glasses.
Lena tried to as well. James beside her though took one of them to down immediately. She stared in shock and anger at him. "Thanks," he said while she was still frozen, and took the other one too.
Opposite them, Craig shrunk down into his seat fearfully. "Oh god, swap with you?" he asked in Jessie's direction. She was too busy downing her own glass to notice.
Lena waited until James had finished the second glass before slapping him in the shoulder. "What's the matter with you, you greedy sod?"
"Oh god that's horrible," James grimaced, angering her further.
Craig didn't wait, he dashed over to squeeze next to Jessie and the unknown Liger guy she was stuck next to.
"You want to win this, don't you?" James asked, daring to look the dangerous Lena glare in the eye. "We won't if you're passed out after two sips."
Jessie meanwhile peered across, but not at them but at Craig inadvertently pushing her neighbours thigh into hers. "You know, if you'd sat with your bandmates, we wouldn't be putting up with this."
The man smiled warmly at her despite being constantly nudged. "Oh I don't mind, I wanted the closest seat to your group. I love you guys," he said.
Jessie shuddered and looked away, instantly creeped out. "Remind me not to be last on the bus again."
The shuttle came to a stop. A few were confused since the noise outside didn't sound like it was in the quiet outskirts. Jessie decided against peering outside again, what with all the screaming and chanting.
"Oh," Dave laughed at the same time the doors opened, "this is it." He tapped Kim sitting behind him, "come on guys, first out, first remembered." The man in between Jessie and Craig got up.
Lena got up as well, staring expectantly at her bandmates. "Guys, come on." She hurried after the previous four, only for the two sitting opposite her to get in the way.
"Sorry mumsie, comic relief is last," Kiara giggled. She and Bryan followed the Liger group to the doors.
"Then why is the Z5 crew going first?" Lena protested. She heard a small excuse me behind her. She peered over her shoulder and saw Naomi meekly pointing ahead. "Oh fine, best till last."
Outside the three groups were quickly mobbed by what looked like hundreds of people. Only a low fence stood between them; they couldn't get over it but they could still reach out and grab anyone if they wanted. A few friendly looking aliens on their side lead them to the steps leading up to a lit up arena.
Jessie looked around anxiously, her body shook and her heart raced. She still followed everyone, but not before discreetly sliding her hand into one of James's. He gave her a smile and her hand a gentle squeeze back as they made their up the many steps.
Inside the massive arena, the stage seemed to be the literal centre of attention, surrounded by thousands of seats in a staircase/cinema style. What looked like the occasional balcony had the camera crews all finalising their setup. The first to finish pulled a little lever to detach it from the wall and fly around slowly until they found their preferred spot.
The lights dimmed until they were off completely, leaving the crowd buzzing with excitement. During the chants and screams, the stage lit up with sparklers encircling the perimetre.
"Ladies and gentlemen. It's that time of year again!" a man's voice announced over the speakers. The crowd roared their approval. "We have ten amazing acts and their ten debut songs, but only eight spots are available for the next gig. Let the battle begin!"
While a lot of the Voyager and Dellia crew had mixed in with the crowds, one crewmember wasn't particular chuffed to be watching it from the tiny screen next to the Flyer's helm controls, especially when another signal made the picture speckle.
"Try narrowing the bandwidth," Neelix suggested helpfully.
Tom grumbled over the top of the announcer welcome the first act to the stage. Neelix hurried over and hurtled onto the back of Tom's chair just as he fixed the picture. However the view of the stage was slightly obscured by a tiny second window in the corner, where two aliens were yammering away excitedly. On the small screen, it made a massive difference.
"Why is there nowhere to park on this..." Tom grumbled while eying the metropolis, "floating city."
"We could've beamed down," Neelix reminded him.
Tom huffed, "hardly." He reached for the volume control.
"First up looks to be our host's group; 54X!" one of the announcers said as music started picking up. Tom could just make out two people emerging from the stage floor. He felt his chair wobble, making him glare backwards.
"It's not them," he said.
"So?" Neelix grinned, he reached over to turn the volume up to Tom's dismay. The lead singer had a scratchy, screaming singing style, it left his ears ringing. Neelix bopped his head along to the guitar-like playing.
In the arena itself the loud duo was even louder and agonising for the ones who didn't like it, which were the majority of the Voyager crew. Once they were done the duo were overwhelmed by applause.
To mostly everyone's relief, the follow up act named LG calmed everything down with a rousing ballad that had people swaying their arms.
Directly under the stage, a few hundred feet down, Kiara and Bryan stood waiting next to a lift, anxiously looking around.
Naomi hurried in, neither of her bandmates were surprised she'd changed her outfit and put up her hair. She though was waving a PADD around. "Why do I only get the whiny bit at the end?"
Kiara sighed impatiently, "we had all day to practise this, and now you bring it up?"
A group of workers hurried over to them. The one with their own PADD tapped on it and stepped forward, "you're up next. Are you ready?"
"But even Bryan gets more than me," Naomi complained. Bryan pouted and glanced away.
The workers glanced in between each other.
"It's my song, and it makes more sense for me to sing certain parts. I can do it better," Kiara said.
Naomi gasped, "no you can't!"
Bryan's shoulders sank, he meekly shook his head at the group.
"It's alright," the lead person said in a tone that didn't sound alright. They hurried off, talking about winging it.
Neelix perked up as the stage seemed to grow into a circular staircase. "Oh, this one's got to be good."
Tom wasn't listening, he spotted a tiny gap in between two large vessels. Poppy music started playing which he would've recognised had he been listening. Neelix started to clap along.
"Oh, I think this is one of our guests. I can't wait to see what kind of music they have."
"Tell me about it Jepp, apparently they have a vast array of styles. But with only three bands, we might only hear some."
"Better than none, I say..."
With the four tier staircase fully revealed, various colours intermittently flashed around it, lighting up the dark arena in flickering rainbows.
Two entrances appeared on different sides of the first tier vertically, but all the crowd could see were silhouettes standing, posed. Microphone stands emerged from the floor in front of them. A few eagle eyes noticed another appear in between the two doors.
The music picked up when another person was brought up to top of the fourth tier. The crowd cheered and screamed as the lights shone on the three people instead, revealing them.
Lena and Craig stepped out from their doors, Lena waved as she went to take her microphone. The one at the top raised her head and handheld one, her body shaking as she prepared to sing the first verse.
"Here I fly, in a lost and lonely part of space." Many applauded her, but still Jessie's whole body was tense. She thought she'd feel better once James joined her from the rising platform behind her. "Once again, Tani's creeping, I'll slap her face," she shakily sang, then gestured the microphone to the side.
James, previously with his back to her, took the microphone and swung around to sing his part. He offered his other hand to her at the same time, which she gratefully squeezed for as long as she could as she strode down the stairs.
"Going home, I just can't hold it back no more. I really should be..." Craig and Lena started pushing their arms out one at a time. "Judging you." Jessie reached the bottom where the spare microphone stand was just in time to join in with the hand motions. "Avoiding you, hating you, blaming you!" James' voice raised each time. It felt a bit overwhelming for him to hear it across an entire stadium.
The rest of the group pumped their arms up gradually to encourage the crowd. It did the trick, the crowd loved it.
"Tragedy!" The whole group sang while dropping their hands, or in James' case his not microphone hand, over beside their mouths as if they were overdramatically gasping. They quickly began an energetic routine on the spot. "When the coke is gone and life's pissing you off it's tragedy." Their hands did the same ohno gesture at tragedy.
"When Seven cries and you don't care why." Lena rubbed her fist under her eye and pouted. "It's hard to hear," the group brought an open stretched hand up to their ears.
"With so much annoying you, we're going nowhere." They all opened their arms and shrugged, while glancing from the left to right.
At the end of the first chorus, the three members at the bottom rhythmically walked away from their microphones in a circle. James meanwhile jumped down a few times to join them at Jessie's previous spot, discreetly handing his microphone to Lena as she passed by him. She turned inward to go up the same path he came down, while he took her place in the circuit, only until he reached the next stand. Jessie and Craig stopped as well, leaving Craig in the centre this time.
He gulped nervously, hoping his few drinks would kick in any second. "Sight of you, there's a yearning down inside of me." Jessie and James slowly clapped over their heads, the audience followed suit. Meanwhile Lena got to the top and stood, posed. Craig finished his verse, secretly thankful his wasn't changed much from the last time like the others.
"Down they go, I just can't take your crap no more," Lena sang loudly with a kick to her voice. "I really should be hating you, ignoring you." The group once again egged the crowd on with arm pumping.
By the second half of the chorus, a lot of the audience were on their feet, dancing along. The ones who weren't sure if they liked this new style still subconsciously nodded their heads to the beat.
"When you jump in time and everyone lies, it's hard to fare. With no end in sight, we're going nowhere."
Typically that was the part where Tom finally tuned in, and abruptly too, his head turned so fast he felt his neck twinch. "Wait they changed the song again, did they say anything about me this time? After everything, they better..."
"No, shh!" Neelix snapped in response.
Tom's eyes widened, mouthing ok. Then he returned to flipping his fingers at the guy on the other side of the window giving him a ticket.
Back in the arena, the changing lights flew around the room, temporarily clouding the crowd's view of the group changing positions and the microphone stands lowering into the ground. The music built up once more alongside the band's clapping.
The final chorus, their routine picked up as well and they sang through the handheld mics.
"Tragedy! When aliens invade and a mummy's chasing you, it's tragedy! When Damien's back and you can't help sigh, it's hard, don't glare. With so much deception, we're going nowhere."
The song ended with a bang and pose, the audience erupted into further cheers.
"Wow, give our newcomers Virus a warm welcome everybody! Thank you!" The voice waited for the audience to cool off a bit. "Next up it's who you've all been hearing about this week, fresh from their tour of Nutropa. It's Party Crashers!"
Even though that was followed by mountains of cheers, just as loud as Virus's, a lot of people appeared to be choosing that time to go to the bathroom or get more drinks.
Once they started their performance, Kathryn wished she had done the same thing. The two female youngsters strode around the stage, rapping in an alien language while pulling faces. After ten seconds, she couldn't take it anymore and left anyway.
Most of the ones that left returned when they heard the finishing cheers, but they weren't much better off with the next act.
"How are you doing, Rova!" a man squealed as if his voice hadn't broke yet.
The woman beside him laughed nasally. "Since this week's theme is First's, we have our amazing number one smash, Rock Your Umbrella."
"Um, this looks um..." Harry said very nervously. He noticed the crowd didn't look that impressed either. Only a few awkward claps and a woooo from a random audience member.
In the quiet empty foyer, Kathryn walked away from a stand with her tray of coffees. Even she could hear the screechy wails and the nasally shouts from the duo. Still she snickered and remained where she was, slurping one of her drinks through a straw.
A frazzled looking Tom stomped past her, ignoring Neelix's plea's to get souvenirs, grumbling about fascist ticket people and parallel parking. Neelix overheard the noise coming from the arena and decided to ditch him for the souvenir stand.
It didn't take long for Tom to rush back into the foyer with bleeding ears, swaying from side to side as if he had been knocked out.
Finally the song was over and so Kathryn shoved him out of the way to return to her seat. Neelix ran after her carrying programme booklets, a t-shirt and some flashy strobe lights.
For some unknown reason, the next act had to be delayed to allow the poor audience to recover from their torture. Fortunately for the alien majority, the next act was a teenaged pretty boyband singing love songs as if to the audience individually.
Next up were Dave and his entourage; Carly, Kim and the weird guy from the shuttle bus. Kim had been relegated to keyboard with a tiny microphone so she was pouting all the time. Carly had something that looked like a saxophone, but closer to recorder size. Finally the strange guy manned the drums, earning him a few occasional scowls from Kim. Dave had a guitar hanging from his shoulders.
"How are you all? We're Alright! Are you having a Special Night?" Dave shouted the last bit too closely into his microphone, it squealed for half a second afterwards. "Hit it."
When Dave sprung the guitar once, Kim started awkwardly tapping the keyboard, while the nameless guy drummed. Occasionally Dave repeated the same beginning notes in time. Carly awkwardly bopped around on the spot with her instrument to the music, which was a little upbeat and pretty repetitive.
"How are you, on this special night," Dave sang while firstly rising his voice up a note, then down again. The keyboard and his guitar playing followed the same tune. He repeated the same line again. "I met you on this warm special night," he sang similarly.
Carly looked alarmed and quickly went to play her instrument as if she forgot. The rest of the band didn't react if she did.
"Now we're alone, soon I can't deny," Dave and Kim sang together, she stopped playing the keyboard. "My love for you, is so true," Kim pulled a face while she sang that part. "Now can we meet, on the dancefloor. So we can show everyone how tonight." He sprung the guitar a few times. Carly and Kim once again swapped playing for the chorus.
Once it was done, the Voyager and mortified Dellia crew were surprised they got any claps. Some did sound polite though.
Unaware of the latter, Dave lead his band back under the stage with a wide grin. That was until he saw his snickering sister. "What? The theme is first songs."
Lilly bit her bottom lip to stop from laughing in his face. "Yeah, it must've been hard to learn those five notes."
The next group had no trouble following Alright's act. Their energetic, musical play-esque performance got many standing ovations and screams.
Under the stage Kiara watched the entire thing, sweating bullets. Bryan was too busy being fussed over by his mum and still delirious dad to have time to be nervous. Naomi didn't seem bothered, but she was nose deep in her PADD, reading aloud quietly. Her mother kept trying to fix her hair and occasionally scrub her cheek with a hanky, but she kept batting her away.
Kiara looked around at her bandmates helplessly, then around for anyone to fuss over her.
"Mum, why did you tell him?" Bryan moaned, temporarily distracting her.
B'Elanna glanced at Tom, then back at her son. "I didn't. Dunno how he got in here actually." She gave her husband a little nudge, waking him up slightly, just in time to see the duo he witnessed torturing everyone pass by. He screamed and ran off.
Kiara sighed and shook her head. No one was there but it could be worse, she thought. They were soon called to the lift and handed their microphones.
The moment the lift brought her to the stage, she was blinded by the lights which made the audience look like a moving blur to her. It helped until she heard her band announced and the roar of the crowd.
A couple of unknown crewmembers with guitars started to play a downtempo tune, almost depressing. Bryan nervously stepped up for the first verse, which he did very shakily and flat. People still cheered for him anyway.
The music picked up and the two girls joined in for the chorus. Near the end of it, Kiara's vision cleared up a bit and the audience started to look like people. Nerves tried to push her back under the stage, but then she saw Kathryn and Chakotay ten rows from the front, smiling and waving.
"I'm wasting my time," Kiara near whispered into the mic, "cos there's no justice here in this trial." She tried to raise the volume of her voice, "you're way out of line, when you ignore my innocence and deny it."
The chorus roared into life again, the three band members felt a bit more at ease the second and third time around.
"So don't expect me to let you in," Naomi sang next and softly, which clashed with the guitar riffs. The crowd loved it though. "This is just a game, with no players. No one will win."
Kiara repeated her previous line and the chorus kicked off again. "Gotta be kidding, what do you want? What's going on inside your head? You gotta be kidding, look what you've done. If I'm alive or dead..."
The music trailed to a near stop, only a string kept getting plucked occasionally. "That's all you need to know," Kiara sang quietly over the top of it.
They were more than relieved they weren't booed from the stage and got an applause, nothing like the one for the act before them. It was enough for Kiara and she left the stage with a smile.
The final band took the stage, everyone underneath could hear the crowd clapping and hooting along to the catchy, summery beat.
On the way back to the dressing rooms she spotted Lena talking with Jessie in the corridors. Lena eventually spotted her and turned to look, but Kiara turned on her heel and stomped off.
"Fine," Lena grunted, rolling her eyes.
Jessie looked on awkwardly as a voice rang over the intercom. "And that's it, our polls are now open. Every citizen gets one vote. Use it wisely. The results will be compiled and announced in eighty minutes."
Lena smiled mostly out of relief. Jessie noticed and frowned, which made Lena slip into a grin. "We were the best there, easily. No problem," she said.
"Will all contestants make sure to be in the announcement room within the final forty minutes," a different voice announced, just for the understage.
Jessie didn't notice she had a lump in her throat until she tried to swallow. "If you say so."
James approached them, trying to smile. "Well, we were at least better than the Earplugs Wanted over there," he said while gesturing towards a few of the groups walking toward them. The rappers passed by, practising some of their rhymes. The universal translator had a hell of a time and gave up after a sentence.
Lena watched them until they turned the corner out of sight. "Wait, they're actually called that? Appropriate."
"I meant." James waited for the other duo to pass by before answering, "I-Great."
Lena snorted a little. Jessie groaned, knowing what was coming. "Aaaw, yes we were," Lena mocked him like a child.
Craig rushed out of their dressing room looking panicked. "Do you guys know how long minutes are here?" He got blank stares as his answer. "Yeah, we'd better get to this announcement room before we're disqualified." He ran off after the other bands.
The rest of Virus followed him with unsure looks on their faces.
Turned out that they were waiting with all the other groups in a room full of tables and chairs for over an hour before a camera crew showed up. The only screen which lined the wall was turned on by one of them, which showed the host at the circle stage. A little window appeared beside him, showing everyone the announcement room live.
"Oh crap," Jessie said through gritted teeth as she adjusted her hair, then slouched down in her seat.
"Our polls are closed and the results are in!" the announcer shouted, with approval from the audience. "In no particular order, the bands that are going to Darjhan next week are...?" He of course dragged it out for a good minute. "LG!"
Kathryn meanwhile rolled her eyes toward Chakotay. "Oh for god's sake, this is almost as bad as Neelix's Who's Pie Is It Anyway segment. We all know it was Tuvok's cos the tasters are still alive." Chakotay laughed quietly.
A few more bands were named, followed by their reaction shots. Six remained when the announcer shouted, "Virus!"
Lena shot out of her chair, giving poor Craig nearly heart failure. "Yes I did it, I knew it!" She turned around and did a fist pump, "I beat ya Kiara, neener neener."
Kiara pouted and looked away, while the rest of Virus were mortified that her reaction was on camera. Fortunately the sound of the audience drowned out her gloating.
"Lena, do I have to remind you of your age?" Craig asked.
"Nah," Lena laughed.
James shook his head and sighed, "he said it was no particular order."
"Even if it was, we don't know which way he's going. It could be worst to best," Jessie added on.
"Spoil sports," Lena huffed and sat down.
"And the final band definitely going to Darjhan are..." the announcer said with a cheeky glint in his eye. "Alright!"
Most of the room turned towards the equally baffled Liger band. Kiara covered her face as it turned bright red, hoping no one could see her.
"Okay, so we all know the rules but our guests do not," the announcer said. "The four bands with the least votes remain, two must go. How do we choose? Well, a battle to the death of course." He paused dramatically and the audience laughed it off. He smiled again, "no seriously, it's still in no particular order. The next band going to Darjhan is..."
B'Elanna meanwhile looked ready to blow as she rolled up her sleeves. "I'm going to wring his neck, that piece of sh..."
Beside her Tom looked startled and glanced around. "What... when did I leave the Flyer?"
"Pulse!" the announcer shouted.
Tom instantly started clapping erratically. "Yeah that's my boy." He watched the stage expectantly. B'Elanna stared at him blankly until he noticed the reaction shot. "Um, this is a weird performance."
Only the two duos and the boyband remained. The atmosphere in the stadium was tense. All but Kathryn who was already walking out the door for a refill.
"Number One are through," the announcer finally said. The cheers for the boyband were deafening. "That means we have to say goodbye to the wonderful Party Crashers and er..." even his professionalism was slipping at the thought of saying the other band's name, "the I-Great."
"Oh good, less torture," Lena sighed in relief, briefly glancing back at the two rappers.
They all jumped at the sound of an ear-piercing shrill shriek. The source, apparently the woman from the screechy duo's sobs. A few people did start to feel sorry for them until she started batting a few sympathisers away. "Get your plebeian hands off me. I am the great Anna-Rei. These people don't know good music and talent."
"I know, we are too good for this place," the man very squeakily replied. Everyone near them shuddered and walked away from them.
Very early the following morning Voyager and the rest of the tour started their departure from the planet, travelling only at impulse.
Inside the Conference Room, the three visitor bands sat or stood around the table with a couple of officials. Most of them were struggling to keep awake.
"It gets harder from round two. It's no walk in the streets," one of the officials said. "You can't re-use songs, and you have to comply with the themes. The final is band's choice, so I'd save your best couple until then."
The other official laughed to himself, "but they could be the only suitable ones for a previous week's theme. I suggest saving more than two."
"Yes but you have to get to the final, so you need some good ones to get the votes," the first official said. She looked around the table at very tired faces. "The themes are also random. The citizens suggest, we run a poll."
"What if we don't have anything that suits the theme?" James asked.
The first official shook her head, "then you'll have to find a new one that does."
"No problem. We got some variety," Dave stuttered while glancing at his teammates. He was a little put out to find Kim napping across the table.
"So, the first theme is your first song everytime to not put people off?" Jessie questioned.
The two officials thought she was joking and laughed accordingly. Jessie's face told them otherwise. "Everyone wants to win the peace tour," the guy said, smirking.
"Okay, so what's the theme this time?" Lena asked.
Kiara walked into the Holodeck, still with the same grin she had since the meeting. Bryan and Naomi were less than enthused about it.
"Please, it gets harder? We're more than ready for this," Kiara said.
Naomi groaned, "I still don't get it."
Kiara turned on the spot, looking a little concerned. "Well, we have a loads of songs that fit the theme."
"Yeah," Naomi said slowly, eyes darting away, "I didn't hear it, I was too busy wondering what I did to that girl."
Bryan and Kiara exchanged confused glances. They were used to Naomi's misunderstandings but this one they couldn't figure out. "What do you mean?" Kiara asked.
"She said it's personal. I mean, why? I'm a nice girl," Naomi said, pouting. She got two groans for that answer.
"I don't think our anti-Seven ones count here," Jessie commented.
Lena looked as if she'd had her dinner taken away from her and replaced with a salad. "What, it can't get more personal than that."
Jessie glanced across the table at James for backup, but he'd plugged headphones into the computer he'd brought, lost in thought. Jessie sighed while shaking her head, "we want people to like us."
"Exactly," Lena forced a smile, though it was obvious she was about to snap.
"The last changes you made ending up renaming the song to Die oh Die," Jessie muttered.
Lena slammed her hand on the table, lighter than usual but enough to rattle it. Craig glanced between the two and quickly piped up, "our killing Annika songs are good for the Voyager crew but..." Lena stared at him instead, threatening any resolve he had, he shook. "Um, but this sector doesn't know her. We'll seem like psychopaths singing about killing some woman they don't know."
Jessie smiled and nodded. Not smug but glad someone else saw it her way, Lena saw it as smug though. Jessie chose to ignore it, "we got away with Tragedy since it wasn't just her and it wasn't OTT."
"I dunno if we did, to be fair," Craig said.
James meanwhile lowered his headphones and frowned. "Are you quite done? I've got an idea."
Craig thought that was directed at him, he grumbled under his breath huffily.
Lena narrowed her eyes in James' direction since he said it in her direction. "Oh by all means, you're the smart one," she said sarcastically.
"So no then," James said matter of factly, slowly putting his headphones back on.
"James, no, she's done," Jessie quickly said.
"Pfft, I wasn't going to suggest Die oh Die anyway. I know it's too political," Lena mumbled.
James looked around at the tense table with a rising eyebrow. "Ookay?" he said slowly, "personal doesn't have to be woe is me crap."
"Too bad for you," Craig muttered. Jessie elbowed him in the arm, he squeaked in response.
James cleared his throat intentionally in order not to comment on that. "It could be anything to do with us, in theory, and we might make more of an impression if we avoid the bloodbath songs. I've got a couple songs here that might follow the theme if we adjust a few lines."
"We don't have time to learn a new song. Apparently a week is only a couple of our days, and we've wasted all morning talking about it," Lena said.
"It can't hurt to hear his suggestions, it's at most ten minutes," Craig said toward her with a smile.
"Fine, but I don't see what's wrong with Chain Reaction," Lena said, taking the headphones from James.
Jessie closed her eyes to avoid anyone seeing her roll them. "Oh sure, we don't want to be original and cover other bands or singers, do we?"
To both of the men's relief, Lena took it well and laughed it off. "You can't be too inconsistent, or we'll not keep the fans we have." She put the headphones on, cueing James to press play.
"It's a cover anyway," Craig said. Jessie looked at him, mouthing what. "Chain Reaction, Tragedy. We're cover-coverers."
James snickered to himself while Jessie secretly thought about defecting to Pulse or Dave's band for a moment. "Oh is that why we don't do the Barbie song anymore, and the spooky one, and the Indiana Jones song, and the dummy de dada nah ode to Tom..."
Craig's eyes widened sharply and shook his head while squeaking a bit. "Ex-nay on the A word nay."
James struggled to fight off his smirk when he looked at the both of them, mainly Craig. "What?"
Lena laughed, getting the rest of the band's attention. "Oh I get it." She threw the headphones into James' lap and got up. Craig grimaced for more reasons than one. "Yep that's fine, Jessie's just reminded me I need to grab that blonde dye."
The others watched her walk away and leave, unsure what she meant or what to say.
Jessie said it first, "who was the dye for?" she eyed Craig before she'd even finished.
"Okay then, I think she likes the first song, so er..." James said, waving the headphones in Jessie's, then Craig's direction. Craig shrugged indifferently.
"This should be good," Jessie chuckled as she took them to put on.
Little under two days later, Voyager and the rest of the tour approached a very Earth like planet. This planet though had many small moons circling it and a very faint ring at its northern equator. The entire tour were instructed to fly single file into a specific orbital path to avoid collisions. Voyager slipped in behind the Z5.
Despite the planet looking a lot like home from orbit, it was a different story on the surface. With the haze of the rings the sky had a golden tint to it. The many moons looked massive, one took up a near quarter of the horizon, and thanks to the star and the rings, it shone brightly through the daytime clouds.
Like the last planet, the bands were chauffeured to the arena, this time separately from the others. This one made almost entirely of glass, they could see the stage inside and the crowds already flowing into it.
The coaches turned in before they reached the heavy traffic of people, towards the back where it was quieter.
Virus's coach stopped furthest from the door, the two officials escorting them immediately got up to approach them.
"Okay, now that we're here, we must go through today's program," the woman said to their confusion. "In one of the weeks each band must film an intermission clip. That will be scored by judges first and then public, which could help you if your main song's votes are in trouble."
"Um, why are we hearing about this now?" James asked.
The newly blonde Lena jumped up out of her seat, practically giddy. "Oh you mean like a music video, we've got a few already."
The two officials exchanged bemused glances briefly. "Possibly, if your videos are set to your music," the woman answered.
The man quickly thought to answer James' question before the band responded, "it's meant to be last minute, that's the point. Your people have already chosen the song, it doesn't take long to do."
Jessie grimaced, "they have?"
"Out of what?" Lena asked.
"Oh it's okay, they pick out of a selection of ones you've done," the woman said brightly. "Now, shall we go in." She headed for the door anyway.
By the time the arena was at full capacity night had fallen. The walls surrounding them were no long see through and instead were four massive screens, showing a video of one of the groups with their music blasting.
Since the arena didn't have seating, everyone had to find a good spot and stand there. The film crew flew around in their open-top buggies.
Not long after the video clip was over, Tom squeezed through a lot of screaming aliens to get back to his spot with B'Elanna and Harry, trying his best not to spill the drinks. There was barely half left in each cup by the time he got there.
"You didn't miss much, just the Ligers declaring war on a beloved movie soundtrack," Harry said whilst taking his drink.
Tom's eyes flew open, "ohno, I hope it wasn't My Heart Will Go On."
B'Elanna didn't even try to not laugh at him, she then eyed Harry playfully. "Let me tell him," she said.
Harry chuckled, making Tom panic a little. Meanwhile all of the walls but the one behind the stage had turned to almost black, silhouettes of people wandered the stage while an electric guitar stated playing. Anyone at the far back or stuck behind a tall person could still see the stage perfectly via one of the four screens.
Spotlights dotted the stage as if they were trying to find someone. In time with the guitar chords they each stopped on one of the three members of the band.
"Hey, hang your microphone up cos there's, nothing left to prove now," Bryan sang with attitude. Tom and B'Elanna looked on proudly while Harry swapped his empty glass with Tom's half full one.
Kiara smiled and took over, "hey, hang your microphone up. No one cares but you."
The pair stomped off in opposite directions, Naomi strode down in between them to sing her bridge. "What planet are you from? Accusing me of things that I've never done." She span around on the spot, "listening to you wailing on." She looked towards Kiara sharply, they sang together, "killing another love song."
Tom's earlier pride had quickly been swapped with quite a lot of anxiety. When B'Elanna noticed she stopped clapping along and gave him a firm stare. "What?" she asked as the three started their chorus.
"Ohno, this is a little too personal," Tom started to sweat.
B'Elanna was ready to give him a slap until she overheard the last line of the chorus; "bye bye my sister ex." Realisation made her face turn very white.
Kiara took the centre stage. "You say that I stole the scene but the lights are back on you now." She pointed ahead, cueing the spotlights to flicker around the audience.
Meanwhile in the backstage preparation rooms, one contestant in particular was watching the show with a hardening glare on her face. Anyone sane knew to keep their distance.
"Does it help you sleep at night?" Kiara sang until Naomi walked over, pointing at her.
"Pointing the finger, picking a fight," she finished for her.
Kiara walked by her smiling. "I'll not waste another tear."
"Your poison's not welcome in my ear," Naomi laughed.
Backstage James carefully approached Lena, briefly eyeing the screen. "It's probably just a song they found and liked, a coinci..." he said not sounding entirely sure himself.
Bryan walked up to join them in the middle. "You moaned and changed your hair," he said.
"Still the same," the girls whispered.
James flinched and looked down at the ground, in the corner of his eyes he saw Lena's fists beginning to clench.
"Do you think I'll be fair?" Bryan sneered.
The girls laughed, "L, O, L."
"Bye bye my ex sister," Kiara followed that with and waved towards one of the cameras. Of course that was the one that Lena had been watching. She huffed and stomped off.
By the time the first half of the chorus ended, the audience were shouting their approval as if they were finished entirely.
"If I were in your shoes, I'd worry about your effects. You've had your say, but now it's my turn," the whole group sang despite the overwhelming noise. "Bye bye my sister ex."
Almost everyone in the arena were clapping for them. Only a few of the Voyager crew stood still and awkwardly quiet.
"I'll get us more drinks," B'Elanna said as she pushed her way through the people on her right.
A dreary ballad started to play from the screens next, with video clips of the ten year old looking boyband posing moodily to go along with it. Anyone put to sleep were soon startled awake again by the next group acting out a tragic love story with opera like singing.
On their return to the backstage, Pulse ran almost into Dave's group. Naomi and Bryan were pretty thankful for that since they spotted Lena pass by a few feet further ahead, and fortunately Kiara was too distracted to notice.
"God guys, it's only round two. Take it easy on the little guys," Dave chuckled.
Kiara giggled, "little guys? What are you talking about?"
Kim rolled her eyes and groaned at the other male member of the band, "no it's not!"
"Uh yes it is," the strange guy said mockingly, "it just takes two to make it through, please!"
Carly jumped to Kim's defence a little too eagerly, "it rhymes, that's why it's right."
Dave tried not to look embarrassed by them all. "So does true," he muttered under his breath, they all looked at him accusingly. "It doesn't matter, the video's done, it's over!"
"Uhoh," Bryan whimpered when he spotted James walking down the corridor towards their general direction. Bryan shuffled to stand behind Naomi and ducked a little. Naomi gave him a funny look as he swapped her for the taller Kiara.
"Ah ha!" the weird guy shouted triumphantly before hurrying over to block James' path. He had to stop abruptly to avoid collision. "Oh you're just in time."
James grimaced and stepped back once. "That's subjective."
The strange guy chuckled, "you're funny. It's almost our turn. Can you..."
"Good for you," James said, raising his eyebrow in judgement. He was about to walk around him but the strange guy hurried to get in his way again.
"Steve, come on..." Dave tried to call him over whilst picturing his drummer being faceplanted into his own drums if he didn't.
The man turned around on his heel, furious with a cold look in his eye. "It's Steve-ay!"
James tried not to laugh and was about to walk off when he noticed Kiara's group lurking nearby. Bryan squeaked and ducked further down.
"Okay," James looked confused at that. He focused on Kiara. "I'm assuming you haven't seen Lena on your way back."
"No," Kiara replied quickly while Naomi nodded and pointed.
James was about to respond when he heard the familiar opening chords of Virus' intermission video. He sighed and walked off in the direction Naomi pointed.
"Okay, so are we ready? Two minutes," Dave said to his group.
"Shh!" Stevé snapped at him, "I'm trying to listen to the music."
Carly and Kim sniggered at each other knowingly as Dave stared blankly.
Back in the arena B'Elanna was regretting her last drink run, or at least her bringing it back with her to Tom and Harry to share. She tried to pay attention to the video playing on the screens, but their loud conversation could've been heard by the many rows of people around them.
"Hey did you see that bit in the second verse?" Tom asked to the annoyance of the people around him.
Harry swigged his tenth bottle and hiccuped. "Yeah, I liked it."
"You know I'm starting to think that I was right!" Tom yelled.
"About what?" Harry ask-shouted back.
Tom poked his friend drunkenly in the shoulder, "this bit," he said while pretending to lean his head against Harry's shoulder. He pushed him away, accidentally knocking the next person's drink. "Yeah exactly bud. James is all if you feel you can love me, and Jessie's on his shoulder with that line... what was it again?"
"Oh for god's sake," B'Elanna muttered.
"Oh, right about your theory of them being a couple," Harry said without a care. He was more interested in the middle eight of the song, which Jessie seemed to be leading surrounded by glittering stars. James would occasionally adlib the last few words she sang standing back to back with her.
"Yep," Tom didn't notice his tone of voice and grinned. He looked up at the screen and started to snigger. This time Harry groaned along with B'Elanna. "Look at them, who are they fooling?"
B'Elanna rolled her eyes, "I dunno, you."
"I'm with her. If they were together and keeping it quiet, why flirt in front of the camera?" Harry said.
"Once again Harry, you've got me. But have you ever thought that they did it on purpose to get people to think what you think," Tom asked. The chorus blasted back on, drowning them out.
"I suppose, it could be either way," Harry raised his voice to reply.
"Well I still stand by my theory!" Tom yelled back
"Well I don't think it's our business whether they are going out or not," Harry loudly groaned. B'Elanna nodded.
Tom blew a raspberry, "please. They should've thought about that before they became celebrities. It's a good thing I'm not a petty man, or they'd never win this competition if the people here knew."
"Knew that some weirdo had an unhealthy fixation with them? I'm sure they'll manage," B'Elanna said, finally shutting up her gossiping husband.
With Virus's video over, Dave's band took the stage next. Violin strings blasted through the speakers, and yet no one was playing anything like one. Only Stevé drummed along with the fast paced tune. Most of the audience didn't care, they loved it instantly.
Carly started to play her small sax once the strings stopped. Dave sang along a little flatly, but in time with the fast tune, "feel my heart beat. It chimes faster than a beating drum. No one here knows me like you..." he tried to sing high but it went a bit wobbly. His voice quickly lowered for the rest of the sentence, "and that's the way I like it. Feel my beat and turn the other way, towards me."
While the crowd seemed to love the backing music, quite a lot of people were struggling with following the subtitled and translated lyrics on the screens. Dave's fast talking singing style wasn't helping either.
Thankfully Kim swooped in for the next part, though she couldn't sing anywhere near fast enough to keep up with the song. "So he says, you cannot do better than me and I know that you'd keep me awake and feel the beat until we fly away." She cringed and so did the others whilst hurriedly moving onto the next line, with very little time to breathe, "I cannot move on until you'll miss me and you hear mine in time with yours."
"Feel my heart beat, it flies faster than the speed of light," Kim and Dave sang together but no one could really hear Dave over Kim. "Come with me and I'll show you what I'm simply made of. Feel your beat and turn once more towards me, I need you."
Dave took the lead once more to a lot of people's disappointment. "One more chance to, I know you feel it, keep up with my beat."
The song got a better a reception than the last one despite the problems, still the band didn't look happy with themselves. They bowed out as gracefully as possible and left the stage.
Their quick singing and seemingly wrong lyrics, the audience hoped, were quickly forgotten after two more intermission videos and another sappy performance from the pre-teen boyband.
Backstage Jessie, Craig and James waited anxiously during the second video, each with small mics that sat over the top of their head and looked more like little headphones. James tapped his commbadge a few times, each time he was ignored.
They were soon summoned to the stage by the backstage crew.
"We can't, not without Lena," Craig stammered.
Jessie sighed a little impatiently, "I dunno where she went after Kiara's dig at her. I dunno if I'd want to go up after that either."
The crew hinted for them to go, tapping their ear pieces urgently.
James groaned, "it's okay, she'll not miss this. Let's go." He walked through to the stage corridor, leaving Jessie and Craig looking more than a little baffled. They hurried after him as their music started playing around the arena.
The audience saw James hurry up onto the stage just as the opening chords finished. Him being alone seemed a bit off to them, most assumed it was part of the act. He stopped abruptly and started to sing like nothing was the matter, "really, can't you see..." Jessie and Craig joined him on either side and began to dance. The crowd roared and clapped. "I'm calling a one like you, should wear a warning. It's dangerous. I'm falling."
Tani meanwhile swooned so much she passed out to the bemusement of the people around her.
James continued, thankfully unaware of this. Lena with her normal hair colour jumped out from behind the curtain once he was finished the verse, cueing loud cheers from the audience. "Too hot to handle, losing my head and the world around," she coyly sang high. "I need you now."
The group got into formation as if this was all part of their routine, with Lena and James at the front.
"From the taste on my lips, I'm on a ride," they all sang together while dancing on the spot. "You're toxic, I'm slipping under. The taste of a poison paradise."
They all sang the next line, but James accidentally did it louder than the others, "I'm addicted to you..." Lena briefly glanced at him, "but you know that you're toxic."
The band spread out into a circle as a white spherical object slowly lowered from the ceiling. No one really had a clue what it was even when it landed in the middle of them. They stretched their arms out and bowed before it, before speedwalking to the front of the stage, once more in a line, only Craig and Jessie fronted them this time.
"It's getting late, to give it up," Craig smiled as he sang. "I took a sip," his hand raised, pretending to hold something to his face. It looked like he was downing a drink, "to my devil's cup. So thirsty, it's taking over me."
"Oh I get it!" Kathryn laughed loudly during an extremely brief lull in the music, so people heard her. She didn't care, she chugged her coffee.
The group circled the object again, only this time they didn't follow each other, Jessie and Lena went around clockwise, Craig and James did the opposite.
Jessie repeated Lena's earlier lines while stroking it with her finger. She pretended it was hot and brought the finger to her lips, just in time to pretend to collide with James. She turned her hand around to bring the same finger over to his lips instead while singing, "I have you now."
Tom's eyes widened, he started pointing sharply at the stage. "I knew it, see, see!" he drunkenly shouted. B'Elanna shoved him into the people in front. They let him fall to the ground.
After the next chorus, they repeated the last line while once again caressing the object. Unknown to the crowd Lena and James were push-turning it discreetly with their fingers so it would turn and slowly. The object was revealed to not be entirely spherical, it had a giant handle that had been hidden behind it the whole time.
Kathryn wiped a tear from her eye. "Oh I'm so proud." Chakotay hid his embarrassed face with his hand.
When the song ended on Lena's repeated "intoxicate me now," line, the whole stadium erupted in applause, excited cheers and hoots.
The next video started to play while they were still exiting the stage. They had to pass by the last two groups, who didn't look pleased with their good performance, before they could find a quieter place to stop.
"Lena, what the hell..." Jessie started to snap.
Lena dabbed her head, revealing her hair was only a wig, the blonde she had dyed it to was underneath. "What? If Kiara wants to embarrass me, she's going to have to do better."
James rolled his eyes, "you could've told us that."
Lena giggled as if it were no big deal, "and ruin the surprise, no way. It was cool, wasn't it?"
"As I was saying, if I knew you were going to turn this into a you versus your own kid insult match, you can count me out," James said before walking off.
Lena's jaw dropped, her eyes sharpened as she placed her hands on her hips. "What's his problem?" she asked in Jessie's direction.
She and Craig glanced at one another tiredly.
Like the last time, all of the groups were directed into one room to wait for the results. This one was much better with a bar and table service. Most were watching the highlights of the show playing on the large holographic screen in the middle of the room, which played on both sides.
"Wow, what a night folks," one of the two people hosting the event pretended to wheeze. He turned to his female partner, "I honestly don't know who to vote for. Do you?"
"Honestly, me neither Jepp," the woman laughed. "To help us out this time, our judges were given the intermission videos before the show and were asked to rank them based on only that. We're about to look at those now, and hopefully that'll inspire some to vote for their favourites."
The male announcer, Jepp nodded furiously. "Yup Eylene, eight acts so there's a maximum of eight points to earn, with one being the lowest you can get. This is always fun, we usually don't get to see our bands ranked until much later in the competition."
"I've been told this is also to determine the order for the next show and that's why it's early," Eylene smiled. Jepp pretended to look shocked. "Whoever gets the lowest score goes first, and you know that's a terrible disadvantage going first. You have to be really memorable to get those votes at the end of the show."
Jessie flinched as she peered down into her drink. Lena spotted her and gave her a tiny elbow to the arm, "don't worry, we're more than good."
"I dunno, did you see some of them?" Jessie said. Craig nodded with his eyes widening. "The boyband could probably go on stage and put their fingers up the whole time, and they'd still have people Tani-ing the place down."
James peered across at her with a slight frown. That made Jessie chuckle a bit, but she was still worried. "That one band puts on one hell of a show everytime, and the singer in that Rhythm band..."
"Yeah so what, she's loud. James is louder," Lena said.
"I've already said it was an accident," James groaned, shaking his head.
A lot of people shushed them as a scoreboard appeared beside the hosts. "In eighth place with one point is... wow, our next week's hosts LG. I'm sorry guys," Jepp said, putting on a clearly fake pout.
Eylene kept her trained smile on while she spoke, "in seventh with two is..." She read the card and couldn't believe her eyes, her smile almost fell off. "Jailbreakers? Wow, didn't see that one coming." Neither did a lot of the room, angry murmurs took over a few of the tables while Alright and 54x were announced next.
"Rhythm came in at fourth, and I'm starting to wonder what the judges are drinking," Jepp chuckled sincerely.
"Third is the second of our guest bands," Eylene said, smiling once again politely. Kiara and Lena both had similar expectant looks on their faces, trying to avoid seeing the other and yet their eyes still drifted in each other's directions. "It's Pulse." Kiara covered her face while Lena celebrated with a little hand clap. "That's a shame, I liked their little cutesy video."
"Third's nothing to be scoffed at, at this point in the competition," Jepp reminded her. Eylene nodded in agreement. "Second will probably be..." he looked down at the results, his eyes flickered in confusion, "second is Number 1."
Lena gasped and jumped out of her seat, "yes, we won!" Craig was shocked not only at that but the sudden hug he got from Lena which nearly choked the life out of him.
"So that leaves our guests Virus with top marks, meaning they'll be last to perform in round three," Jepp stammered in shock. Kiara snuck a glance over at Lena who had left a poor wheezing Craig behind in his chair, giggling and saying something to a still shocked Jessie.
Eylene smiled and it looked genuine, "history in the making folks. Three guests still in, and two are in the Judge's top three. Lets hope we can keep all of them one more week. You've got ten minutes to vote to save your favourites."
Everyone made a point to avoid the buffet table, as per usual. For once though it wasn't only the smell that was putting people off, it was the noise as well.
Lilly made the mistake of walking by and was immediately pulled in for an uncomfortable hug with a sobbing Stevé. "It's not fair. We were sixth place. How? What did I do wrong?"
"Well, this for starters," Lilly grumbled as she pried herself away. When she realised who it was she scowled in disgust, "who the hell are you again?"
Stevé wiped the tears from one side of his face. "Captain Lilly? I'm so sorry..." he whimpered. Lilly sighed and nodded, inching to get away. Still he continued, "I let you, I let our people down."
"Oh," Lilly said in realisation, yet her eyes darted from side to side, "don't worry about it, erm... Steve."
The man howled and sobbed more, fortunately for Lilly everyone in the room were trying to avert their attention away from him. "It's Steve-ay!"
A few tables away Lena poured a bottle of pop into her glass, giggling before it spilled over the top. James took the bottle from her to fill his own.
"Wow, we're killing this competition," Lena laughed, "I told you."
Jessie eyed the bottle curiously, then at Lena and back again. Then she noticed a group of aliens carrying a few cameras hurriedly approaching them. She shook her head, "I'll pass." James shrugged and handed it over to Craig.
"Virus, how do you feel about being the first guest band to be ranked first by the judges?" one reporter asked.
Another spoke over the top of him, "what are you going to do for Slow Song week?"
Lena smiled up at them eagerly. "Well it was a huge shock, it still hasn't sunk in."
James stared at her with a bemused smirk, "really, this is your meh response?"
"Does slow mean ballad?" Craig asked a little fearfully.
One of the reporters inadvertently came to his rescue to ask their question, "what do you think of your fellow shipmates' band, Pulse?"
Jessie noticed Lena's smile falter a bit. She was about to respond a little less cheery, so Jessie cut in first. "They started quite recently, they're really young. I think it's brave of them to be taking part."
"Yeah brave," Lena chimed in with a flat tone.
Craig laughed very nervously, "yeah they're doing really well. It's cool that both of our groups have been getting your votes. Thank you."
"Your Liger counterparts haven't took their defeat so well," one reporter said, gesturing to Stevé trying to break his bottle of booze over the table and failing miserably. "It's gonna be tough for your remaining two bands to go up against well known, beloved groups here in the later rounds. Do you think you can handle it?"
James peered over just in time to see Stevé somehow managing to slam the bottle over his thumb. He struggled to maintain a straight face. "Oh him, no he's not being a sore loser. He's been like that since that weird song, you know..."
"You mean... I hope it wasn't us," Jessie said.
Lena scoffed, "he said weird song but I think he meant annoying. You know those two ra..."
"The ones nobody liked, yeah," James cut in intentionally, lightly shaking his head. Lena wondered why but let it go.
The reported sighed knowingly, one cringed as if in pain. "I know the feeling, I still have nightmares," they said.
"Poor man," another chimed in. They tried to smile at the group, "thank you for your time, and good luck in the next round." They all wandered off to interview Dave and his other two bandmembers.
As if she'd been storing it up during the entire interview, Lena burst into a fit of giggles again. "Guys, I know a good slow song we can use. Mum will love it."
Jessie groaned, "you mean the one that Tom insisted was his song at karaoke, and you changed like one word?"
Lena wasn't put off, but her giggles calmed down a tad. "I've changed more. Besides his was the made up version, I'm only changing it back. Girl does not flow as well as coffee, what a moron."
James was confused until she said that part, then he widened his eyes and looked a little embarrassed. "Oh god." Craig looked at him similarly. "His Bad Girl song, yeah that was terrible. I'd never sing that."
"Nope, so entitled and needy," Craig agreed a little too much.
Lena and Jessie stared at them both suspiciously.
"Anyway, I'm sure there's a ballad we can use without butchering its lyrics for once," Jessie said. Lena made a little aaaw sound. "Or a slagging people off song. We're meant to be the grownups, so..."
James and Craig agreed and nodded. Lena pouted further. "But Toxic was a dedication. Mum loved it," she complained, "I'm not singing a sappy love ballad. No way." Her eyes and face soon lit up again, "oh, there's a one about time travel. No one will know it's about anything true."
Craig winced through his teeth a little too long, it hurt his gums. "Kiara already did that one, remember?"
"Oh," Lena's face fell. "I thought I'd called it, but okay, fine," she grumpily muttered.
A few tables away Kiara thought she heard her name mentioned, so she looked around. Only the reporters caught her eye. A few more entered the Mess Hall to veer directly towards Virus.
"Of course," Kiara sighed then pouted. "We can't do that one, they'll be expecting it."
Naomi shrugged as she put her PADD to one side. "I thought this was a music thingie, not a grudge match." She ignored her friend's blank stare to munch on the rest of her dinner.
"I think Lena got it this time, we don't wanna be petty-er," Bryan said with a mouthful of food.
Kiara cringed, "I'm only doing this for fun." Naomi and Bryan stopped and looked at her in ridicule disbelief. She blushed and looked down, "the altered lyrics I mean. It's fun. The competition I wanna win, which is supposed to be hard enough for visiting aliens without Lena being in it too."
"You know why I said it. You're only in this to beat your mother, but I'm in this to have some fun and that's it," Bryan said. Naomi nodded furiously, then got back to her dinner.
"If you wanna have fun singing, do it in the shower or singing into a brush at home like everyone else. This is a serious competition," Kiara snapped.
Naomi burst into giggles. "So serious you're more interested in embarrassing your mom. You've always been a good laugh."
Kiara stammered and blushed again. "No, no, I'm done with that. I don't care."
"Okay," both Bryan and Naomi said in a reassuring, we know you're lying tone. Kiara sulked, looked down and got back to poking her stone cold dinner.
A piano played in the background slowly as Craig tried to sing softly into the standing microphone. James and Jessie were on either side of him, looking worried. Their two officials sat a little ways in front of them, their faces blank it wasn't clear if they were enjoying it or bored.
When the music faded, one of them clapped unenthusiastically and politely. The other shook their head.
"I knew I'd screw it up, sorry," Craig said, turning his head away from the microphone.
"No, no," the previously quiet official said and smiled, "you were fine. The song's beautiful, a lot of people would identify with a love un-reciprocated song."
Jessie stepped away from her mic to sit down on the slight step at the edge of the stage. "We're fast running out of ballads we all agree on. It's not our style, is that the problem?"
The official that clapped sighed sympathetically. "That's part of the problem, yes. From the audience reactions, to the comments on the message boards and social chatters; your group are a breath of fresh air not only because you're new, you're interesting and quirky. A lot of people call Craig the shy, cute one. Mysterious."
Craig instantly perked up, he peered over to them. "I'm sorry, you said Craig right?"
James and Jessie both sniggered quietly to themselves, while the officials nodded.
"They can't get enough of James, his attitude, his look, his voice has turned quite a few heads," the other official said, dashing Craig's spirit immediately.
"Of course. I'm just the cute one," he mumbled huffily.
Jessie raised her eyebrow as she looked at him. "It's a start?" she tried to sound helpful but it sounded patronising. Craig took it as the latter, he plopped himself down on the spot he stood and looked away.
"And Jessie, you're a hit amongst the women and girls vote. Your confidence and sassiness is mentioned a lot," the first official said. Jessie looked a little confused at that, she looked up at James still fidgeting awkwardly from his feedback. "And Lena, they love her spirit and enthusiasm."
"Yes, she's so enthusiastic she doesn't show up for two hours. We like that too," James said.
Craig huffed as he stood back up, arming a scowl in advance to aim at James. "You've got to cut that out." James looked at him a little bemused. "Lena's doing her best, she's been through a lot."
"Yeah that's why I'm worried," James countered back, eyes sharpening. "I sorta hoped she wanted to do this because it was simply something only she liked to do, help her with her lost sense of self, you know..."
"Kinda ruined with Kiara entering her band too," Jessie mumbled.
James trailed off, his head slumped down. "Kiara can't be blamed for that. She's still a kid, we forget. I doubt she realised what she was doing." Craig stared down sullenly as well.
One of the officials forced a smile on their way over to them. "Now see, this I can get behind." The remaining group members focused on her, each with their own confused frown. "A ballad doesn't have to be a tragic love song. On my world the self analysing and enlightening power ballads are almost always hits. While it may be a risk, it could be a one that pays off."
The male official made a little unsure groan. "No matter what, they have to learn a new song and we only have one of their days left."
"I'm sure Lena would prefer that over a song Craig probably sang to himself everytime he updated his old PADD," James said, smirking slightly.
Craig saw it and narrowed his eyes, "yeah, hilarious. Give up your day job, no all your jobs, funny guy."
James tried not to laugh, he caught it in his throat. "Oh god, you really shouldn't."
The Holodeck doors opened to Jessie and the official's relief. Lena ran up to them with a giddy grin on her face. Once she stopped in front of the stage she had trouble keeping still. "Guys, guess what."
"Your mum's increased your allowance?" Jessie guessed.
Lena's eyes glazed over, then she sighed sadly, "yeah I wish." It didn't last, she grinned again, "nope, it's band related."
"They're changing the theme to spoken word songs?" Craig suggested, earning strange glares from his other bandmates. "I could just sing the chorus," he said very meekly.
Lena shook her head. "No no. Apparently during the tour, the bands promote themselves at these little concerts before the show. They almost always invite other competitors, especially the guests."
"We're hosting one and/or been invited?" James said in surprise.
"Bingo," Lena's grin managed to spread further. "The invited one, I mean. Apparently mum hasn't had enough coffee to authorise a few hundred visitors to go to our own in the Holodeck. At least not yet. I'll bother her about it later."
"Assuming we get there," Jessie said.
The male official beamed proudly at the group. The female one looked a bit worried, "that's great news, but we haven't chosen a song for this round, let alone practised it. There's no time to rehearse a five song set."
"Ohno, it's semi final promotion," Lena giggled, she held her hand out for a high five. Craig scrambled forward to do it before the other two, who didn't move an inch.
"Let's get you to it then, shall we?" the male official said. "Which band invited you?"
"Oh it's..." Lena answered quickly but trailed off with a draining face, "they do these plays instead of dancing, the breaking something?"
"Jailbreakers," the female official gasped, "that's an honour."
"Really?" James said.
The male official chuckled as if he'd said something stupid. "They're only the hottest thing in the Nutropa system. They're certainly unique and very talented. They must think highly of you to invite your band to their semi final gig."
Jessie climbed back to her feet, wincing a bit. "Or they think we're terrible and want to show us up."
Lena groaned in disgust. "Oh for god's sake Jessie, lighten up a bit." She shook her head and smiled once more, "speaking of which, I've got a not so dull ballad in mind. It's gonna blow the stadium's roof away. Let me play it for you, not that I need to, it's that good." The arch was her next destination, she typed on it quickly.
Everyone were deathly silent as the song played, and even a minute after it faded out.
"It's a bit long," Jessie said, fully expecting another scolding from Lena so she quickly continued, "but I like it."
"Me too, but isn't it too sappy for you?" James asked.
Lena scrunched up her face and shrugged meekly, "it's not lovey dovey crap, it's empowering I think, so nope."
Craig looked around at the group with hope building in his eyes. "Does that mean we're all on board for this one?" He got a few approving nods and mumbles in response. "I hate to ruin the mood, but how do we assign who sings what? I mean there's a lot there."
"Simple isn't it?" Lena chuckled. "All on the chorus, you or Jess on the opening." Craig squeaked in response, making her groan. "It's the easiest part! Ugh forget it. Since James likes to shout a lot and these people like it, he can get the longer verse. Whoever doesn't do the intro gets the shorter verse. I'll take the last bit."
The female official didn't look so sure. She meant her hmm to be quiet but they all heard it. "Sorry, I have a suggestion. We're your advisors because you're new to this sector, so I'd be remiss if I didn't do what I could to help you advance to the semi's."
"What's the suggestion?" James asked, cueing Lena to stare at him accusingly.
"As I was telling you earlier, we've been looking through the feedback and discussions about you to get a better idea on how to advise," the female official said. "I know you like to equally share out the vocals, but at this stage we've got to play to win." Craig not so silently sighed in relief. "I think with a song like this, a few modifications to your idea with a lead would blow the roof off as you said."
Jessie glanced at her bandmates curiously, then back at her. "You mean a lead singer?" The woman smiled at her, she took it as a yes and not as a nomination. "I dunno if that's a good idea."
"It might be," Lena said, though her voice didn't sound confident. "None of our songs so far have been belters. We haven't shown off that we can sing, not really."
"Speak for yourself," Craig muttered.
Lena turned her head to smile at him for a moment. "So what do you suggest, I do a few lines of a verse, some of the opening?"
The female official glanced at her teammate, he shook his head. "Why don't we practise the whole song together first," she stuttered. Lena frowned, unsure why. James and Craig weren't either but kept that to themselves. Jessie though had a good idea, she dreaded what was to come.
TO BE CONTINUED
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