The jazzy tune came choppy and garbled through the malfunctioning ship radio, but was still recognizable.
The deep, bombastic notes of the baritones, the sultry, seductive slithering of the saxophones,
the sweet trilling of a harmonica; all the static and shorting electrical systems in the world couldn’t keep them down. But in Mikhail’s mind, it sounded perfect.
Every last beautiful note was etched into his brain, so that nothing was lost when the radio’s signal popped in and out or a far-off explosion rattled the trashed room he occupied.
It was all preserved. Saved.
“God, do I love this song,” breathed Mikhail, leaning his head against a shattered table in the corner.
“Charlie Club-foot was a musical genius, pure and simple, and New World Blues was his crowning achievement.” Mikhail turned toward his friend across the room, resting.
“Hey, Jan, you wanna know where I was when I first heard this masterpiece? Come on now, you’re not the least bit curious?”
Jan didn’t respond. His motionless form, laying prone on the debris-ridden floor, was reflected by the smashed mirror on the wall with every flash of the lightbulb shorting out overhead.
“I’ll tell you anyways,” Mikhail said, closing his eyes in concentration, trying to distract himself from the pain of the metal rod rammed through his leg. “It was back on Earth.
A little hole-in-the-wall in the Old America Reservation somewhere. It was a live performance of New World Blues with Charlie Club-foot.
The legend himself, in the flesh! Can you believe it, Jan? And to top it off, I was in the front row. Oh man, you can’t imagine how much those seats cost. But it was worth it, every last cent.
It was my last day home. Come morning, I was on the first boat up to the Navy’s boot camp station out by Jupiter.
That would have been that, but I made a recording of it and listened to it every day. I…I’m tired of talking. Your turn, Jan. Where were you when you heard it?”
As the question hung in the thinning, smoke-filled air, the flickering light on the ceiling stopped flashing long enough for Mikhail to see his friend more clearly.
His scorched uniform, his torn skin, his face frozen in terror, the red, smoldering pipe sticking out of the side of his head.
“Oh right. Sorry man. I forgot you weren’t here anymore.
You’ll forgive me, but you haven’t cooked any food for a week and a half, a chunk of our ship is missing, and what’s left is leaking air, so I’m not exactly feeling well.
To top that off, the captain’s head won’t stop yelling at me for not activating our defense countermeasures in time, like it was my fault or something. I know, right? What a jerk.
Can’t he just leave me in peace already?”
Mikhail then began to laugh and laugh, like a crazed hyena, and continued as the music played on, its sultry, melancholic melody seeping out into space.
Tostig leaned back with his chair firmly against the wall and let out a large puff of smoke from his cigarette as he looked over at his friends.
They were all piss drunk at his house and had been telling stories all night. Everyone turned to him.
“All right boys, I gotta good one,” he said.
“There are those who say that, in the depths of space, somewhere near the orbit of Jupiter, you will hear a sound coming through your ship’s speakers.
An eerie whisper of a sound, like a siren’s call, beckoning the unwary to its source.
Some claim the sound is the voices of dead starship crewmen haunting the old battlefields of the Great Solar War. Other, more rational folk, chalk it up to simple radio interference.
But there are a few who claim that there is a ship out there, a desolate relic of the war days, tumbling endlessly out beyond the frontier of the Asteroid Belt colonies,
a crazed madman wandering the deserted hallways and tunnels of the warship.
They claim a scavver was searching that area a few years back, skulking around the old warzones hoping for some good salvage when he heard the sound creeping up through his radio.
Now, apparently he had heard all the stories, all the warnings about the sound, but decided to go poking about looking for it anyways.
After a few days, he found the source: an old cruiser with its back third completely blasted away.
He was so excited by his find that he almost ignored the sound beginning to clear as he approached, which he noticed sounded a lot like an old jazz song.”
“He goes into the ship and discovers an absolute treasure trove of salvage. Military tech of all kinds.
As he gets to collecting, he notices he can hear the jazz clearly now: the deep, bombastic notes of the baritones, the sultry, seductive slithering of the saxophones,
the sweet trilling of a harmonica. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he sees something. A figure, vaguely man-shaped, had bolted past him on the other side of a doorway.
He thinks he’s just seein’ things. He hasn’t been sleeping well, after all. He’s just tired. So he continues his work, scouring the ship for anything and everything of value.
But every so often, he catches a glimpse of the figure; watching him from a corner, at the end of a hallway, through a window, in a mirror. The scavver became increasingly paranoid.
Something, or someone, was stalking him. So he made for the airlock he’d docked with as fast as he could. He dropped a few pieces of salvage along the way, but he didn’t care.
He just wanted to leave.
He could tell the figure didn’t like that idea much, because he kept seeing it, over and over, each time standing silently with a bloody metal rod in it’s hands,
each time seemingly closer and closer, until BAM!”
Tostig’s drunk friends, enraptured by the story, jumped out of their seats in terror.
“Gat dayum, Tos! You gave us a real scare,” one of them said.
Tostig smiled wryly.
“Hey guys, you wanna get outta here? Its gettin’ rather late,” another said. There was a low murmur of agreement.
“Hold on boys,” Tostig said. “You guys haven’t heard the craziest part yet.”
“I was there,” Tostig said.
“How were you there, Tos? It’s just a story, aint it?”
“I wanna ask you boys a question,” he said, grinning again.
“What?” his friends asked in unison.
“Where were you when you heard New World Blues,” Mikail asked as a knife slid from under his sleeves.