We Just Make Music

Junior hated being on tour, he really did. Give him the warm fug of the recording studio any day of the week, not this… this shack, bolted on to the side of the stage like a tumour. It barely held together, for gosh sake. You could practically see through the wall to the crowds outside, the plaster was so thin.

"Run me through it one more time?"

Stripes drew long and hard on his cigarette, blowing an iridescent smoke-filled bubble toward the ceiling. After several seconds he sighed, slumped in his seat, and adjusted his sunglasses.

"We start with Accident at the Workplace, then that one you, Headless, and Mad do."

"Cee-Tee-Ar-El?"

"Sure, whatever. If the crowd's into it, we launch into C.A.S.H.M.O.N.E.Y. and ride the hype from there. If they're not, we try Sea major with bubbles. The crowd's gonna go nuts for Fish, and Soapy's got a mean countertenor. We start the main set, break in the middle, lower the energy with Black Cherry and finish with Holly's Night Out."

"And you think it'll go well? Overall, I mean. The album's only been out for a couple months, and I'm worried people aren't gonna ████ ███ █████ ██ ████ ██ ██…"

The singer flushes red.

"I've told you not to do that!"

"Alright, alright, sorry. But you know how well New & Improved's sold so far. And the crowd out there haven't shown up for the frickin' ambience. People love you, kid."

"I hope you're right."

"Have I been wrong so far?"

Memories flash before Junior's eyes. A plush carpet, a window looking out over a bustling cityscape, a mahogany desk as long as a limousine and likely several times as expensive. Twenty people of various shapes and sizes standing around, staring at their feet — or, in the case of Chameleon, through them. A tall man in a purple and gold-trim suit, staring out of the window. A speech — no, a lecture — on gratitude, and how they'd gotten where they were. Something about where they'd been before, whatever that meant.

Then, the memories got darker. More… red. Lots of raised voices, smashed furniture, a whirlwind of emotion that seems to engulf the entire office for anywhere from a minute to a lifetime. He remembered the Doctor shouting, screaming, his voice threatening to bring down the pastel pink walls. And suddenly Smiles had tried to tackle him, and he'd swung round and pushed them so hard they'd left an imprint on the wallpaper. And he'd swung back, and lunged at the Doctor, and….

And then Stripes strode across the room, slowly, and the black bars had fallen over Junior's eyes, and he was standing there taller than the room, taller even than the building, one hand on Junior's shoulder. The Doctor's voice faltered, dwindling to nothing, and Stripes told the rest of them to leave the room. That was the thing about Stripes. He was lazy, and quiet, and course, and rude, until suddenly he wasn't, and then he could fit the world in the palm of his hand.

They'd all walked out of that office stunned, and nobody had said anything until they'd gotten back to their rooms. Then an energy overtook them and the next few weeks were spent in a kind of frenetic haze, bustling from studio to studio until Stripes (now their manager) had walked in with a copy of their debut album on vinyl. And they'd gathered round and listened, and Laugh had burst into tears, and Brass had literally exploded with joy, and now they were here, about to play for a crowd of- of…

Well, he didn't know the exact numbers, but it was a lot. More people than had ever shown up for one of their kids concerts. Even the benefit thing for imaginary friends in Oneiroi West hadn't gotten as much attention.

"No. No, you haven't."

The Little Misters' manager grinned, and hauled himself out of his chair. He hoisted Junior out with a monochrome arm, and pushed him gently towards the door connecting to the backstage, where the other eighteen were warming up.

"They're gonna love you, I promise. The anomalous music scene is lucky to have you. Heck, we're lucky to have you. You're a fantastic musician."

Junior took a deep breath, exhaled, and nodded. "Y- you're right. I can do this. We can do this."

"You're gosh-darn right we can."

Stripes pulled the door open and patted him on the back.

"Knock 'em dead, Redd."

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