16

Jack chuckled to himself as Yelina came running out of the school, shouldering her backpack, as though fleeing a dose of cod-liver oil. How Yelina hated school!

The two alien girls had become almost fluent in English in an unnervingly short period of time. Unfortunately, Jack mused wryly to himself, much of what they'd "learned" had come from television. Although . . . Jack mulled the thought over like mulch . . . perhaps some of the blame resided in school life. Already Yelina had been busted twice for selling and smoking pot. In some ways, Jack mused, this was a good thing. For one thing, it proved that the girls' fake ID could withstand any amount of scrutiny . . .

Jack suspected that Yelina had been a handful before her arrival on earth, especially considering Kiko's unsurprise at the little blonde girl's behaviour. She was an unrepentant kleptomaniac. She had been caught shoplifting a number of times. Her particular favourite was electronic gadgets, including a very expensive satellite phone, which she promptly wrecked by disassembling in order to figure out how it worked . . .

She had been caught smoking and selling pot, and no amount of counselling or reasoning seemed to dissuade her from her habit. She was now smoking. She had come home drunk, twice that he knew of. She had been arrested for vandalism . . .

And she beamed when she saw him, and ran all the way to his new crew-cab, opened the door, slammed it shut, greeted Boom-Boom Kitty who didn't get away this time and climb a tree, and demanded a big hug from him . . .

Yes, she was a handful . . . and Jack wouldn't have had it any other way. For all her problems and all her personal baggage, she had become Jack's special little girl, his little ray of sunshine.

'Did you remember your homework this time,' he asked her, placing an ironic stress on "remember".

'Ye-es,' she said evasively, making him smile.
He chuckled, watched her hug her poor kitty, who wanted to go to the window and watch for Jason, Kiko and Carly. 'Well, you probably won't get much done after band practice tonight anyway.'

'We going for pizza this time, for true?' she asked him suspiciously. The last time they went for supper, he had taken them to a burger joint that didn't have pizza on the menu.

'I thought we'd go to Boston Pizza on 8th street-'

She let out a squeal of anticipation and hugged him.

'I wonder what's taking the others,' Jack mused rhetorically.

Yelina gave him a look. 'Jason will be trying to kiss Kiko, Kiko will be trying to let him, and Carly will being a smart pest and no let them hide.'

Jack groaned, inwardly. In some ways Yelina, for all her problems, was easier to deal with than the interplay of hormones taking place between Jason and Kiko. The two had become intimate shortly after the death of Jason and Carly's mother; Donna; and it was "intimate" in the carnal sense. Jack turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the fact that the two were making out, downstairs when they could get away with it, and God-knows-where when the pair would sneak off for some privacy.

The upside was that the alien girl had the same chance of getting pregnant as a cat making out with a toaster. It was, in a word, impossible. Jack had considered allowing the two to sleep together with his consent, but dismissed the notion as he took their age into consideration.

Jack smiled to himself as the two made an appearance, holding hands but looking annoyed, with Carly tagging along looking smug. She caught Yelina's eye and grinned. Yelina grinned back, conspiratorially. With Yelina holding on to Boom-Boom Kitty, the three got into the back seat of Jack's new crew cab, despite the fact that Jason and Kiko would have preferred that Carly ride in front. This was just as well, because Boom-Boom Kitty's litter box took up part of the front floor.

Jack put the truck in gear and eased it away from the kerb, and through the milling teenagers issuing from Saskatoon's Holy Cross High School, smiling to himself because the autumn weather was beautiful, his young charges were chattering away happily, and because he hadn't felt this good or this young in years.

Jack looked on with amusement as Kiko, Jason and Carly watched Yelina in awe as she piled her slice of ham and pineapple pizza high with chili peppers and Parmesan cheese, and went to work on it.

'That makes my eyes water just looking at it,' Carly said. Her own slice was virtually invisible beneath a mound of Parmesan.

Jason was trying to be neat, in an unconscious bid to emulate Kiko, who ate her vegan pizza demurely with a knife and fork.

Not one for peppers or Parmesan, Jack tied unselfconsciously into his usual ground beef, onion, black olive, mushroom and green-pepper special.

Boom-Boom Kitty was neither being deprived nor forgotten. He had eaten his can of Whiskas Choice Cuts with gusto, curled up in Jack's spot, and gone to sleep.

Jack was soon full, and took the time to sit back and appraise his charges.

Jason and Carly had dealt with the death of their mother very differently. For a time, Jason had become moody and completely withdrawn, and it was during that time that he and Kiko had bonded. Carly, on the other hand, had turned to Jack so completely that she may as well have become his own flesh and blood.

At first, Yelina had not responded well to losing her best friend to Jason. Her problem behaviour, her pot-smoking, drinking, shoplifting and vandalism, Jack knew, was her way of acting out. Though she was the same age as Kiko, her behaviour became far less mature. And she had bonded with Carly in an odd way, like an older sister who adapts to her younger sister's behaviour.

But, Jack reflected, the regression wouldn't kill her. In fact, it was probably good for her for the time being- a safe zone from where she could regroup and redefine herself. She'd grow out of it soon enough.

For all their estrangement from each other, both girls were very popular at school. Kiko's steps were haunted by a string of jealous young men who planned to be there, should her relationship with Jason show signs of fraying. She had become thick with two of her band mates, the sisters, Mary and Penny Iverson, and their tight-knit circle of friends.

Yelina had become fast friends with Mike Johnson's daughter, Tina and her grunge-band-mate, Asta Sjoenmann, and their friends. They hung with a very different crowd, namely the girl-jocks. Under their expert tutelage, Yelina had become a good skater in short order. Her own natural talent meant that she had the most feared slapshot in the girl's hockey league.

Jack snapped out of his reverie when it dawned on him what Jason was talking about.

' . . . the school auditorium just isn't big enough. Besides, they'll turn it down so far that, well . . . it just won't sound very good.'

Yelina made a face. 'The auditorium sucks bad, anyway.'

Kiko gave her a sharp look but said nothing. Jack frowned, seeing the implicit warning there, but held his peace.

'You need something bigger . . . the only place you can really do it is a concert hall.' He sagged as he said this. 'It'd cost 'way too much.'

'It will still suck bad,' Yelina said, her mouth full.

Jason gave her a wry look. 'Okay, well, how can we make it [i]not[/i] suck?'

Ignoring Kiko's worried glare, Yelina said, 'Need one speaker, every note. Two types PA sound, local and elect-' she fumbled, trying to pronounce the word, '. . . e-lec-tron-ic. Need both kinds. Two boards, one set speakers . . . speakers set in a big ball-'

'Yelina!' Kiko hissed.

Intruiged by Kiko's reaction, Jack ignored her, instead concentrated on what Yelina was saying.

'A big ball? How can you do that?'

Yelina shrugged as she took another prodigious bite. 'Gotta hang speakers so they make a big ball. Gotta have two systems. Electronic system, each note gotta have its own speaker. Amplified acoustic system uses same speakers, but runs off different board. Gotta pen?'

Jack took a pen out of his pocket and held it up. 'You can have this when you say "got to". You know what I said about stuff like "gotta"-'

To his unsurprise, Yelina snatched the pen out of his hand, turned over her paper place mat, and began drawing. Jack watched in mute astonishment. At the same time, he couldn't help but notice Kiko's fearful mien.

'Okay,' he muttered when she was done, taking the finished drawing and examining it, 'I think this will be another project for Mike.'

'Are you serious?' Jason asked him incredulously. 'No PA is that complicated! The cost would be ridiculous!'

Jack gave him a look, considered Kiko's sudden sullen silence. 'The cost I can handle, regardless how ridiculous. But I want to hear this.'

'It is a bad thing to do,' Kiko blurted unexpectedly. 'It will say to the world, "Yelina and I are here! Come get us."'

'Kiko worries too much,' Yelina jibed. 'Ow!'

Jack watched with wry ire as the two got into it. 'Stop, both of you.' He didn't raise his voice. Through much practice, he had learned to pitch his voice in such a way that the two stopped and watched him apprehensively.

'It is still a bad idea,' Kiko said sullenly.

Redirecting her attention, he said theatrically, 'You know the best way to hide something, Kiko?'

Watching him with suspicion, trying hard not to smile, she said, 'Hide it good! No . . . hide it well.'

Jack shook his head. The expression on his face had the desired effect, evoking a giggle from her. 'How, then?'

'You hide it right in plain sight,' he told her, and smiled as he watched the wheels go 'round.

'You mean . . . you disguise it?'

He shook his head again. 'No, I mean you put it right where everyone can see it.'

'That is not hiding!' she rejoined with a scowl.

'It is if everyone takes it for granted,' he told her.

He grinned as he watched realisation dawn. 'People will just think it is a new band with a new invention! They will notice it, not us! At least, they will not notice us for what we are! Ah . . . I think this is a good idea, now.'

'Speaking of good ideas,' Jack interrupted, turning to Jason, 'you and your friends helped set up at a few rock concerts, didn't you? Yes? Well, how'd you like to take charge of this? With Mike's help, of course. Think you can handle it?'

'I'll do better than that,' Jason told him with the conviction of the very young. 'I know how to do the promotion and stuff, too.'

'Heya, Short Stuff,' Tina greeted Yelina familiarly as she held the music-store door open for them.

'Heya, Bear,' Yelina rejoined.

As the girls began setting up, Jack pulled out Yelina's place-mat drawing and handed it to Mike, as Jason looked on expectantly. Mike whistled, thinly.

'Jeeze! What a setup! You really want to try this?'

'I want Jason to do this, with your guidance.'

Mike clapped the young man on the back. 'Well, you're in the right company, kid! We may not be great musicians, but we do know the business.'

Jack marvelled as he did every time at the gear the kids wheeled out. Mike had figured out how to save hours of setup time by putting each "work station", as he called them, on a platform and wheeled them out. Yelina's massive drum kit, the temporary one, was made of transparent blue plastic, and was wheeled out in two sections. The trip of a lever caused each section to settle to the floor, forming a huge "C", with just enough room in the centre for her drum stool. Kiko's electronic drum kit, though smaller, was still of a daunting size and complexity.

The sisters, Mary and Penny, each had a pair of the new electronic xylophone-controllers, plus racks of keyboards, an electronic violin, viola and cello each, and racks and racks of electronic effects and gadgets. Each also had another new invention- a theremin-controller to play electronic sounds and effects in real time.

Tina had all she needed- her six-string bass, and Asta had her electric and electric-acoustic guitars, electronic fiddle and a rack of keyboards.

And within moments, they were plugged in and ready to go.

Each girl put on a microphone and earphone set, they took a moment to tune up, and then-

Jack, Jason and Mike listened as the girls began with the number that always came first- a medley whose working title was "Overture." It began with Asta holding a single thundering, subsonic bass note on her keyboard, as Penny and Mary began setting off an eerie series of background special-effects, that to Jack's ears reminded him of the vast reaches of space.

At once, the six girls began singing in high, pippy, staccato falsetto voices, imitating the sound of an electronic sequencer playing arpeggios and staccato melodies, broken by thunderous volleys supplied by Yelina. This was one of Penny's compositions. The girls had tried it out one day, and taken it to their hearts.

Gradually there came a low rumble, then a huge burst of electronic special-effects that cascaded and coruscated and tintinnabulated all around them. By degrees a marching beat emerged, and Jack listened with anticipation as the seamless transition led into their signature song, "Rocket", one of Kiko's first compositions. And then, the girls began to sing in unison-

"Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!
Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!"

-then Kiko sang, her eyes never leaving Jason's-

"What new worlds of wonders, do you think we'll see?
How far will you trust me? Will you come with me-e-e-e?"

-back to unison-

"Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!
Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!"

-Kiko-

"Place your hand in my hand, I won't let you fall!
Lets fly through the Heavens, let's answer the call!"

-unison, chords-

"Let's ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!
Let's ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!
To the stars! To the heavens and back,
See the stars? See the galaxy spinning,
Spinning on its track, oh,
What do you see-e-e-e?
What do you see-e-e-e?
How do you fe-el?
Is it all real? Oh,
Let's ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!
Let's ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

-unison-

"Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!
Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!"

-Kiko-

"The new worlds of wonders, do you realise?
The new worlds of wonders, are the stars in your eyes!"

-unison-

"Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!
Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!"

-Kiko-

"We'll both go together, we'll go, you and I!
We'll fly through the Heavens! We'll fly through the sky!"

-unison-chords-

"Let's ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cke !
Let's ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!
To the stars! To Heaven and beyond!
See the stars? See the Great Beyond? Oh,
What do you see-e-e-e?
What do you see-e-e-e?
How do you feel?
Is this for real? Oh,
Let's ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!
Let's ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!"

-unison-chords-

"Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e-e-e!
Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e-e-e!
With me-e-e-e-e-e!
With me-e-e-e-e-e!
With me-e-e-e-e-e!"