This one is inexcusable.

It stemmed from a comment I made on a fine Pegasus B story by kuwdora. I'd said, by way of nitpicking: "I don't think a person listening to a real Gouald would come up with that word ['flanged'], unless she was a heavy metal guitarist..."

And that wasn't so much a plot-bunny, as a holy-jeez-you-can't-be-serious bunny.

This is unquestionably porn. Although not sexual porn. At least, there's no sex. (Does have strong language, though.) It is also, I am sure, the only piece of fanfic in history to be an AU of Stargate and Ex Umbris at the same time.

Comments are welcome at the original post.


Story copyright 2005, Andrew Plotkin

Muddy afternoon light spilled into the club. It didn't wash away when the door closed, either -- just spread itself around, grey and unflattering on the beaten-down stage and dirty floor. The band stood there for a moment, stuck in a shared moment of -- another one? Like this? -- and knowing they shared it.

(And it was supposed to be Sam who charged ahead, starting the deconstruction of another club into a place for music. Today, she just stood.)

Then the door banged open again, admitting another wave of November light, followed by the first towering dolly-load of equipment. Followed by the afterthought of Siler, pushing it. The moment broke apart. Danny drifted up to the stage, swung up clean, and tilted his head at the unexpected back-side depth. Sam had (aha) vanished to wherever in the house the cables came together. Murray was on the dance floor, in the heart of the crowd that had not yet arrived; his eyes closed, his arms folded, rocking up on the balls of his feet. Testing the rhythm, he'd once said. Whatever the hell that meant, when nobody had even unpacked an amp yet.

Jack watched his band, scowling, so they'd all know it was going to work out.

"I guess I get a little single-minded about my work--"
"Damn right!"
"Sam? Is here okay?"

She looked up, realized it was the second time Siler had asked. "Yeah! Yeah, there, fine." She stared blankly at the black, battered boxes piled in front of her. They had a meaning together, she was sure of it. She levered one open and waited for the neatly S-curved cables to speak.

Siler and Murray heaved the Pedestal out of its case, kicked the stand out, and locked it down. Right. Sam stood up and experimentally slid behind it. Slapped a silent pad, took a step back, a step forward. "That's good. Thanks."

Siler spun away, back into the chaos of unpacking. After a moment, Sam realized that Murray hadn't. When he caught her gaze, he raised an eyebrow. "You are well, Sam?"

She forced her face into a wry smile. "Just distracted. I'll be fine."

She expected Murray to smile back; but he just studied her face. "You were wrong about him, you know. He always wanted for you what you wanted for yourself."

She was, abruptly, angry enough to reply. "Fuck it, Murray. You barely knew him."

"I heard him say he was proud of you."

"You never saw him at home -- when I talked about music. You could tell. Like the topic wasn't quite fit for polite conversation. Audio signals were for Fourier transforms and noise-fit data extraction, not..." She gave up, waved her hand around the room, and then flicked the whole subject into a metaphorical dark corner. "Fuck it."

From the direction she'd flicked, an amp squealed to life, then cleared to Walter's voice. "One, two, three... one two..."

Murray let it go, inclined his head. "Then I'll allow you to attend to your baby."

She surveyed the shining ranks of plugs, jacks, and data feeds that the Pedestal needed fed to come alive. "Right."

"Testing, five, six, seven, lock. Lock, lock."

Murray was already gone. Sam inhaled, exhaled, popped forty-six latches -- she'd recounted after last week's mods -- and began to build Unholy Hannah for the night.

"--not going to spend the rest of my life optimizing deep-space telemetry!"
"Sam, I didn't mean--"
Danny fussed over his kamenj, tuning. Re-tuning, really, at this point. He ran the strings once more and held intervals, in his mind, against the quick notes that bit out from Jack's side of the stage.

"Close enough for Jerez," he murmured, to nobody. Jack couldn't have heard, not over the swelling murmur of the audience and the reflective, shifting trance-rhythm that Sam was pulling out of Hannah to pacify them. Jack looked up anyway, and bent his strings into a parodically distorted power chord.

Danny pulled a considering face. "Maybe in mixolydian," he said, sharpening his voice to carry across stage.

"Mixer-midi-what?" Jack scraped his strings again, somehow twisting the sound into a feedback squeal with his bare fingers. (Walter's face popped over the balcony, confused.) It was mixolydian, too. All innocence, Jack met Danny's eyes. "...What?"

Danny -- was already wearing his considering face, dammit. He settled for a sigh. "A little too Young Jack."

That drew an "oo, ouch" wince. Young Jack had been leather, piercings, a day-glo piece of shit guitar, and The Mullet. Then, after the first two albums and "Turning To Gold," a quality guitar.

Old Jack wore leather, but only for motorcycles. Danny and Murray had talked him into wearing black flannel and black jeans for shows. For appearance's sake. They occasionally tried to get him drunk enough to talk about the piercings; nobody mentioned The Mullet. The guitar was still first-rate. "Let's stick to Old Jack," Danny said, and Jack nodded judiciously.

"--for that doctorate--"
"Yes, Dad, and now I'm doing signals processing--"
Off-stage, Murray had let sound fill him and flow from him; now, he needed to attend only to breathing. His instruments were tuned. He breathed in, and listened to Danny and Jack. He breathed out, and let the smile flow out of him with the air.

Jack's tuning fell back into tense, tight-cut notes. His attention was on Sam, not on the guitar. Murray heard it as well: the electronic patterns echoing from the Pedestal were a simple cycle, mechanical five-on-three. The audience, half-attentive, had not noticed... but they should have been more than half-attentive. Then Sam kicked the pattern; but it was an aimless leap, not the evolution of form which her software allowed her. Normally. When her thoughts were not caught in their own cycle.

Murray sank to his tall stool, reached to the stand behind him, lifted the viola da gamba to his lap. As if idly, he drew the bow across. Not a performance piece, not one of theirs, but newer/older: Bach's gently grazing sheep. The old German always had something to say.

Danny slid quietly into the melody, and didn't look over at Sam. A simple rhythm rolled from Jack's side of the stage, and that drew Sam into it...

...But only with her hands. The pre-show trance-fill shifted to twos and fours, a quad-tree pattern that supported Bach's old tune. Murray caught smiles from the audience; their chatter faded perceptibly. But it was a stock subroutine, and it didn't anticipate the end of the bar, and Sam's eyes were still nowhere.

He shot a shrug over to Jack. Jack shook his head, and used the break to double his tempo and shift key. Bach turned into a bright saltarello. Murray matched it, trying to catch what Jack was using for a melody. Not Italian...

...It was the first two measures of "Charlie." Sombreness all erased, sprightly as a country dance. Murray allowed his startlement to flow into a slow blink. He saw Danny jerk, turn towards Jack to question; then Danny got it and went still.

Sam's gaze snapped back from nowhere, and fell on what her hands were doing. Then shot across the stage. Murray read her lips: "Jack...?"

Jack returned a smug little all-Jack grin. "Got your attention, didn't it?" And then he stood, turned to the audience, and said -- not raising his voice -- "Ladies and gentlemen, and also ladies: we are Naqqadah."

"That's not who I am!"
"I realize that, Sam, but--"
Danny was already curling around his sitar.

With a newer or an unsure audience, they usually started with fire -- a dance, or one of the punchier ballads. But this crowd knew them. Danny recognized faces. The Satterfields, that gang from MIT, Tom and Carl. Great Gods, and the crazy blonde kid who ran that "crush on Sam" fan-site. Didn't this place have a policy about unaccompanied minors? Or, the short-and-dangerous lady behind her, was that her mother?

Danny resolved to play particularly nice to the older woman. ...Starting now. The silence had grown to its limit, and the house lights dimmed. He struck the strings into the opening of "Circle of Time."

This was the way of it. The sitar spilled notes into the darkness; and into the circuits of Unholy Hannah, where Sam wove them into an echoing tapestry and gave them back, glittering Milky Way light upon the void. Then Murray's voice rolled forth: the void become rich with depth, black grown into a color of darkness. It was wordless, and then it was the muezzin's call, and then it was a chant, older than that, which Danny had once found in a musty library in Cairo. He drew the Levantine scent of dusty heat out of memory, and added his tenor to the song of the sitar.

Gentle and infinitely precise, Jack's guitar supplied thunder.

This was the way of it, but they'd played better. Sam was in with the music, she wasn't broken, but she was a bit stiff. Danny caught a rhythmic underpattern which had slipped out of alignment; and didn't she usually bring up a pink-noise beat at this point in the piece? Sam was letting Unholy Hannah pull her weight. It could do that, she had spent enough months and nights on the architecture. But Hannah still sang best under the shaping touch of its mistress's hands.

Perfunctory wasn't what Naqqadah should be.

"Circle of Time" swirled to a close, and the audience was certainly enthusiastic. Danny tried to listen to them, rather than his worries.

"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I just think you're hiding up there, Sam, behind all that electronic crap--"
Five songs in, and Jack reached for the vihuela de mano. They usually went longer before the break, but the set had gone from slow to hot to bouncy to sombre, and the band -- no: Sam -- still wasn't in the groove. He was ready to call it and try maybe chewing her out backstage. Dammit.

After the closer. They'd need the recorders, and -- Siler was setting down the recorders, having seen the vihuela in Jack's hand. Murray had settled down with his gamba. Danny was standing, kamenj ready. Sam was not late, she was typing and adjusting like mad on the hardware that spilled from the Pedestal. And she flashed a nod to Jack, and so they were ready.

The lead-in was strings. Murray worked his bow with fine energy, and Jack flashed him a wink as he plucked his own instrument; now this was the groove. And then Danny picked up the verse, front and center, selling Renaissance Spanish to the Boston club scene with that ironic tenor and that mobile face and those damnably beatific eyebrows.

"Es chacona un son gustoso
De consonancias graciocas..."
Chacona is a pleasant sound
of graceful consonance...
Jack couldn't keep his eyes off Sam as the verse closed. It was all in that rhythm entrance, the whole song... and she hit it, castanets right on Danny's last beat. Okay. Okay, a fraction early. Never mind. It was holding together, castanets and the polyphonic underweave from the Pedestal, Murray's harmony and the kamenj work that Danny had been experimenting with for the bridges... they held it together.

"A la vida, vidita bona,
Vida, bamanos a chacona!"
They held it together through the verses, through the crazy quickchange of instruments they'd worked out over two years. Recorders for one bridge, lutes for the next. The audience was purely loving it. Murray's solemn priest got a roar of laughter, and then Danny's dancing corpse act. Jack almost lost it himself when Danny mimed a tiny hand-sliding motion with his recorder; no, dammit, they were not going to put sackbuts in any Naqqadah performance Jack was in charge of...

Sam kept the castanets going with one hand while working Hannah full-bore with the other. It was no more possible than ever. Sam didn't slow down for possible. Jack cancelled the chewing-out, and began to think they were some kind of band after all.

Murray didn't hand over the viola da gamba for the last verse.

Murray didn't miss cues. But there he was, bowing out the sonorous church-bell strokes that Jack was supposed to take. Murray was supposed to be standing up, as the old monk...

Two months ago, a rehearsal had run very late, through the beer and into the whiskey...

No fucking way. Not sober, not in front of a crowd. But -- fuck, she was going for it. Murray, you beautiful bastard.

She was on her feet, hunched like a dowager, shuffling up the stage. Eyes rolled saintfully upwards. Croaking (Sam never sang) "Ave Maria, ave..."

(Not "Dies irae." Sam knew Latin? whirled through Jack's head; but the words must have echoed in her since the funeral. He didn't stop to wonder about the word-change. That was right.)

The laughter gave time for Murray to come around with the gamba, and Danny's earthy tenor picked it up perfectly:

There was a nun so old and stiff
(Changing a monk's sex, in archaic Spanish, without a blink; that was Danny)

She could not kneel to say her prayers
(The castanets, where the hell -- they were on the Pedestal where Sam had left them --)

One night, her knees pained her so
(-- Siler was drifting on, as if they'd rehearsed it, he scooped up the castanets overhand, the asshole was going to --)

Instead of "praise Mary," she cried out "Vida bona!"
And Sam snatched the castanets from the air, and Sam spun around, and Sam was strutting like a teenage Spanish tavern whore.

At that, her sisters flung themselves in the air
And began to spin their habits around;
The nun danced until the sun came up
Her strong legs carried her to the city.
Jack set his teeth and cranked out guitar like a lunatic. Murray had lost the bow, was doing something pizzicato that must be leaving welts on his fingers. Danny had telepathically gotten Siler to yank panpipes out of an alternate dimension. Walter, invisibly, was coping with it. And Sam...

"A la vida, vidita bona,
Vida, bamanos a chacona!"
...Sam was dancing filthy; swooping, salacious, laughing like a loon, singing or something on top of Danny and Murray and Jack's own raspy baritone.

Dancing with the club audience, who danced it right back to her, hormonal and joyous. Dancing (jesus fucking christ on a lawsuit) straight at that underage blonde kid. Who was in ecstasy. Or maybe at the minuscule dragon behind the girl -- my God, was that her mother?

"You do what you think is best, Sam."
At the end of the second set, Jack plugged a flanger into his old Strat, and they all did "Turning To Gold." Right in the groove.

"Not sticking to Old Jack?" Murray had stage-whispered.

"Let's go with New Jack," Danny had replied. And Sam had cracked up, right in front of everybody.

Updated August 13, 2005.

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