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16th - 19th, 23rd, 24th, 28th, 30th December 2018
"We're live in Lo'Ihna, already in our third week of the peace tour," Jepp directed towards anyone who was watching on their screens. "The public have decided this round should be chill, relaxing. What better theme for the tranquil city of Satorissia?"
James scoffed, reluctantly turning his head and slowly to look out the window next to him. While there were buildings and pedestrian walkways only a few metres away, their vehicle was floating along water. He groaned and faced forward twice the speed, shaking his head. "Tranquil, right."
Craig couldn't help himself, he sniggered a little obnoxiously. "I know right, what if we break down?" James raised his eyebrow as he looked at him. "What if we sink?" Craig faked a gasp.
"What if you're unconscious for the evening?" James said in a flat tone, Craig wasn't sure if he was serious.
Jessie peered out the parallel window. The streets seemed a lot further away on that side. Still they were close enough to make out faces of the people there, that was until their transport floated by an ice blue tree, its branches filled with sparkling blue leaves.
Lena noticed as well and rushed for the window, eyes wide in wonder. She stuck her head out the window after they passed by. She was more than astonished to see not just one, but they'd passed many more like that, all of them growing from under the water. Mist was beginning to settle over the stream they had travelled through, making the trees glow as well. "Wow."
"Looks like we found Atlantis," Craig chuckled very nervously, even though James had stopped staring at him.
"Is that it?" Lena wondered aloud. Her attention had changed to straight ahead of them, so Craig tried to peer in that direction too without hanging outside the window like Lena. He didn't have to. Their boat floated into an ancient stone building, its higher floors propped up by massive pillars.
Inside, the boat slowed to a stop beside a platform already full of paparazzi and screaming citizens. As they stepped onto the pier and lead into a fenced off path, they were immediately swarmed by the crowd shouting questions at them. "What's your gimmick this week gonna be?" "Who are your songs about?" "Is it true you mime sometimes?" "Are the rumours true about you and Kiara, Lena?" "Are you two dating?"
Craig turned his head to answer, Lena assumed one of the last few and gave him a discreet nudge in the gut. He whimpered and continued forward. Jessie took the opportunity to squeeze in front of them and walk faster to their destination, with her head down. The last question she heard before she disappeared through the door were, "are you really pregnant, Jess..."
Lena had to quickly grab the door to stop it closing in her face. She and Craig then followed, with James right behind them giving the man who asked a stare that was colder with every step. Once gone the guy shuddered.
The arena's staging area took up the entire northern wall of the circular hall. The stage itself looked like a stone staircase, walled by fountains on either side which kept glowing everytime the workers tested the ceiling lights.
While it was still empty, the quietest of conversations could still be heard, echoing all around, barely drowned out by the sound of running water.
In less than an hour the entire stadium was packed to the brim, each seat taken. The regular ceiling lights had dimmed, leaving only the support pillars generating each a different coloured water effect on during intermissions.
A few acts had been on already so the crowd were buzzing, and for the most part completely wasted. Of course a lot of them were the Voyager visitors getting into the Christmas spirit a little early.
Backstage Kiara, Naomi and Bryan waited for their turn, each dressed in co-ordinated white and silver outfits. To Kiara's annoyance her bandmates were being fussed over again by their mothers. Once again, she looked around for her own. In that brief moment she'd forgotten, and sighed sadly to herself. When turning back to her group she spotted Lena standing a little ways down the corridor, looking half dressed with a fluttery watery blue ankle length skirt, which clashed with her casual red t-shirt.
Lena noticed she'd been spotted, she hurriedly turned around and grabbed a passer by's arm to stop him and talk. His band carried on without him.
Kiara recoiled a little from that until she saw a brief head turn toward her again. "How long have we got?" she asked, interrupting Bryan's face cleaning.
He couldn't answer with his mother's vice grip around his chin, squeezing his lips together. Naomi promptly pointed at the same group that passed Lena just as they were going through some tall curtains. "After them."
"Won't be long," Kiara mumbled as she hurried over to Lena before she was spotted.
Halfway there she noticed the man Lena had stopped getting worked up. "No no, I don't want to go to your concert, you stuck up brat." Lena's face twitched exactly like her mum's would. "Aliens think they can waltz in with their so called new sound and win the biggest competition of the year. It doesn't work like that."
Kiara arrived in time to quickly get in the way of the guy getting a very likely punch. "Lena, what are you..."
"So what you're saying is," Lena inadvertently interrupted her, "I need to do something drastic that'll get more votes. Okay, hold still." She gently coaxed Kiara a little to one side with a tiny push of her left hand. Her right fist had clenched.
"Lena!" Kiara shouted and reached for that wrist. She laughed nervously and turned to face the man. "I'm sorry but um, she gets a little stressed before a show. She doesn't mean anything by it."
"Hey," Lena protested.
The man smirked, "all right. Tell your friend that just because Jailbreakers are giving you Humans a pity slot, the rest of us won't waste our time with any of you. The rest of us prefer a class act, a decent show. Good luck." He hurried away to the curtain.
Lena growled, "ugh, why did you do that?"
Kiara turned back to face her while shaking her head. "You know why. Or you should. He's the lead instrumenter from Rhythm."
"So?" Lena said and shrugged. "He's also overdue a black eye."
"So you injure him and the public will hate you," Kiara said.
Lena laughed insincerely, "why do you care?"
Kiara grimaced, shoulders tensed. "I was coming over to ask you the same thing. You only talked to him to make it look like you weren't keeping an eye on me."
"Nuh uh," Lena grunted. "Mum said we could host a concert if I find another group. I thought..."
She got a scoff in response. Kiara smiled sweetly, "you're always around in someway. Don't deny it. You were there at the end of my first performance, you watched my second..."
"You mean the one where you pretty much stuck your middle finger up at me and told me good riddance, of course I saw it," Lena said like she had a frog in her throat. Her face looked angry though, jaw was clenched and cheeks were reddening. Kiara noticed her tone and winced. "Forget it. Having two Human groups at the Voyager concert beats the point in having one. Aren't you going to..." Lena rapidly spoke and pointed.
"Yeah but um, what is the point?" Kiara shyly asked.
Lena frowned, more than confused. "I dunno, to win."
"I thought the point was to compete against me," Kiara said.
"Well..." Lena said hesitantly, her cheeks drained, "fine. Fine, assume that's what I really meant. I'm the bad guy remember."
Kiara felt her eyes stinging, she tried to blink it away but that only made it worse. "I didn't," she said through a throbbing throat. "It's opposite, I'm glad you..."
"Go on, the song won't hurt me as much without you there," Lena hissed, stomping away. "I hear that enough anyway, why would I want to hear it at my own concert?" Kiara heard her mumble to herself.
Naomi approached carefully. "You okay?"
"Mmhmm," Kiara squeaked as she dabbed under her eyes. "Yeah, let's do this."
Gentle piano music echoed around the already buzzing stadium. The spotlights danced around the higher level of the stage, leaving the floor in darkness.
"Half the heart to fight you," voices sang in unison repeatedly.
The spotlights pointed down on three band members in front of standing microphones, as more instruments joined the piano.
In the centre Kiara quickly took a deep breath to calm herself. It didn't work, her shoulders still tensed. "Yesterday you said you were alright, now you're tearing me apart tonight," she sounded raspy still with a lump in her throat. Anyone watching the other two band members caught them looking across at her in concern.
"First you didn't want to talk to me, now you won't stop talking at me," she continued, blinking away a tear forming. "Acting like you're right, and everything's okay."
Bryan and Naomi sang together for a few lines, building up to the chorus.
"Half the heart to fight you, half the mind to leave. Torn between what I want, and what I do. I'm completely divided, now it's me that's undecided. That's the way it is, you throw back what I give. Only half a heart."
Backstage those lines could be heard clearly in the quiet corridors. James had spotted Lena sitting in a corner on the floor, near one of the dressing rooms. Her head bowed as if it were too heavy to keep up. He sat down beside her and waited patiently.
She looked him over, half heartedly frowning at him. "You're not dressed yet."
He gave her a smile in return, "and I assume you are?" Lena's eyes briefly diverted from the ground to her t-shirt, she sighed in response. "Craig always wants to get changed first."
Lena rolled her eyes. "Yeah, Jessie waits until I go to the bathroom or get a drink. I thought it'd be easier to give her the hour she needs."
"Is that all?" James asked her.
He was glad to see Lena laugh a little but had no idea why. "I'm telling her you said that."
"What?" James said until it hit him, his eyes widened, "ohno," he stammered. "I meant is that your only reason you're sitting here, down in the dumps?"
"I'm fine," Lena brushed him off sharply.
"Uh huh." James smiled weakly. "The end bit's a little hard for me to sing. I think it'd have more meaning if you sang it instead of me."
"No," Lena mumbled and shook her head. "Not it wouldn't mean anything. I don't even get the lyrics."
James turned his head to look straight ahead, grimacing slightly. He turned back with a worried frown on his face. "You picked the song."
"Yeah cos the chorus is like all in your face, and a flip off to all the doubters," Lena replied rapidly. "The aliens will only get the botched subtitles of what you're singing anyway, so who cares?"
"Right," James laughed, "so you wouldn't care if I make up any old crap, or just hum along to that part?" Lena sharply glared at him, but that only made him laugh even more. "I'd better go. I hope Craig's got his pants on this time."
He got up and walked off, leaving Lena twisting her face so much it ached a little. "Eeew, I didn't need that image."
Virus made their way to the curtains behind the staging area, each of them wearing a similar watery shades of blue. The boys wore the same same thing, light blue trousers with splashes of glitter down the side of the legs which sparkled under direct light, and a similar shaded t-shirt. The girls, a simple darker blue tank top to go with the skirt. Jessie made sure to have leggings matching her top underneath that though.
They passed the previous act, the cutesy boyband, talking to another group. One of them Lena recognised as the guy she argued with, staring while shaking his head, she stared icily back.
The other members of Virus didn't notice this until felt someone behind looking at her. She peered over her shoulder, catching the lead singer of the same group turning her attention back to her own band.
"What's that about?" Craig asked.
"Nothing. He's just a diva," Lena replied bitterly.
"Right, he," Jessie mumbled, more than a little unnerved by it. She chose to hide it and smile at James walking beside her. He looked worried, staring straight ahead he hadn't noticed her. Still he hooked his arm around hers all the way to the stage.
The intermission music faded out, leaving the arena quiet and in the dark. It was like that for a few minutes. A lot of the crowd were confused, they knew there was still one act to go.
Music started abruptly at the same time the gushing fountains were lit up. It immediately faded into a gentle, beautiful serene instrumental playing along with the sound of the fountains.
A soft blue spotlight hovered over the staircase, eventually landing on Jessie sitting halfway up, trying her best not to look nervous, holding a mic by her chin.
"Through wind and rain we got here, now we're flying with no fear," she sang softly.
Not many of the audience noticed someone step down behind her, due to what little lighting there was. Jessie did. Their presence soothed her, she smiled in the pause between her lines. "Through wind and rain we burn bright, learn to fly through flames and hold tight."
The crowd started to sway their arms slowly, quite a few held white candle shaped flashing lights, which looked to anyone on the stage like a dense starfield.
"With so many ways to go wrong, but when I look in your eyes they're all gone," Jessie continued, then rested her mic on her chest, sighing in relief.
Drums built up the so far soothing, calm music into a louder, yet haunting and still somewhat slow piece of music. The light shining on Jessie moved up and over to shine on James standing behind her, as he began to sing what sounded like a chorus but on his own. Jessie took the opportunity to discreetly curl the small of her arm around his leg, only then noticing how much she was shaking.
The supposed chorus over, three more spotlights danced across the stage, losing everyone's sight on what band members they could see before. The instrumental played over the sound of the crowd's approving cheers.
At the top of the stage, all of the lights combined to shine over Lena and follow her down the stairs. "It's only real, when you're not around. I'm walking in the rain, the sun goes down, oh."
She reached the bottom while singing her final line, the lights spread out slightly to show Craig approaching. They turned around so they were back to back while he sang his part. It didn't last, Lena joined in with him, both of them swaying their spare arm up then down in time with each other.
James and Jessie meanwhile took each opposite edge of the stage as the drums raised the intensity of the song once more.
With the spotlights on each member of the band, they sang the same bit James did earlier together this time. "And in my dreams it feels like we are forty stories tall. When you're around, we're untouchable."
Chorus over, Craig immediately dove into his next verse the best he could over the deafening cheers they got for it. "It's only real when you're not around. The candle in my hand, is burning out, oh!"
"I know that love shouldn't be so hard," Jessie sang as she walked across the stage to where he was. He did the same, they crossed paths at her next line, "and sometimes we're standing in the dark." On cue the lights died down completely for only a few seconds. When they came back on, she'd turned so her left side was facing the audience, with James facing her. "But you light up everywhere I go."
They sang together to the delight of certain people in the audience, one of them obviously Tom having a good laugh while elbowing Harry beside him. He rolled his eyes.
They soon parted, stepping backwards to allow Lena to walk up between them and take centre stage. This time she sang the chorus alone, while Jessie and Craig strode up the stairs with the lights occasionally losing them. They lost James as he went behind Lena.
"And in my dreams it feels like we aren't ever gonna fall. We're safe and sound, we're untouchable," Lena sang, holding the final word and note for as long as she could. The crowd loved it and applauded her.
Each of the spotlights turned off one by one, starting with Lena, then Jessie and Craig's. The final one that had settled in the middle of the stairs before it went off.
"Whenever you're gone, gone..." everyone heard James's voice echo around. The blue tinted lights faintly came on, too dark to see anyone on the stage or on the stairs. All anyone could make out was a shadow at the top.
"They wait at the door..." One spotlight tried to pierce the blue light onto the shadow, allowing everyone to see him finally mid sentence, "and everything's hurting like before."
"Without any meaning, we're just skin and bone," he put his all into it, holding notes and empathising a couple of the words. Loud, but not a shouting, screaming way, but powerfully. He had a few seconds to take in a deep breath in and out, "like beautiful robots dancing alone."
The roaring crowd had settled down, almost silent by this point. The rest of the band hidden in the shadows took their final positions. Jessie glanced up to check on him, while Lena and Craig silently worried about the reaction so far.
"Whenever you're gone, they wait at the door," James continued either oblivious or pretending he was. "And everything's," his voice caught in his throat very briefly, "hurting like before."
A brief flicker from a few camera flashes caught Lena's stoney face as she was glancing upward. Only a very few noticed it, the majority's attention was elsewhere.
"Without any meaning, we're just skin and bone. Like beautiful robots dancing alone," the last word echoed over almost complete silence, the quiet instrumental and the trickling of the fountains. The spotlights changed to look like rain gently falling from the ceiling, the blue started to fade away.
A lot of the Voyager crew looked around, baffled by the aliens' reaction.
Harry leaned in closer to whisper to Tom in case he was heard, "what's the matter, it's not like he was bad."
"Dunno, maybe the subtitles for him were wrong," Tom whispered back with a frown.
On Voyager, everyone watching in the Mess Hall were equally confused. They could see the same thing, only with the two television hosts quietly discussing between themselves while alien text scrawled across the screen.
"I've never seen this before, not this far in the competition," Eylene commented aloud first while facing the camera.
Jepp nodded as the song's instrumental started building up in volume. "Not in all my years either Eylene. I don't know if they hated it or liked it. What a finish though..." The steadily increasing sound of people clapping along interrupted him, he and his partner looked even more confused than before. He forced a laugh, "oh it's not over."
Spotlights returned to shine on the entire band as they sang the chorus together. After that it was definitely over, the music faded out and the lights dimmed. The applause and cheers were deafening.
"Amazing," Eylene chuckled sincerely. "I think Virus have secured their place in the semi-final, no question."
"Hmm, it was a bit touch and go there for a moment. Perhaps they should've saved this number for the final," Jepp said.
On the ship and in the stadium, the Voyager crewmembers were a little relieved but confused at the reaction.
Jessie and Craig returned backstage first. Jessie waited around by the curtain, while Craig hurried over to the nearby drinks being offered by the staff.
It had been a good half a minute, so Jessie peered through the curtains. She immediately had to back off to avoid getting it swung into her face by Lena marching through in the middle of an angry grumble, "...what you did." She stared at Jessie briefly before stomping off in between Craig and her.
James followed only to stay by the curtain, straining his face like he was biting his tongue, and literally too.
Lena scanned her surroundings, quickly noticing the same two bands they passed earlier were still around. She turned back towards Jessie and James, face like thunder. "I knew it, they're laughing behind our backs."
"About what?" Craig asked at the same he repressed a hiccup from his fast drinking. Lena stared back in disbelief, he felt his insides shrivel up.
Jessie shook her head in obvious disapproval. It was long gone by the time she turned around towards James, she gave him a smile. "I told you, that was brilliant."
James laughed at himself, "so brilliant it killed everyone in the room, like the Rihanna and Justin tribute band on the first week."
"Oh!" Craig gasped in horror, "is that who I-Great were supposed to be?" Lena snatched the rest of his glass to down it.
"Well I thought it was gorgeous," Jessie said dismissively, wrapping her arms around James' shoulders. Despite the audience, she gave him a peck on the lips.
Lena eyed the bands. The boyband had already wandered off, but the one she'd argued with stood around. "You would," she muttered.
Jessie sharply turned her head her way, "what's your problem?" she asked while pulling back a touch.
"Nothing," Lena said while faking a smile. "It's what everyone else's problem is." She stomped off in the opposite direction to the staring band.
Jessie peered around James curiously, he looked over his shoulder. They both noticed the group moving away, so they quickly broke apart as if nothing happened.
Craig frowned, "where did I put my glass?"
Tables had been shuffled around to create a sitting area in front of the large screen that had been brought in a few nights earlier. Instead of showing the competition, a programme about the tour was playing. The two hosts excitedly talked about the semi-finale, while repeats of the performances played in the background.
Jessie, James and Duncan sat at a nearby table. Duncan kept glancing over at the screen, then at them. He seemed to remember he had breakfast left and tucked into that.
James sighed. "How the hell did we get through to the semi's?" he asked in between a forkful of food and a sip of his drink.
"Gee," Jessie chuckled, glancing at the screen he had his back to. Typically a repeat of their performance was on, spliced up to show the best bits, she assumed. "Apparently, I don't need to be biased."
James frowned, "huh?" Jessie smiled and shook her head. Still his face didn't change, "Lena was right. I shouted that last part, ruined it. If it weren't for the last chorus, we'd be out."
Duncan peered up at him with his brow lowering, he pointed his puzzled face towards Jessie. "Why is he lying? You said lying bad."
Jessie giggled to herself while James froze, more than confused. "Yes James," she said, making his confusion worse. "Stop lying to him. You need to set a good example for your son."
James almost spat out his drink and laughed genuinely, "that is a good one." His attention went back to his breakfast, mumbling while scooping some food, "me, good example."
"Uh huh," Jessie sighed, looking a little deflated. "I am a little serious here. Duncan shouldn't have either of our poor self esteem issues. You can't keep calling yourself crap around him, or he'll do it too."
"Crap?" Duncan sounded like he scoffed. He shook his head, "Silly daddy."
The mirth faded from James' face in an instant. Jessie though quietly sniggered at Duncan's comment.
"It's not... with the band I don't usually care if I do well or not. The silence spoke for itself, that's all," James said, trailing off when he noticed Lena and Kiara walk in together, followed by Craig and the rest of Kiara's band. "Uh... something's really wrong with this picture."
Jessie peered around to see what he was talking about as the group reached the table. She recoiled from the rare sight of Lena and Kiara together, not arguing.
"Oh, they haven't announced it yet?" Lena said, eyeing the screen.
"They've already told us next week's theme. What else is there?" Jessie said.
Lena didn't answer, instead her eyes lit up and she pointed at the screen. "Ah this must be it."
James and Jessie reluctantly turned around to watch the screen. The announcers had a screen behind them showing a still promotional image of their group.
"Now this is quite the surprise," Jepp said. "We've been told that Virus will not be attending Jailbreakers' summer bash at the weekend..."
"What?" Jessie snapped.
James stared up at the smiling Lena. He didn't have time to ask, the announcer continued. "... citing unforeseen circumstances. Taking their place will be Ausfalt tribute band Faultsa. Of course this has..."
Lena walked over while he was talking to mute the TV, much to everyone in the room's annoyance. "It's okay. I got..."
"They've replaced us with a tribute band?" Jessie stammered over the top of her, offended and a little angry.
Lena shrugged casually. "That's Jailbreakers' problem. Now, our news."
"Wait, what do you mean our news? What's happened here?" James asked, gesturing to the screen.
"Well," Lena said, glancing at the uncomfortable looking Kiara beside her. "I asked mum about hosting our own promotional concert. She thought with both bands getting to the semi's that it'd be a good idea."
"Then she dunked her head in her coffee mug, might I add," Craig meekly said from behind her.
Jessie stared blankly between the pair, "so, to all?"
Lena tried not to laugh, "well duh, it's obvious. We can't be in two places at once."
James glanced back over his shoulder at the TV showing English subtitles over the top of alien text occasionally appearing at the bottom of the screen. The hosts were reading some from cards, grimacing. Judging from that and some of the translated text, he wasn't the only one who had a problem with the news.
"You did this?" he asked, standing up with a hardening face. "You cancelled on one of the favourites to win, as well as the semi final's hosts, inviting us to their event, so you can do what you always do; perform Die Barbie slash songs on the Holodeck here?"
Lena's face fell in a matter of seconds. She looked at Jessie, she was grimacing from what James had said but anger was in her eyes as well. Kiara hinted at her group to leave them all to it, but they were already side stepping away.
"Hey look, I'm still mad that Kiara bitched about me in all of her songs, but if we're both at the same concert, they'll think..." Lena said, sounding very surprised at their reaction.
"That we're blowing off aliens who'll never see us again, for people we can perform for at anytime, at the last bloody second," James snapped back.
Lena's jaw dropped, eyes sharpened and pointed only at him. "yeah exactly, what does it matter! It's for a good cause. We pretend to get along and both Pulse and Virus will be flying to the finals. Why are you being so arsey about this?"
"Oh I don't know, because the Voyager crew can't vote, we can't invite many people up here to watch so what's the point? And you've just pissed off an entire planet with this," James answered, voice rising. "Probably more, this is a popular band with fans everywhere."
Lena scoffed, once more turning her attention to Jessie. "Tell him to calm his ass down before I humiliate him in front of his kid."
Duncan laughed, angering her more. "Good one."
Jessie started to tremble as she ground her jaw in an attempt to calm herself. "He's right, so no. But you'll accuse me of taking his side, so why bother talking to me at all?"
"This is a much better idea than being upstaged by the musical pantomime!" Lena shouted at them both. Craig nodded timidly.
Jessie coughed, pointing at him. Lena looked around, huffed and shot her attention back at Jessie. "Oh I see, that's how it is?"
"Ohno, not even close," Jessie faked a laugh. "Any group that snubs a mass of fans for another, especially ones that see them all the time, I want nothing to do with. Too bad, I don't have a choice in the matter."
"Come off it, Jailbreakers' planet won't give a crap about us cancelling on them. You're having a hissy over nothing," Lena snarled.
Several days later the four hovering buses each carrying a band inside arrived at an arena standing almost on top of a beach. It appeared to have no roof over it, only a sparkling forcefield. Built on a slightly raised hill, parts of it including the staff entrance to the arena hovered over the sands. People who wanted shade tucked underneath it.
The two suns were still high in the sky. Although the human bands were warned about it, they still reeled when they stepped out of their air conditioned transport into the scorching suns.
Each band were told to wait until one was called into the arena. The host band, the infamous Jailbreakers went first along the bridged path going over the edge of the sand. Everyone on the beaches had already rushed over when the buses arrived, so they clambered up the hills to get a good look at the band. They got a roaring applause and cheers, they waved back at their fans on their way into the building.
The second band called over got a similar response as they made their way across. Before entering, the lead singer and the man who Lena got into an argument with looked across at the human bands still waiting, he with a sneer on his face.
Pulse were next, they were relieved to get a warm welcome, even if it was quieter than the two alien groups.
James and Jessie tensed, knowing their turn was next. Lena was completely opposite, excited and raring to go. Craig kept to himself, hoping his other bandmembers were overreacting.
When they were called the cheers and clapping stopped. Like during their previous performance, it went eerily quiet as they crossed the bridge. They tried to cross the bridge at a normal pace but the quiet was making each of them uncomfortable. Jessie and then Craig quickened their pace to get in sooner.
James glanced over his shoulder at Lena as he stood at the door, waiting for her. She expected something from him after that response, but he only waited for her to go through first, then he followed.
"We're screwed," Craig moaned as he sat, peering up at the darkening sky. It was still hot and sticky, but nowhere near as much as it had been earlier. He still picked at his tight red trousers that felt like they were stuck to him.
James stood nearby, leaned against the wall, peeling off the dark red jacket with a few grimaces. Craig heard him inhale through his teeth with one and looked up curiously. "How the hell did I burn through this?"
Craig groaned, "you didn't, it's just the heat." James sighed and tossed the jacket to one side. Craig cringed at the resulting clatter that made. "Don't tell Lena this but..."
"I was right," James finished for him, not sounding proud at all.
"Ye...yeah," Craig reluctantly said, staring at his knees. "How are we going to get through two songs if everyone hates us."
"Simple, we do our few lines, let Lena do all the adlibbing again and pretend we're only in rehearsals," James answered.
"No," Craig shook his head, he noticed he was starting to tremble. "You may be used to people hating you, but nobody really cares or notices me. I dunno if I can handle this."
James frowned down at him, fortunately with a small smile tugging the corner of his lips. "I'm not even going to touch that one."
A knock on the door interrupted an annoyed Craig before he could open his mouth. They didn't answer but still the male of their two guides walked in without a care in the world.
"Okay gentlemen, we've got a lot of work to do before we go on," he said giddily. "The first theme of the night is the Summer's Eve festival, and unfortunately that's the one you're having trouble getting right."
Craig blinked rapidly, eyes widening a little. "Wait, it's not even summer here yet?" The guide laughed and shook his head. "Fine, I suppose that's why we have to be out of our comfort zone with our song choice. I'm already there."
The guide glanced toward James expectantly, brow furrowed. "No. Summer's Eve celebrates the dawn of the second sun. In ancient times, the people here used to believe it was the devil summoning its beasts to attack the heavens."
Craig had a blank look on his face. James though rolled his eyes. "We're doing their Halloween one first," he said in a plain voice. Craig pretended he got it and nodded. "What are we doing wrong then?"
"Well, Miresha and I agree that it's missing a certain something. We can sneak it in without much practise. We think it should repair the damage of the last week," the guide replied.
Craig flinched, his shoulders sank. "Is it really that bad?"
The guide smiled in his direction, "well I've seen worse."
Craig's face turned pale at that answer. "But, we had a good reason to cancel."
"Which was?" the guide asked but pleasantly, it threw Craig off. "If I were you, I'd come up with a new reason just in case you're asked. Rumours are circulating."
"Story of my life," James said, forcing a smile. "So what's the extra thing we're missing?"
The guide lowered his voice to a near whisper to explain. Neither James or Craig liked the sound of it.
"But why?" James asked in a strained voice.
The guide's eyes drifted over to him while straightening his lips. "You gotta give what fans you have left what they want."
Bryan dressed in a vampire cape hurried off the stage with flushing cheeks. He had long since scampered off before Naomi and Kiara got down the stairs.
"I told you, Bump in the Night wasn't a good enough replacement for..." Naomi sighed.
"No, don't say it!" Kiara blurted out, then made a shushing sound. "It was better."
Naomi giggled at her friend, "than a Lena cast off. Admit it, you turkeyed out." Kiara mouthed what? "You know, bwerk bwerk, scaredy turkey."
"Right?" Kiara mumbled to herself. "I just don't like that song anymore, it's silly."
"And we go bump, and bump, bump," Naomi said in a robotic voice, "isn't?"
Kiara groaned as if disgusted, "Bryan's just mad he only got to sing in the choruses."
"Like he did the last time, and in the next one too," Naomi said, clicking her tongue after. She walked off, leaving Kiara alone with her thoughts.
She snapped out of it when she spotted Lena and the rest of her group approach in awkward silence, so she hurried away to avoid getting involved in another spat.
The red-dressed group headed up to the stage wordlessly once they were given their cue. They could hear the audience but couldn't see them with the thick curtain in between them. Several workers finished fixing a circular platform with mic's attached around the edge onto the stage, avoiding any eye contact with the band.
Once they were gone, Lena nudged the edge of it a little, making it spin on the spot. She laughed weakly, "well at least it's not Seven-trapped."
"Good stuff," Jessie commented plainly with a straight face.
Lena chose to ignore her and step onto the platform and take one of the mic's. The others did the same, each one dreading what was coming.
They heard their band name announced, shocked that they still got some claps and cheers. There were boos mixed into it too. Electric guitars signalled the start of their performance, the curtain rose as the band but on their game faces.
As the song played, they took the mic from the stand and started waving the stand itself side to side, in time with the music. Since their stage was a circle, only Lena and Craig were directly facing the majority of the audience. Something Jessie was relieved about considering the mixed reactions.
"Distant shrieks, I've gotta keep my head down low," Lena sang lightly and cutely.
"Heart is thumping, I'm here all alone," Craig kept his voice low, trying to smile at the same time. He dared himself to look ahead, quickly relieved as he could see a number of people cheering and dancing along, the booers were nowhere in his sight. "Something's banging on the nearby wall."
Lena swung around the stand to prop herself against it, then slid down it, "they're stalking my grave, I gotta let them go."
She knew it without seeing it, Kathryn spat multiple feathers and chugged her giant flask of coffee.
Once Lena slid back up to a standing position, all four of them put the mic's back on the stand, then leaned to the right bringing the stand and mic with them. The platform began to slowly turn.
"Blood is running in the wrong direction," James sang when he could face the audience. He brought his fingers to his face, pointing to the left with two fingers.
The group leaned forward, slowing the platform to a near stop. "Gotta feeling that's a mixed up sign," Jessie sang so softly, it was close to a whisper.
They all maneuvered to the left this time, sending them spinning very slowly again. "I can see it in my own reflection," Lena sang toward the people at the side of the stage.
Finally they all pulled back, it kept spinning though. "Something funny's going on inside my mind," Craig sang while pointing fingers at his temple.
For now the cheers were overwhelming the booing, still they could hear them.
"Dunno what..." James sang while pushing his spare hand out, turning his hand so it looked like he was offering something. "Is pushing me further."
"Like the gusts from the trees above," Craig tried to put some extra oomph in his voice, it came out a little shaky.
"Then it drops, and catches on fire," Jessie sang her line trying not to cringe at that.
Lena tried to stir up the crowd by raising her hand rapidly, "it's the sound I, it's the sound I..." The rest of the group joined in for the chorus.
"It's the sound of the underground. The beats of my heart go round and around. Into the overflow, where the ghouls jump down to the sound of the reaper. Out of my eccentric mind, the beasts jump out in the back street's light. The creeps come around and around. It's the sound of the under, sound of the underground."
With the platform still turning, they took the mic's off the stands again to walk around in the opposite direction. Doing so brought the platform seemingly to a stop, this time with James and Jessie at the front.
"Chain reaction running through my veins," Jessie sang, starting the others off with the stand swinging again. "Pumps the fear right up into my brain."
James kept a hold of his stand as he walked forward a couple steps. "Screws with my mind until I lose control." He leaned forward while the others crouched down beside their stands smoothly. "And when the building rocks I know it's got my soul."
The others got up quickly to retake their standing positions, while James walked around back to his stand. He repeated his earlier line; "blood is running in the wrong direction." They all did the same routine up until and including the chorus.
Once that was over the lights fell to show only their shadows, a guitar instrumental started playing as they danced and walked around the stage.
Just before the lights came back on, they returned to the circular platform. All except James who stood right in front of it. As the music faded into a quieter moment, Lena and Jessie returned to their mic's. Lena pulled a face and looked around, confused. Craig pretended to do the same.
Only James started to sing over the quieter music. Lena looked across, trying her best not to look mad. "I dunno what is pushing me further. Like the gusts from the trees above."
Lena glanced toward Jessie, she shrugged, none of the wiser. Craig averted his eyes.
"Then it drops, and catches on fire. It's the sound I, it's the sound I..." James continued, intentionally oblivious to this, his voice rising with each repeat. He stepped partly onto the platform at the same time. He slid that foot backwards and forward, but it didn't move, the platform did. He got on for the final, "the sound I..." pushing it into its usual slow spin.
The rest of the group improvised, knowing that was the start of the chorus again. James dragged out the last word he sang until halfway through it. The audience loved it much to Lena's annoyance, which she kept behind a smiley mask.
As the song started to fade out, she sang over the others. "The beasts jump out in the back street's light." She repeated it one more time to close off the song.
The resulting applause and cheers overwhelmed any boos they might have gotten. Lena's smile at hearing that wasn't faked to the rest of the band's relief. But as soon as the curtains fell, she stormed off quickly with fire in her eyes.
"Um, what the hell was that?" Jessie asked, a little annoyed herself.
Craig looked at her, panicked and ran off after Lena. Jessie wasn't sure what to make of that, shook her head and looked at James.
He let out a sigh, "apparently our fans prefer it when I take the lead. We needed something after everything."
Jessie was momentarily speechless. She stammered a bit as she walked forward. "And you knew Lena wouldn't agree, so I didn't hear about it either."
James shook his head, "I figured you'd been told at least."
"Oh," Jessie groaned. The staff entering the stage gestured at them to leave, and urgently. The pair quickly left, leaving them to clean up after them. Once they were alone again, Jessie hinted for him to stop. "If I were Lena..."
James stared at the floor, grimacing. "I know, I wouldn't blame her. I wasn't too keen on it either, but she wants to win this. If it helps her to do that then..."
"It won't if you two are at each other's throats," Jessie pointed out. He nodded like he expected that. "Come on, I'll watch your back."
Inside the stadium's version of the results room, Lena stood at the buffet table merely staring at it. Craig had tried to find anywhere safe to hide, but couldn't so opted to hanging out with Pulse at the sofa and TV area.
"Okay," Lena said, even smiling.
James and Jessie exchanged worried and very confused glances. Jessie dared to look forward first, "you're fine with this?"
"Someone could've told me," Lena said, looking away towards Craig and Pulse. He noticed and shrunk down in his seat. "But it went down better than the Untouchable fiasco so... who am I to complain?"
Jessie's eyebrow twitched slightly. James noticed and quickly chimed in before she could, "maybe we should get some last minute practise for the second song."
"Yeah, as long as it's still the same," Lena sighed and shrugged. She walked over to the sofa area. Craig turned into a nervous wreck much to everyone elses' amusement.
"So Lena, was that song inspired by real life events?" Kiara asked while smiling sweetly.
Lena turned around while narrowing her eyes. For once it looked a little in jest, "damn you, that was gonna be my insult."
Kiara giggled, "well I was first."
"Girls," Craig stammered as a warning, pointing to the door. "Maybe not now."
Lena looked across expecting one of their competition, instead it looked like a group of six reporters with a few cameras. "Oh great," she groaned.
James and Jessie walked across the room to join her and Craig. Lena looked at them alarmed, and hurriedly climbed on the chair so she was kneeling on it and facing them. "Hey, you guys go on a makeout break or something."
Jessie turned bright red, either furious or embarrassed. Lena assumed both. "Excuse me!"
"I've seen these guys, they're tabloid twats," Lena whispered to them, eyes rapidly pointing between the approaching reporters and the pair. "You two are like twenty Christmases at once for these people."
"What?" James said, still confused.
They were almost on them. Lena looked to Craig, hoping he'd help her. He coughed to clear his nervous throat, "they're the Tom's of the journalist world."
"Oh," James and Jessie both said at once, suddenly very worried. It was also too late for them to leave without being rude.
"Just keep quiet, Craig and I will do all the talking," Lena said. Craig took that as a cue to get up and join them.
"And we...?" James wondered.
"Just stand around and erm, look pretty or whatever," Lena replied.
"Pretty?" James tried not to laugh.
"That's a hard job for him, Lena," Craig whispered. Lena shrugged.
The reporters reached them, all pointing nosey smiles at them. They all took turns asking questions, to which mostly Lena answered with Craig chiming in now and then. James and Jessie nodded along.
One of the reporters looked at them, "you two are being really quiet. Is everything okay?"
Lena tried not to panic, "oh, no. They're very shy actually. I'm the talkative one."
Another reporter frowned, disappointed. "Well I have a question for them."
"Oh boy, goodie," Lena said through a gritted teeth fake grin.
"There's a lot of people who'd love to know for sure. From your performances, the videos and some behind the scenes gossip, if it's true you two are a couple?" the same reporter asked.
"No," Lena replied before they could even finish blushing.
All of the reporters looked intrigued, the one who had asked even more so. "I didn't mean you, dear." He looked at the so far quiet pair.
"It's as she says, no," Jessie said.
"Hmm, but you two seem awfully close in your performances," the reporter said, while the others made notes.
Lena noticed them, she tried quickly to think of something to stop them.
"We are, not in the way you think though," James said, instantly stopping them and getting their very confused attention. "I think our people have different customs to you, that's probably why, we gave you the wrong idea. Our people are private and wouldn't, erm show it off in the open."
"Right, that," Lena said. Jessie meanwhile sighed quietly in relief and smiled.
"I see," one of the reporters sounded disappointed. They all seemed to buy it though.
Another slid to the front with their own separate camerawoman to the others, pointing a microphone at them. "What's your opinion on your competition? Who'd you like to win if you don't?"
"Honestly, I like them all. Rhythm's singer is amazing, Pulse are fun and since they're our shipmates..." Jessie said.
Craig nodded rapidly, "yeah I quite like Jailbreaker." James and Jessie looked at him as if he had outed them to the reporters. "I um, wish we... I hadn't gotten food poisoning and cancelled. Performing with them would've been awesome."
Lena internally facepalmed, "so much for avoiding it," she muttered quietly.
"Um yeah, thanks Neelix," Craig tried to laugh and put up a thumbs up at the camera.
Some of the reporters laughed with him and jotted a few things down. The one who'd asked the question wasn't done though, "who do you think will win?"
"That's tricky, they all have strong points," James said. "We meanwhile are very lucky to get this far."
"So the rumours about your feuds with every band left in the competition are fake?" another reporter asked.
Craig flushed with worry. "What, no? We're close with Pulse. Jailbreaker were pretty understanding. I haven't had the chance to meet anyone in Rhythm yet, I'd like to. Dunno where that's coming from."
"I'm not surprised, they're not that welcoming to visitors," Lena said a little bitterly. She regretted it immediately before all the microphones and cameras turned to her. "It's okay, it's not a feud. It was barely an anything."
James cringed while the camera was off him. "Definitely fake. We're here to have fun. Apart from Craig's idea to eat Neelix's clearly mouldy crumpets the other day, it has been."
Craig scowled at him. "It wasn't clearly."
One of the reporters thankfully came to their rescue, "they say none of your songs are original. They're songs from long ago."
"No," Lena answered sharply.
Jessie had answered yes half a second later, she winced afterwards.
"Which is it?" the same reporter asked.
"They are, mostly. The lyrics have been changed in some of them," James replied.
"We do this for fun in between our jobs," Jessie added on. "We call them parodies on our world."
"I see," the reporter was happy with that answer.
Lena frowned, "are you going to ask the other bands the same questions?" Everyone looked at her, her bandmates in growing horror. "I mean Jailbreaker apparently cover songs all the time, they're a performance act after all, not songwriters."
"Our questions are ones our watchers asked," one reported piped up.
"I was just asking," Lena said, sounding a little offended.
The reporters finished making notes. Two of them decided to go and pester Kiara's group instead. The ones left smiled politely and thanked them before doing the same.
"Wow, way to go everyone," Lena grumbled.
"What?" James scoffed, "we tried to curb the gossip, unlike someone."
"Oh please, they already know the stuff I said," Lena said.
Jessie laughed insincerely, "oh right, so we gotta shut up just in case the reporters spread the usual couple gossip, which doesn't affect whether people like us. But you're allowed to slag off other bands..."
"I didn't..." Lena tried to butt in angrily.
"Let me finish!" Jessie snapped back, cueing everyone to stare at her. Craig squeaked and backed away. "Craig covered for you, James convinced them of the not a couple thing, I complimented our competition. You got all defensive and snotty, so chuck that way to go everyone that isn't me crap into the bin before you ruin this again for us."
"Again!?" Lena stammered furiously. "I cancelled our concert because of you and James..."
"No you didn't, you and Craig still went," James said.
Lena gasped in offense. "To watch, we didn't..." James and Jessie's look towards her told her they weren't going to buy it, or they already knew. "Of course, you're just taking her side to protect her. You know I'd win without breaking a sweat."
Jessie rolled her eyes, "oh god Lena, get a new tune."
"Please," Lena faked a laugh, "that's what he does. Sarcasm and treating you like a damsel. Too bad he's not very good at it."
Craig once more squeaked and side stepped further away until he was out of harm's way, which turned out to be in the corridor outside.
James' face meanwhile hardened in Lena's direction, she smiled smugly at him. "What does that mean?"
"You know what I mean, you schmuck. It'd be funny if it wasn't so deadly for Jessie," Lena said.
"Okay, that's enough..." Jessie tried to cut in, her eyes throwing daggers at the girl.
Lena shrugged them off with ease, "yeah Jess, I can say the same about you. He may be a terrible protector, Slayer, anything, but if I were him I'd be offended everytime you tried to help me out. Ask Craig."
They all noticed Craig had gone when she said that. They all mentally shrugged that off, not surprised in the slightest.
"Oh so sorry, your perfectness. I get it, we'll get out of your perfect way," Jessie said in a fake polite voice. Then she started to walk away, but stopped when she thought of something else. "You know, maybe Kiara has a point. It's always you." Jessie stormed off, leaving Lena a little shellshocked and definitely offended.
"James," Lena tried to scold him to stop him from walking off too, but she sounded vulnerable. "I'm trying, okay? It's hard."
James looked at her with his face blank, she had no idea what he was feeling about her. "I know," he said in a tone that was almost understanding, before he left as well.
All four bands had performed once, the crowd were very eager for the second round. To keep them occupied until then, the usual two hosts were displayed on a projected image over the curtain, discussing the event so far. The occasional clip of a performance or an interview was played in between topics.
The image faded away, the lights dimmed, setting the crowd off into an excited frenzy.
Pretty soon Kiara, Naomi and Bryan were back on the stage, which had been made to look like a beach. The background a live shot of the sea. Summery music played as they danced around the stage.
"Put your coffee away, it's gross and kinda dull. We're tomorrow's generation, don't be bashful," Kiara put on her cute kiddy voice to sing her bit while clapping along. "So bring the glasses, pronto, step this way. The modern kid's delighted to be risk-ey."
Bryan looked pleased to get a part of the verse next, once done he had a massive grin on his face as he got a massive cheer.
Naomi tried to do her bit in a sultry tone, it came off as more cute than anything. The three then threw themselves into a very lively chorus compared to the light verses.
After that Bryan was up again, very eager to go. "Sugar just gimme your notes, I'll play it all the time. You know please is the word, but hey, the word is mine." Of course his parents beamed proudly at his much bigger part. "I don't do work, but I do keep my own pace. So I suggest you wipe that nag from off your face."
Naomi walked up, repeating his earlier lines from the beginning. She finished by giving the crowd a wink, then put her hand out for Kiara to tag in.
"So 1, 2, 3 now baby, here we go," Kiara sang with a giggle.
The chorus kicked off again. Since the audience were expecting it, they mostly stood up in anticipation so they could dance along.
"Here we go, here we go. I'm on sugar coated high, you're my number one. Here we go, here we go."
Kathryn meanwhile sighed contently, "aaaw, isn't she so cute?" Chakotay smiled warmly at her. "Another of my babies dedicating a song to me." Chakotay mentally kicked himself for not seeing that coming. He laughed and shook his head.
The band got a standing ovation and a rip roaring cheer once they were finished. They each did a little bow, thanking them before they left.
The intermission between them and the next act seemed a lot longer than the last time. A lot of the Voyager crew were worried, since they knew who were next.
Kathryn chugged her fourth flask. "Oh dear, maybe I should go check on them." She was about to get up, Chakotay quickly grabbed her arm to stop her. "Oooh," she giggled, "you pick your moments Chucky."
"No," Chakotay groaned. "They'll be on soon. Be patient."
As soon as he said that the curtains drew, revealing a misty stage. Only a piano played. Two microphone stands in the middle, which confused the crowd into thinking Rhythm were next instead.
Jessie stepped out of the mist though, bringing a mic to her lips while walking up to one of the two stands. She sang a few lines before a rock track started playing instead of the piano, she raised her voice to be heard over it.
Craig ran out to take the other mic, occasionally shouting, "wake me up," and "save me," into it. James and Lena rallied around at opposite sides of the stage with hand mic's, singing along with Jessie.
Lena approached Jessie near the end of the chorus, she moved off without even looking at her. Acting as if that didn't bother her, Lena started doing the second verse.
After another chorus, Lena harmonised with the instrumental while Craig whispered his lines. She moved off long before James walked over to take the stand instead of her.
"Only... you are my life, among the dead!" While he sang the last line, Craig started to sweat about something, his eyes darting around.
It didn't take long for everyone to find out why. Immediately after James finished singing the last word, it was his turn. This time he didn't try to shout, he used his gentle singing voice. "All of this time, I can't believe I couldn't see. Trapped in the dark, but you were there to follow me."
James took the mic from the stand, turning to face him when he took over. "I've been sleeping a thousand years it seems." His vastly different singing power to Craig's didn't clash like expected, they went together nicely. The crowd were revved up by it, clapping their hands above their heads. "Got to open my eyes to everything!"
Craig seemed a little bit more relaxed. "Without thought, without a voice, without a soul."
James lowered his voice to a whisper with the mic very close to his lips, "don't let me die here."
Craig took in a deep breathe and tried his hand at singing loudly like him after all, "there must be something more!" It sounded more like a yell but it fit the music style.
"Bring me, to life!" James finished off the middle eight, overpowering him effortlessly.
The girls joined in to sing the chorus with him, with Craig back on shouty adlibbing duties. The mist started to settle down, revealing what looked like a platform high above their heads. People swore they saw someone there, walking steadily across the beam.
On the last, "bring me to life," drawn out for quite a while, the figure jumped over the edge. They didn't fall far. Everyone gasped in horror and disgust as the she hung there by her throat, a tightly wound noose was clear for even people at the back to see.
The band noticed from the movement above them and abruptly stopped, as shocked as the crowd. Lena had her eyes closed while she sang, so she'd missed it. The sound of the audience's horrified reaction got her attention. She noticed people pointing, everyone talking. She peered up to find the corpse hanging directly above her head.
Her chilling screams echoed around the entire, mostly silent stadium long after she'd ran off.
Jessie looked around, noticing James no longer where he was. She had a feeling why and so looked over to the platform's supporting pillar behind them. There he was as she expected, trying to climb up. He didn't get far when it and the body fizzled out of existence like the holograms they truly were, so he didn't fall too far. At the same time the lights around the arena went out as well.
"Oh my god..." Jessie stuttered and ran over to him. The boos and shouting that were getting thrown at them, as well as literal things being thrown, were the last thing on her mind. Craig though was so unnerved he ran off as well.
James got up just as Jessie got to him. He nodded, "I'm fine," he said quietly. They didn't dare eye the audience, they left as well.
"What the hell was that, what were you thinking?" Kathryn roared at the three remaining members. Behind her, Chakotay kept attempting to get a word in. "Even if you pulled that stunt during the scary theme, it was extremely..."
James shook his head, "we didn't do it!" he shouted back at her, cutting her off momentarily.
"That much is obvious," Chakotay tried to chime in also.
Kathryn stared at each of them while blinking more than usual. She rolled her eyes, keeping them to one side. "Well I'm sorry if it reminded me of your last edgy Halloweeny performance."
Jessie looked up from her lap with hardening eyes directed at the Captain. "The only thing it had in common was your teenage daughter screaming, and this one sounded pretty genuine to me."
"I didn't expect this to be one of her ideas," Kathryn said dismissively, "just like all the other recent ones."
Chakotay stepped forward hurriedly. "I think we're getting off track here," he said with a strained smile. All eyes but Jessie's turned to him. "Each stadium has a security system built to stop outside interference. The signal for the holograms must've come from within." He gestured the hand holding a tricorder, it squealed briefly. "They've got a dampening field in effect now, so I imagine they'll find out where it came from soon enough."
"Within?" Craig said with a new frog in his throat, "that could be anyone. The staff, any of the bands, the bands' visitors backstage, our officials."
"The whole audience," James added on in a flat tone.
Chakotay sighed and nodded. "Unfortunately we're on our own. No one's allowed to leave. Even if we were, the dampening field, as well as the stadium's normal security measures, is stopping us from getting through to Voyager."
"Then perhaps we should do a head count, then keep us all together," Kathryn said. Chakotay looked back over his shoulder toward her. "Take one of these three, and get on it. Bring Kiara and Lena here first."
"Actually..." Chakotay objected not to anyone's surprise, though it still made Kathryn's eyebrow twitch, "I'd recommend against taking any familiar faces. You and I may be able to mix in with the alien crowd, but everyone knows them."
Kathryn firmly shook her head, "in the dark, I don't think so." She turned to where she remembered the band members were. "James, you go with him. I hope I don't have to tell you this, but if any trouble flares up..."
"And yet you're still gonna tell me. I know," James said, already on his way out.
Chakotay heard the door click open, so hurried over while turning on the tricorder's little flashlight. He almost collided with a figure going the opposite way.
"Excuse me, Commander," they heard a familiar voice come from them. A brief flicker of the strobe light Kathryn bought so she could see her coffee during the concert, and they all recognised her as both of the band's guide, Miresha. "I apologise for taking so long. Security at first refused to tell me anything."
"At first, so what do you know?" Chakotay asked, double backing through the door.
Kathryn cleared her throat and pointed, not that he could see. "Stay with James!" she hissed.
"Really, I'm probably more in danger with him than without," Chakotay groaned, turning to leave once again.
Kathryn scoffed, hiding her smirk in the dark. "How cute, he thinks he's the one I'm worried about." Jessie side eyed her with a steadily raising eyebrow. As if she sensed it, Kathryn laughed meekly. "So, what have you learned?"
Miresha shut the door behind her. She waited for the very little noise outside the room to simmer down before she answered, "they can't find the source of the holographic signal. They're thinking of resuming the competition as a ruse, to lower the guard of the perpetrator."
"So maybe you shouldn't be telling us this," Kathryn said.
Miresha was about to respond, but Jessie exhaled sharply. "For god's sake. Why would we sabotage our own performance, especially when we already have a sketchy reputation?" she snapped.
"Don't keep getting your pants in a bunch Jessie or you won't be able to take them off at the end of the night. You might need to stand out less, you know," Kathryn sniped back. Craig's eyes widened, he started to shake fearfully.
"Yes well..." Miresha said quickly with a customer service smile painted on. Her voice soon caught up as Jessie stood, looking ready to retort. "I'd suggest preparing your crewmembers for a quick exit once we're all cleared to leave. Unfortunately we need to be a mile from the stadium to get any kind of signal to and from your ship."
Craig made a little gasp, "oh, is that why we always have to be taken to these things via buses and stuff?"
Kathryn ignored him, shaking her head. "Perhaps you can ask for more time than everyone else. An earlier exit time during the results portion of the show, to avoid any trouble."
"That is what Reve is attempting to organise," Miresha said. "Pulse and Lena have already been escorted into a secured room. How many of your people were backstage or in the audience?"
"I'd say roughly a dozen, Chakotay should..." Kathryn said over the sound of the door, it put her off. Craig and Miresha looked around, she pointed a tiny finger sized torch at it. She couldn't see anyone, it looked shut. By the time she pointed it towards the others, Kathryn already knew what had happened. "Jessie. Idiot," she grunted.
Craig nervously glanced between the two women left. "It's okay, she's probably just going to cool off. Most of the people mad at us will be nowhere near backstage, right?"
"I'm still trying to understand who'd hate us, or just your group enough to do something like this," Kathryn said.
"I don't think it's about hate," Miresha chimed in, getting both of their attention back. "It's only about winning, bringing pride to your planet. The war's still going on in a way. An outsider winning would make the contest meaningless to most. It could be anyone."
"Comforting," Craig commented after a worried gulp.
Miresha nodded grimly. "Nutropa and Yuma, Jailbreaker and Rhythm, it'll make no difference to some. It always comes down to these two, every year." Kathryn made a little curious hmph sound, she thought of as cue to go on or explain. "It's curious, why this happened now and not at the final. Unless one of them were worried they wouldn't make it, but with Virus's reputation of late, they're almost guaranteed a place, so why?"
"Were they really? Until the hangwoman, the people who didn't like them were in the minority," Kathryn pointed out.
"Hmm perhaps," Miresha said, not sounding certain. "But who they chose, and the placement. Neither would have gone so low, but neither of yours wouldn't have known about the incident to pull this off. Though you could've found out..."
"Hold on. What are you talking about?" Kathryn asked.
Miresha tried to swallow a lump in her throat, she timidly nodded. "Asyla Reqim of Nutropa. A century ago she was a rising starlet, beloved by both her home planet and even Yuma. The media as they always do broke her down, sharing everything she did, following her. She reached the final, only to hang herself in front of everyone at the end of her song, exactly like the hologram did." Craig and Kathryn looked on in horror, Craig shuddered from it. "Yuma had two representatives in that final. The bands were sympathetic but the planet's people were furious that Nutropa were given the win as a mark of respect. It caused much unrest. Both planets almost went to war again."
Kathryn impatiently sighed, scowling away to herself. "What have we gotten ourselves into here?"
"No," Miresha sounded alarmed, "this was a long time ago. Both sides will know better than to disrespect Asyla's memory in this fashion. So why?"
"Neither of them want to risk missing their yearly battle. We kept hearing all this fuss over guest bands and how far they're getting. The novelty of two guests competing against only one of them must be appealing to the majority. I mean, the same thing every year must get pretty old, fast," Kathryn mused aloud.
Craig nodded, "so maybe one of them would do anything to avoid that. But who? Jailbreaker for cancelling on them?"
"I doubt it, they're the Nutropans, same as the suicide victim, correct?" Kathryn questioned in Miresha's direction. She got no answer, it made her hesitate a moment. "Though this is their home planet and stadium, they'd know their own security systems."
"Rhythm don't like us either. Lena said the guy who does the instruments was rude to her, and the lead singer keeps staring daggers at Jessie, I think," Craig muttered uneasily.
Kathryn groaned, "we're getting nowhere. They're both possible culprits, either them or their fans, staff. We're wasting time... we need to keep our people together. Miresha?" She got a little acknowledgment from the official. "Please can you bring Jessie back here, or to Lena and Kiara's room?"
"Of course," Miresha said, sounding a little worried. The pair remaining heard the door open and close within a few seconds of each other.
Not far away, a group of Voyager crewmembers were being lead by Tom and B'Elanna, most of them using the flashing strobe lights to find their way down the dark corridors. They stumbled unknowingly into the open area behind the stage. Tom had been holding the wall to help guide him, so when his hand brushed against the curtain he nearly toppled into them. B'Elanna heard him yelp and grabbed his arm when he was almost halfway down.
His distress got the attention of the people lurking around in the room. One of them approached without a light of their own. None of them noticed, they were too focused on Tom's scramble to get back on his feet.
"Is that everyone?" James' voice asked, startling the majority of them. Tom more so, he ended up on the floor anyway despite his efforts.
B'Elanna chuckled, being the only one not really surprised. "Chakotay's trying to convince Neelix to come, with or without his horde of souvenirs. Samantha was with them. Apart from that..."
"Good lord, you really have to stop doing that," Tom wheezed as soon as he was back on his feet, pointing accusingly at no one since he couldn't see.
Someone made a little shuddering sound, footsteps a short distance behind James faded further away. "Yeah," he said while looking around to pinpoint them.
"What, no argument? Are you all murdered out?" Tom pretended to sound confused, at the same time a door opened. B'Elanna nudged Tom in the ribs, making him whimper. That covered the sound of the door shutting.
"Yeah," James murmured as he turned to walk off in the earlier sound's direction.
Tom chuckled but nervously, "is he messing with me? I was joking, that was clearly suicide."
B'Elanna frowned in the direction James previously was. "He's clearly gone. Come on, Bryan's room's down here." The group wandered off in the same direction they were originally going.
Meanwhile James walked down a corridor that seemed to lead to a dead end. A little touch around in front of him he quickly realised it was a metal door, different to the wooden ones throughout the building. A warm breeze hit him as soon as it was open, as well as the sound of the sea crashing into the nearby beach. There wasn't much in front of him, barely a raised platform leading left. He followed it until a corner took him along another wall, and into the parking lot for the coaches they came in from. A few metres in front of him was Jessie leaning against the wall, taking deep breaths and shaking.
"Jess?" he said on approach.
She looked at him while taking in one last deep breath, then out. "I know, I know. But I couldn't breathe in there. Dark, stuffy, annoying."
James looked around the entire lot before leaning against the wall directly beside her. "I heard they'll be putting the power back on very soon. We should go back then."
"I guess," Jessie sighed, grimacing. "I dunno. Everyone's inside. Maybe we can get in communications and transport range before..." she cut herself off as a thought came to her, instead she groaned.
"What?" James asked, concerned.
"Everyone watches this, don't they? Someone in that town will spot us," Jessie replied as she stared straight ahead of her. "Tell me I'm being paranoid."
James heard the slightest of taps, he looked across at where he thought it came from. One of the buses to his right had its door ajar. He shook his head, "I wish I could."
"At least we won't make it to the final. Once we're back on the ship it's over," Jessie said. Despite her words she didn't sound relieved, only more worried. "Kiara, Naomi, Bryan. They don't deserve any of this crap, I hope they don't have to."
A few more taps elsewhere had James tense, he thought he could hear someone whispering. "We should get back inside."
Jessie glanced between him and in the direction he was staring. She couldn't see anything. Still she nodded, "sure."
They began to make their way back the way they came. The bus James had been watching earlier rolled forward, right into and blocking their path. His attention darted between the ajar door and where he heard the tapping. Jessie started to hear them as well and looked over her shoulder. The previously empty parking lot was starting to get crowded with people filtering in from behind the other vehicles.
"James," she said as a warning.
The ajar door opened, a couple of men jumped down from it. All of the other few dozen of people began to surround them, most of them with angry, disgusted scowls pointed at the pair.
James inched a few little steps to the left so he was between the majority of the crowd and Jessie. She frowned into the back of his head, shaking her own.
"What are you viruses still doing here?" one of the men from the bus snarled. Several of the crowd shouted similar things and agreements. Someone else in the crowd spat in their direction, it didn't hit them.
"Look, we were about to leave. There doesn't need to be any trouble here," James said while keeping an eye on everyone at the front. He felt Jessie's hand grasp around his arm as if to try and pull him back.
"Oh there's no trouble here. Two of you, all of us," a woman said with a slight sneer.
"You spat on not just her grave, but insulted us all!" another screamed. That riled up the crowd even more, more of them started to shout. Bottles were thrown. Only one got close, it smashed into the wall right next to them.
Jessie shook her head, "don't. Please, it wasn't us."
A good majority of the crowd shouted back at her, some pointing. "You dare accuse us?" was the only one either of them made out.
"Listen. We're going to leave. There's no need for this," James said with a raised voice. It didn't matter, not many could hear him over their own voices. "Move aside!"
"James, there's far too many of them," Jessie said close to his ear.
James very lightly nodded. "I know. When you get an opening, run..."
The grip on his arm tightened. "Don't you dare do anything stupid," she whispered urgently.
"I'm not going to, I'll be right behind you," James whispered back. He noticed a lot of the crowd were closing in on them further, but his attention was further ahead behind them. Looking closer to the right, in the rough direction the bus which had been moved had stood, he eyed the people there.
"You're not..." Jessie said quickly under her breath, put off by a couple of the crowd lunging forward.
James only pushed at the ones directly ahead of them, including one of the lungers. They toppled over into the people behind, they struggled to keep upright too. James hurried forward into the brand new opening, making short similar work with the ones at the back. Jessie kept close behind him until they were almost clear.
Five men threw themselves at him from multiple sides. Jessie instinctively went to help. "Go!" he shouted as two were floored with little more than a throw of his arm.
Jessie hesitated, the remaining crowd still standing coming toward her, pushed her into at least stepping backwards. With only two men left with a hold of James, the original five on the ground, she knew he'd be free to run soon, so she took off into the parking lot, straight through a wide gap between two buses. James got one away from him, then ran as well after her. The last guy deposited on the ground seconds later. The remainder of the crowd and some of the ones getting up gave chase.
The lights of the arena flickered back on, the wall turned into a screen showing the two announcers apologising and attempting to explain the situation.
Straight ahead of Jessie lay the town, which for the time being looked quiet. The people she could see were rushing in all manner of directions, most of which towards a big building that looked like an old tavern. She looked behind her to check, at the same time James yelled to keep running. So she did, down a street no one was going for.
James got to the same spot, him and the chasing crowd had garnered interest from the people there. Some were filing out of the tavern to find out what was happening. James sighed, eyeing the street Jessie had gone down. The people almost on him, and new people shouting to join them, he turned to sprint down a completely different street, still shouting for Jessie to run as if she were going the same way.
As planned, the majority chased him and only him down that street. Stragglers were pointed down Jessie's chosen street, they followed her.
"Despite the horrific display from Virus, Jailbreaker have come through with an absolutely beautiful performance," Jepp announced to the mostly empty break room backstage. Kathryn scowled at the screen. He stopped talking and looked nervous as if she were there.
Eylene struggled to smile, she pretended to wipe away a tear, "their best yet I think Jepp."
Chakotay approached Kathryn as she sipped on what barely remained of her flask, a grim look on his face. "Kathryn."
She looked up over her shoulder, "is that it, are we all ready to evacuate?"
"No," Chakotay said, his face had gotten very pale. Kathryn's curious and worried stare pointed at him didn't help. "James and Jessie are missing."
Kathryn found herself staring at the screen again, clenching her jaw and hands.
"The polls for the second round are open, but make it quick, we're running on extra time already," Eylene said.
Jepp nodded, "five minutes folks, and this year's finalists will be revealed."
"Kathryn," Chakotay said warily.
Kathryn shook her head, "you go, I'll stay. Don't crash the bus."
Chakotay tried to laugh but his heart wasn't in it. "I wouldn't recommend just one of us staying behind to look for them. Maybe..."
"We haven't got time," Kathryn said in a hoarse voice. She eyed him with her stubborn eyes while standing. "Get our people into transporter range, get them out of here. Our daughter and granddaughter should be your first priority. Get to it."
Chakotay felt his throat throb. He knew she was right. "I'll get right on it, then I'll send a Security team down in a shuttle." Kathryn widened her eyes briefly as she gestured her head to one side, he took that as another order to leave. He did with some regret and worry.
When he was gone Kathryn's face softened, she once again eyed the screen, head shaking.
The sound of the audience's cheers and claps had long since died down, people had filtered through the backstage area until only a few, including Kathryn remained. She ended her fourth circuit of the place where she started, only then noticing how quiet the place had gotten. What looked to her like two security guards watched her from the main entrance, she approached them with a rapidly growing death glare.
"You, is the concert over?" she barked. The two glanced in surprise at each other, then back at the woman half their height and weight. One barely had time to nod, she pointed at the other harshly. "You're with me. Bobblehead, check your security system. They have cameras don't they?"
"Bobblehead?" the one who nodded stammered before he was melted into a puddle by her gaze. "Yes we do. What are you looking for, ma'am?"
Kathryn scoffed in disgust, "fine, we'll all look at the camera footage, shall we?" They were about to object, her stare darkened even more as she leaned in close to one of them, leering up at him. "If something happened during the blackout, I'm just going to take it out on you, understood?"
"No," they both replied but fearfully.
"Captain," a familiar voice ahead got her attention and saved the two security guards. They turned to confront a group coming down the stairs.
"This facility is off limits to civilians," one said, still unnerved by the woman behind him.
Kathryn rolled her eyes. "Tuvok," she said accusingly, the two guards glanced at her briefly. "Shove off you overcompensators, they're with me because you pissants can't do your job," she hissed, waving her hand in between their faces. They stood aside, one whimpered. "What are you doing here?"
Tuvok stepped down, the three officers he had with him were struggling to keep a straight face. "Commander Chakotay informed me of the situation. I suggested we make use of the Ligers cloaking system to avoid further trouble."
"You managed to fit one of their clunkers in the parking lot?" Kathryn sounded very surprised.
Tuvok's eyebrow shot up, his lip almost curled. "Not exactly Captain."
Outside one of the alien bands were discussing something between them and their officials, occasionally glancing over at one of their men arguing with Stevé and other Ligers standing around in the middle of the empty lot.
"You can't park that thing here, that's why," the man grumbled, his face turning very red.
Stevé folded his arms firmly, "we're not parked anywhere. You're imagining things."
The man knocked on nothing, a metallic ringing followed. Stevé looked nonplussed about it as if nothing happened. "You knocked our bus, look at it!" the man shouted while pointing at the lone remaining vehicle, the bus with its face against the wall of the corner of the building, sporting a second dent at its back tire. The marks on it were scuffed with red paint.
"It was like that when I got here," Stevé said sincerely, intentionally though not looking at the new dent.
They all stopped arguing at the sound of two more vehicles arriving, a similar one to the bus but smaller driving in, and a shuttle sized ship on its way to landing. Stevé looked up, gritting his teeth since it was not far above them. "Oh this isn't..." he said just as it collided with a shield, "good."
"Hmm, not parked anywhere, really," the angry man grumbled. He stomped over to his band and teammates, "get on the new bus, come on." They followed the grumpy man to the other land vehicle. "Don't get too close, some moron called Steve has parked his invisible ship..."
Steve turned his head tensely, making his neck crack, "it's Steve-ay," he grumbled still with gritted teeth. The sound of the shield getting hit again put him off. He looked up again to see the ship maneuver around to park beside him, this time landing safely.
"I don't care if it's the smallest one, it's the oldest. I'm surprised you're not dead," Kathryn grumbled.
Neither she or Tuvok noticed more people walk down the steps into the break room, as well as the guards being dismissed outside. The security team cleared their throats to get one of their attention.
"Captain Janeway?" one of the newcomers said.
Kathryn and Tuvok turned their heads, finally noticing them. Her brow furrowed, she marched over to them. "That's me. Who are you?"
"Forgive me, I am Diedera, I'm what you'd call a prime minister for this continent," the same man said.
The worried look on his face did nothing to deflate Kathryn's sour mood. "I don't have time to be playing politics right now. I have missing..."
"Yes I'm aware," Diedera abruptly said.
"What does that mean, have you found them?" Kathryn asked, eyes sharpening.
Diedera sighed as he glanced back at the two escorting him. They nodded and returned to the stairs to leave them alone. "Our security forces were called to the town nearby on reports of a disturbance. We've found one of your Virus band members. He's been taken to our infirmary."
Kathryn's face hardened. "He? Infirmary?" she sounded calm despite that. It didn't last, her voice raised to a harsh scolding, "I have two missing, and why the hell did he need to be taken to an infirmary?"
"Captain," Tuvok said, hoping to calm her down. "Might we ask what happened?" he directed at Diedera.
He seemed very hesitant. "I'm sorry. We are investigating, I'm taking this matter very seriously."
"Tuvok, tell our friends to help look for Jessie. Turn the town upside down if you have to," Kathryn ordered without breaking eye contact with Diedera. He looked alarmed, so did Tuvok. "You can hand my crewmember over to me. If he actually needs medical treatment, I'd prefer it if we took care of him."
"I can't allow that, I'm sorry," Diedera stammered quickly. "He was harmed on our soil, by my people, it's my responsibility to fix this. If someone else is missing, I'll get officers on it."
Kathryn scoffed, staring at him as if he were a teabag in her cup. "No thank you. We've already been let down your useless security personel..."
"Might I interject," Tuvok said, instantly feeling the chill. "It would take further time to bring more of our people down, and dangerous too. Ligers are Human, so by extension they will not be safe from any retaliation either. I suggest we accept their help."
"Can't you lower your arena shield that blocks our scanners?" Kathryn snapped, "she must be within a mile radius if we haven't found her. That would shorten our search time significantly."
"I'm afraid not. It runs independently, even the power cut didn't affect it," Diedera answered, bracing himself. "It would take our technicians several hours to shut it down. Please, I only wish to help. Otherwise I can only apologise on behalf of what my people did, and that is not enough in these circumstances."
Kathryn glanced over her shoulder back at Tuvok somewhat calmly. He knew better than to lower his guard. She eyed the prime minister again somewhat curious, but still furious. "What happened exactly?"
Diedera thought about how to answer. He shook his head eventually. "Come with me. I'll take you to him."
"So, Mr Stuart can explain it instead of you?" Tuvok questioned, curiously as well.
"No," Diedera said, shoulders slumped. Kathryn's eyes turned very suspicious then. "It might be easier to show you."
The awayteam cautiously followed the alien entourage back to their shuttle. Kathryn gestured a nod at the Liger personnel still standing next to visibly nothing. Stevé nodded and turned around, bumping into nothing with a nasty thud. His teammates sniggered to themselves. "Who moved the ship?" he squeaked.
Once the team were inside the shuttle, the outline of the F9 appeared first before the rest of it decloaked, with Stevé's face still implanted in its hull right beside one of its open airlocks.
It took only a few minutes for the shuttle to reach its destination; a tall shielded building on the cusp of a hill overlooking the nearby town. A portion of the shield vanished to allow it to fly inside.
Diedera lead his visitors down a few halls, into a circular room walled with monitors each showing different parts of the town. Tuvok ordered his team to guard outside, so he and Kathryn were alone with the minister.
"I thought you were taking us to our crewmember," Kathryn said.
"I got word that isn't currently possible. They're operating," Diedera said reluctantly.
Kathryn's eyes flashed, "operating? What the hell happened?" Tuvok again tried to calm her down, she waved him off, "no, James shouldn't be getting so hurt that he needs an operation. Tell us!"
"Of course," Diedera sighed guiltily. He turned to face one of the monitors to use the keyboard like console underneath it. The screen changed from a live shot of a street, to a woman facing the camera with a microphone, the area with the tavern behind her.
"Oh what the hell, don't you people do anything normally?" Kathryn hissed.
Diedera said nothing, he merely unmuted the screen so they could hear the woman talk.
"...live at the scene, in the aftermath of this unprecedented escalation of events. We arrived while a swarm of police officers struggled to contain the unruly crowd. We at Channel Two are asking anyone who caught the incident on video to send them in to us and the police. For now, this is all we have."
The clip changed to show roughly a hundred people in the not so distance. Diedera had to lower the volume a little since the shouting was so loud. People scattered at the sight of law enforcement converging on them. Quite a few argued, even picked a fight with the officers. Many were dragged off screen while the persons behind the camera tried to follow them.
"Sir, sir. Tell us what happened, what's going on..." the same reporter's voice was heard.
The security officer's hand reached for the camera to push it away, "not now, keep back!"
They watched as more people were arrested or ran away into the streets. An alarm sounded over head. Within seconds a vehicle landed in the square. People charged out of it, carrying equipment. The police tried to clear the way through what was left of the crowd for them. A couple stragglers shouted at the new arrivals, calling them traitors.
The camera crew seemed to edge forward, catching a few other reporters and cameras running forward to capture the action. Thanks to them, they couldn't see anymore. All they could make out were the police shouting at everyone to make room.
"As you can see," the reporter's voice said before the image cut back to her talking directly at the camera. "There were many involved in this brawl, some of which have escaped the law. If you recognise them or..." She touched her ear, frowning. "Oh we're getting some of your clips. I'm being told to warn all viewers that what will be shown may be distressing to younger viewers."
Kathryn steeled herself for what was to come, her shoulders were so tense they ached.
The first clip seemed to be filming a street from a window two floors above. About twenty people were charging down the street, shouting different things nobody could make them out.
"What's going on?" a woman's voice asked.
The camera followed them by going into the next room. "Oh, is that...?" a man's shocked voice stuttered. The shot quickly tried to zoom in to the far right. At first it was blurry. When it cleared up Tuvok and Kathryn recognised James scaling the parallel building's roof, hunched down to not be seen.
"What is he doing?" Kathryn wondered.
"That's it, it's her!" one of the crowd shouted, followed by similar shouting. James walked out of the view of the camera in a hurry. They couldn't see anything, but from the noise they could hear, the shouting was starting to mix with bangs and clatters.
The image cut off, interrupted by a different video. This one looked to be amongst the crowd themselves. For a short while all they could see were the backs of other people until the shouting volume raised, then the crowd parted slightly to allow the camera to see what appeared to be an empty street. Something there was setting them off further, something that Kathryn couldn't see.
Tuvok stepped forward, "may I?" he asked the minister. He gave him a nod. Tuvok assessed the console and pressed one of the buttons, the screen slowed. A few more taps and the image zoomed in on the empty street, it looked blurry so Kathryn nearly missed it; barely three pixels moved slightly, then disappeared. "Crewman Rex," Tuvok said definitely.
"She's hiding," Kathryn said while the minister looked on in shock. She shook her head, "no wonder..."
Tuvok returned the video back to normal. Barely a second later something fell from above to land in front of the crowd. It took them all a moment to recover from that to realise it wasn't a thing. The someone straightened up from their crouched landing, not making any effort to escape.
Kathryn groaned into her hand, "of course." Tuvok raised an eyebrow, not that he was surprised either.
Whoever was carrying the camera lunged forward, along with many others. It shook, something slammed into them. The camera and possibly the owner slammed onto the floor sideways. The screen badly cracked, fizzled and went off.
Just when both thought it was all over, another video started to play in the middle of a voice shakily speaking over darkness, "believe it, I can't believe it." The camera seemed to move making a scraping noise, then was pointed out of another window. This one seemed to be on a lower floor, pointing to the same street. The crowd had swarmed around one spot, shouting, screaming, grunting. However there were other shouts approaching them, that spooked a lot of them into running off.
The police started to arrive on the video, attempting to drag people away. It still took a good minute to clear the crowd enough to see what they had swarmed around. James lying near a wall, unmoving, with one of his legs looking twisted to an unnatural angle, bleeding. More stammers from the cameraperson occurred as they tried to film the people still around, occasionally throwing a punch or a kick at him. The image cut out finally, leaving Kathryn sick in the stomach.
"We are urging anyone with information to come forward," the reporter said sullenly. "Despite the incident at the concert, we condone violence of this kind. We as a people have to be better than this and..."
Kathryn reached across to try and turn it off. Eventually she got the right button. "Tuvok," she said in a hoarse voice.
"Yes Captain," Tuvok said in her direction, then turned to the minister. "May I suggest we start our search in this location."
"Yes of course. I didn't see her," Diedera stuttered as he lead the Commander back to the door. Kathryn waited as patiently as she could for him to order his people, while Tuvok argued his case about going with them. It seemed to work as he left with the rest of his team, leaving only Diedera. He returned to Kathryn, unsure what else to say to her.
"The operation?" Kathryn asked icily.
Diedera nervously nodded, "I assume so, so it'll..."
"No," Kathryn barked, startling him, "where is this happening?"
"I can't take you there. It serves no purpose even if he was conscious," Diedera said.
Kathryn growled and turned her head away. "I told you. We'll treat him. Who knows how many people in there are biased against him."
"No, we have moral codes in our medical service," Diedera objected defensively. Kathryn once more eyed him dangerously. "I mean, nothing he did deserved that. Noth..."
"We never proved that James or his group did anything wrong at all," Kathryn snapped. "Now, I won't ask you again."
"On one condition," Diedera said, sighing in defeat, "you let us finish his treatment. It wouldn't be good for him to interrupt it just for a transfer."
Kathryn rolled her eyes only to make a point, inside she knew she couldn't argue against that. "Fine."
TO BE CONTINUED
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