Vek's Journal on Randal
There is something to be said about the disorientation a shadow-walker finds over time. Whenever I arrive on a new planet I look up at the stars, whatever form the sky takes, and try and find my place among them.
I'm speaking into the journal book I picked up in a shadow called C23. Its part of a shadow system based on a road that travels back and forward in time. Sadly only the time of the realms its spreads through, yet the road travelers can go back and change things in a side road and suddenly a nearby shadow where those events occurred is included in the Roadway shadows. Its like a growing root system where the leaves are travelers.
Still, in Century 23 of the Road shadows is a brilliantly efficient technological epoch. They take paper books, reinforce the pages to be indestructible to nearly anything except dragon fire. They install a thin computer in the cover of the book. Its as powerfully useful computer that come stocked with an AI personality.
The book I used was the great “Kind of Blue-Our Tour.” Few books in shadow compare to the stories, the music, and the legends of the 10 year tour of the Miles Davis, Bill Evens and John Coltrane sextet. The stories, the journals, the travel itineraries, and the sheet music for all five studio albums including the first “Kind of Blue”, a couple dozen solo albums and works from sextet members, and twelve concert albums including the infamous March 1961 “Havana Nights” album. That's the one that includes the gunfight and assassination of Fidel Castro by Lansky hit men as background music while Bill Even ran the keys before everyone realized what was happening. The cover picture of Castro dead on the piano with Bill Evens smoking a cig at the keys in the moment he looks up as the dead dictator lands and slams the lid down is a classic. Won the Pulitzer Prize. The book calls its self “Kindof” even though I usually call it Blue.
I came to Randal a while ago at the call of my cousins Arloxedra and Carissa. Its always nice to see family. Even better to meet them for the first time. They needed some information on a race of creatures in millions of realms out near chaos and I was happy to provide it.
Afterwards I went and looked the place over. I set Kindof down on a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Vulsar Galaxy, if you can believe it. I've seen versions of that in a lot of realms, most notably a few places in the King Random's Deck. I visited those. Now, I was born in Chaos and even I thought those were weird places. Im inclined to do a commentary on the deck from the point of view of a family outsider. Vek's Commentary on the Diners of Amber-King Random's Deck
So that brings me here.
The Guide told me about the city of Tentar, the center of the racing world. It spoke of the vehicles, the betting, the celebrities. It spoke of the nightlife. Its the nightlife that interested me.
First off I paid for an All -Access Spectator ticket and came in the C gate of the Tentar A Arena. Its a huge place. According to the program it has 23 different tracks. Mostly small venues. My ticket gave me access for all the venues but not the field.
I found vendors by the entrance. I purchased A Arena pants, and few randomly selected team jerseys. I let Kindof steal a copy of the download program and analyze the races.. It seemed delighted and took it upon itself to send a ream into the planet's data net and start filtering information. In time it gave me the odds and projections. I was wearing a sporty hat with some kind of animal tail, a wildly colorful large goody bag with tigers and vehicles, a colorful and light jersey that had a very chaosian-looking Fire Angel as the team mascot, pants with A Arena logos in purple a green. I was a shockingly cacophonous display of colors, shapes, and team slogans. I'd have made a Dufiro of Color turn its head. Here though, I blended in.
I watched early morning races, learned the nomenclature. Sitting in the stands it seems it was bring you own provender. I brought out a tall bottle of Bajas rum and shared it with those around me, making many friends. I found an arcade among the vendors and spent a while in a VR chair learning how to ride the low slung bikes favored here. From there I went to one of the unused tracks where classes were given for a nominal fee. After an hour in the seat the instructor told me I was a natural. I told her they were not greatly different then the motorcycles I was used to. She said she would love to see what I was used to. I had been in the world only a few hours and I already had a date.
I found a dealership in one of the high priced concourses. My All-Access pass gave me access to the concourse and its high priced vendors just not the luxury seating with the fancy views and the good champagne. I looked over the bikes and let a salesman try and pitch his woo at me. I found a nice street model with a variety of bells and whistles. During his sales pitch he showed me the similarity of the street bike to the race bikes listed in the registry. He explained to me that the rules stated that all bikes had to be within a certain few degrees nearly identical. “Stock” I was familiar with the concept.
I asked him to show me the Terror's Trio team bikes on the registry. Pointing out Carissa's bike I said I wanted the street version of that one. He said I surprised him for being a fan of such a newcomer but that she had a great future. It was curious though. Three such newcomers showing up on the circuits, not having grown in the ranks of the sport. He suggested she must come from Star Fleet. it wan't my place to tell him the truth. I ordered a race version and asked if him how I got registered to race. Chuckling he took me over to his desk, kicked up his feet, and said that wasn't hard to arrange if I knew the right people and could pay the price. I poured a collection of gems on his desk and set a tall bottle of Bajas whiskey next to them. he became very cooperative.
In advanced societies it amazing how quick one can gain credibility with a small pile of gemstones.
After the salesman and his manager, and their accountant, and a friend from the bank examined the stones they established me an account and gave me access. For a fee of course. Once it was clear how their monetary system worked I took the time to drop two more piles of stones on the account. I was flush as far as Randal was concerned.
I ordered a paint job for the street bike and ordered the racing bike put painted and put on hold till I acquired a garage.
Renting a small garage unit, 326-BW, in one of the smaller areas of the arena I figured my work was done. The BW block was tight, and dirty, rented by the season by riders young enough or poor enough to barely be able to afford a garage in the A Arena far reaches.
The garage had an office, a bathroom and a small meeting room. It was accessible 28 hours a day if one had the proper keycard for the gate. The leasing agent thought I was crazy to lease it for 400 years. But being a rich eccentric excuses a lot of madness. So does being a Chaosian or an Amberite. It had tight floor space and benches for working. Looking around it I was delighted. I now had lodgings. The leasing agent would have thought me even more mad had he not left before I sat down in the middle of the space and began drawing a trump.
I spent several days in the garage. Learning the bike, learning the world. Training on the practice track. Engaging in a few weekday races just to get my seat ready.
I was invited to a few parties at night. Local people. I was certainly the odd person at the party. It made me laugh in a lot of ways one of which was that it was nice to be among what I would call enthusiasts. I owned a bike, was renting a garage, and was a natural on a bike, and was clearly from offworld. They asked me about other worlds and about all I could say was that I had spent my life travelling on merchant freighters as a Hitcher. Hitchers are a type of vagabond that trades services for transport. It seemed like a good cover for me. In my case though having a thick bank account marked me as an eccentric, not dangerous weirdo.
I spent a couple days in Tentar watching the races and setting up the garage. I turned the small conference room/private office into a residence. Fridge. Hammock. Replicator. Keg. Nested really.
By the third day my riding leathers had arrived. My painted bikes arrived. I mounted the race bike in the frame and looked it over, tearing it down piece by piece till it was scattered around the garage. Re-assembling it I had a fairly good idea of its strength and weaknesses. Putting it up on the blocks I figured my job was done.
It was time to take a ride. I had ordered a touring trailer and packed it heavily with native equipment. The point was to blend in after all. I then took to visit the world. I figured six thousand miles on the road would teach me how to ride their vehicles and understand the people.
That brings me to the city of Ralst.
Ralst is a tropical sea port on the south edge of the main continent. It does business with hundreds of islands in the southern archipelago. The merchant shipping is brisk and the pleasure cruises are plentiful. Maybe i'll take a trip south sometime but the water isn't what brought me.
This city reminds me of New Orleans on the Earth/Urth worlds, like the New Orleans of Lous's market. I'm reminded strongly here that this universe has a Star Fleet that started on an Earth world and conquered the stars. Yet the capital of their Federation is no longer Earth but Vulsar base. Maybe i'll take to the stars here and book a trip to Old Earth. From what I read its treated largely as a Historical Amusement park. That might be too much to bear.
So this City is like that. Steamy, boozy, musical, a mixture of races and parts of races. A place where food styles are created and where they are enshrined. As a connoisseur that part excited me. As I rode into town I first hit roadside places that were part homesteads and part restaurant. The first was called Dab's. It served roast alligator and the damn things look 20' long. I feasted. They let me park my bike and pitch camp. In the morning I had bacon steaks and alligator & peppers scrambled eggs. And fluffy hearty biscuits.
If I didn't have a destination in mind I might well have stayed to see who Deb was. I am told hunting the 'gators is quite frolicsome and am intrigued. Ill come back sometime to join in on a trip. I found local races and rode in them. Won some, lost some, learned the trade.
I left with 30 lbs of alligator jerky and a reputation as an aggressive racer.
Arriving in town it was not hard to find bourbon and music. The place was rife with it. Urban but worn down. This town was a thriving metropolis but some parts away from the commercial ports and still by the water had been relegated to those not in the shipping trade. These places tend toward a seedy luster and look best at night. So its residents sleep the day through and come out at dusk to make their livings and live their lives.
Its the nightlife I like. I found a area where food and music mixed well. The clubs had a familiar feel and I fit in well. I stuck with bass guitar and saxophone at first, for the first few days. Pushing a piano down the road get attention even here.
A couple nights later though I found a place.
"Lubros" Its a black-walled joint with a couple tiger rugs. It has a nice dinner menu from a restaurant next door. The stage is a low wood affair. The lights are yellow white and soft. There was a trio playing when I entered and ordered a tall rum drink. Bass, Sax, and drums. The trio was better then they knew they were. They lacked conviction. The stage had a third of it taken up by a heavily abused magnificent grand piano that was covered in bottles, glasses and stacks of newspapers and sheet music. The bench was being used by the drummer.
I asked the bartender what the deal was with the piano and he said that it was a sore spot for the owner. It was a family heirloom, brought to Randal by an ancestor at great expense, and it was made originally on Earth. The bartender shrugged, with a knowing wink. He told me that every dive and every snooty home has trash that "Came from Earth." He thought the piano a joke and the owner a bit irrational about it but it was his building, his bar and his call. It occurred to me that an enterprising adventurer with a fast star ship could make a killing importing antique's from earth.
I listened to the group and thought them fairly good. The sax player moved to a table with an electric piano of a kind similar to the one I keep rolled up in my pack for camping. When the bar was closing I stayed till the manager came to move me out. I asked him if I could stay and examine the piano?
It took some convincing, and showing him my active credit balance and leaving him a couple hundred creds, but he left me alone when he locked up. I cleared the piano of its refuse. I summoned cleaning supplies and started work. I had noted immediately that while it may not have come from earth it certainly was older then Randal. It had 400 years of dust, wax, cigarette burns and general abuse. After a couple hours it was clean. It tinged like broken wind chimes. It was missing a third of its strings and the ones it had were stretched and ratty. The pedals didn't work. The case had been full of trash thousands of times and not a few things had been born, lived their lives, died and decomposed among the clutter. I found skeletons for dozens of rodents and a few snakes.
One thing was clear; it was a Steinway D-274 of great age. My guess changed from 400 to 800 years old. I summoned wood products I knew of in shadow that filled wood chips like new. I sanded it carefully. I lost track of time. Kindof played "Havana Nights" while I reverently took layers of grime from the ancient beauty.
In the morning the owner arrived. He had been told I was interested in the piano and he had flown in for some reason. He was livid and yelling as he entered. He came over swearing blood over the desecration of an ancient family heirloom and i would suffer for harming it. Then he saw the Piano...
He froze. I had the lid off and the frame was spotless. I had decided to magically clean the interior rather then disassemble it. When he entered I was restringing the plate. I had the action frame on a nearby table and it was spotless, free of centuries residue. He looked over my work. Silently he went and got us coffee. When I went to spike mine with rum from my bottle he waved to his mug as well.
We talked music. Agalos Dreet was a very old man and had never heard the piano make music. His grandfather said he used to play it as a child till it lost too many strings. He asked, reverently, if I thought I could save it?
I asked if he had an empty apartment in the building and he said he did. He said if I could make it work I could use the corner one on the top floor as long as I liked. We shook on it. Now that I had his permission I moved the piano and all into a back room and kept working.
Food was brought to me by a curious waitress. The bartender looked in on me too. Wood shavings and sanding, caring for every inch of the ancient magnificent beast. I stained it eventually, and sealed it, buffing its surface to a high polish. I repainted Steinway in its place of honor.
Tuning it was a joy. To work the forks and bring the thing back to life. To see each key land perfectly. To hear the magnificent thing make music again. On this rugged world, so far from the center of the people of this galaxy, to find such a rare treasure. It was good stuff to be sure. I finished and I played and it was magnificent.
I rolled the thing out of the back room out to the side of the stage. The trio looked over and stopped playing. The crowd went silent. I cleared the way and lifted the front wheel up on the stage. Two of the guys came over and the three of us pushed it up on stage. I sat and took out my ashtray, setting by it my tankard, filled it with rum from my own bottle and set the bottle beside it. Slipping my glasses on, lighting my cigarette, I bent over to play.
Oh bliss. Like the first rush of blood or the first kiss of a new lover. She sang. I settled in to a run of old familiar favorites. "Kind of Blue" & " Round midnight" Just to get my fingers working. Then I went into my stuff. 'Observation on the Abyss I", "Deep Woodland Serenade". I looked up and the place was dead silent in shock. Then they erupted. The owner came over and hugged me. Our deal was set.
After I assured the trio that I welcomed them to join me we really gave it to them. They didn't know my stuff that first night but they picked things up fast.
The night was magical in the way place without magic sometimes are. We worked wonderfully together. they had no idea that i was dragging them along. Letting my psyche nudge them in its way. Binding us together rhythmically. No one wanted to leave, especially us, but at i know as well as anyone, all things end.
Later, after the crowd left we went upstairs to the apartment I had been given. It would do. Cluttered and full of broken furniture the four of use got to know each other.
I didn't show my magic and determined not to. Magic was a known thing in the Vulsara galaxy but it was not common and even more rare here. I had left the Tentar raceway moments ahead of being swallowed by the scandal developing around the A Arena discovery of the use, even existence, of magically enhanced racing equipment. Arloxedra was thick in the middle of it as was a Regorian Prince named Alexei Zhanya who seemed to thrive on the notoriety. The last thing i wanted was to be known as a wizard in this technological realm. It would certainly lead to my revelation as an Amberite.
Gil was the bassist. A native of one of the thousands of islands. He told me that Randal was on the cusp of galactic prominence as along as Star Fleet didn't come take over. Tall and lean, with a singing voice like Joe Cocker with the mumps.
Dana was the Drummer. A tough chick to be sure. She wore a battle harness of a Blade Warrior to keep the leches at bay. At first glance I wasn't sure she would fight to that rank but the small ones are often the most dangerous so only time would tell. little does she know that she may one day. Its a thing that people generally don't wear the harness unless they earned it. She wasn't a native of Randal either but had come there as a youth. She told me she was just trying to get enough money together to go someplace else, far away from Randal. Little did she know how well that plan was going to work out.
Krickel played sax and a variety of winds but it wasn't his plan. He apparently hooks up on fishing ships for weeks at a time leaving Gil and Dana looking for gigs as a broken duo. He told us he had a gig starting in a week. They didn't even blink. I think they knew their trio would keep the gig even with Krickel gone.
They were happy to play with me and as we drank I spoke about the music I knew. I rolled out my camping piano and played a few more for them. after a couple hours we slept till morning. they wandered off to their various lives but promised to be back at dusk.
The next day I set about cleaning the place. I thought about doing it the easy way but that went against my desire to not indulge for awhile.
After awhile I changed my mind. I opened a trump to Vulsar Base and decided to use my new relationship with Amber. The Technical staff marched a half dozen guys in and emptied the place. A few people came in with cleaning supplies and scoured every nook and cranny in the place as clean ans replicator vacuums can. They painted the walls a dark brownish black for me and restrained the floors. They replaced the stove and refrigerator with identical newly replicated models of the existing ones. They installed a replicator and a entertainment system. They replicated a stand-up piano, a new bed. By the time they were almost done the guys at Vulsar had repaired, and restored the original furniture.
The two room apartment took a week to sort out. There was dust in the daytime and music at night. The smoke and lights flooded the stage as our little quartet learned each others strengths. They listened to my stuff and stepped in in places I had not expected. The driving sax, the following drums, the supporting bass. The keys.
There is a bliss in finding myself in the light and in the middle of the sounds. On stage, in the lights, I am no longer a creature of Chaos. Not a Lord of Amber. I am the spirit of bliss and keys.
Its been a couple decade here in () and I resent my time away sometimes. Its a thing wer shadowwalkers must acept. Sometimes the places we find, live in, grow to love, are gone when se seek to find them. Visit Amber for a month and 5 years goes by on Vulsar. The reason so many in Star Fleet come from longlived races is that Vance has an eye on an immortal battle force. Here in () people just get old. I had been away for several months and returned to find my place aged. The piano was clean still but the bartender was surprised to see me. He had worked there for 10 years and my name was just a rumor, a legend.
I looked up my trio. We had played together for over a decade before other things drew me off planet.
Gill headlined a band nearby and I was lucky to arrive when the band was falling apart. Gill was delighted at the prospect of playing with me again. He said he knew producers now and we could lay down some tracks for an album. I laughed but then decided it wasn't a terrible idea. Gil said Krax ran a ship out of the islands and was out of the business. He had lost track of Dana after they had a falling out. He had tried finding her and did briefly when she was in prison. After that she disappeared. Too combative for her own good.
I found poor Dana in a gutter in the city of Grrasar. Alcoholic, sickly, showing a lot of bad years. Someone had ruined her left hand in a battle as she had tried returning to the Warrior Core and tried for Front Warrior. After that she went through her money, turned tricks, and fell apart. She picked fights, even assaulted someone for their pocket change and did a bid in a local jail for it. She got addicted to Pruno while in jail and on the street that translated to drinking the worst rot she could find. When I found her she was sleeping, in a runoff from some cannery. I couldn't tell if she was dead or just beaten up. She stank of fish and wet tobacco. I rolled her over and she looked up at me with hopeless eyes. "Have you come for my soul finally, angel of death? I knew that's who you were even then...but I loved the music too well.." She then passed out. Checking her vitals she was near death.
I took her to Vulsar. My relationship with Amber was better now and Vance more a friend. We put Dana in a regen tank. IN a couple weeks she was young again, clean, healed, and fresh as new. She looked on me now with devotion I was uncertain I could return. But she was eager to pick up the drums again if I wanted that. She knew my secret though; Amber and Chaos. So I did something unexpected. I took her to the Halls of Hendrake. Not the ones in Chaos, but the ones outside the Black Zone world of Husjkmounoud. I enrolled her in a fighting school in exchange for serving as an instructor. They were excited to have a Lord of Chaos and a noble of the main House Hendrake come that far out to join them. I gave Dana 2 years under the blade in order to control her temper.
When we returned she took Front Warrior with ease and push strongly into Rank Warrior. She made a name as a viciously quick short blade and knife fighter. In time I watched her take her first fight to earn the Green Gladiator harness.