The Singer Or The Song
A Sailor J solo tale(c)2001
*********************

Liberty decided the hillside was best.

And not just the hillside, but one of the stepped retaining walls. She could see a great deal more from there. No one noticed her; or at least not yet. She didn't choose to be seen.

Another outdoor show, another step for Journey to take to regain their fan base after a long hiatus. Things had changed. A new drummer, a new singer, a new album. She took it all in stride.

She'd watched the roadies set up early that morning, having to wait until the keyboardist's cherry-red grand piano -- dubbed 'The Whale' -- had been rolled out and left unattended before she could really walk around. She'd been snoozing there on the road, and was enjoying a chance to mill around. The band members had arrived and were in the staging area, and fans were straggling in for the show. It was beginning to get dark, a late May sunset glowing in the west.

It was quiet, and she wasn't sure why she was awake. The band had never really seen her, so there was no way she'd been summoned. She'd have to wait and see. She was, after all, the living manifestation of everything Journey had been or would be.

"You can't go on like this," a voice said just below her in an English accent.

She glanced down, finding a chestnut to red-haired figure dressed in black leather pants and jacket, with black chain-laden boots. He looked like any other rock fan, casually dressed and casually standing. But he wasn't a Journey fan; he wasn't even human. He wasn't flying his colors, but she knew him by sight and sound and the regrettable musical connection they shared. Eden Savage was the result of a musical endeavor that she wished certain members of her band had never sought. Bad English.

"Please don't tell me it's really you," she said sardonically.

Inwardly she was startled; how he'd managed to walk up on her like that, she wasn't sure. She'd heard the avatars of other bands while on the road, even seeing one -- Perfect Circle -- arriving ahead of her band to check a stage they would be performing on later in the week. They could hear each other long ahead of time, and recognize each other. She hadn't spoken to a one, keeping her distance until she could figure out who was trustworthy and who wasn't. Oblivion had been subtle thus far; she would be too.

With all those fans around, she was more than distracted. She'd been trying to keep herself from picking any one of them to follow around.

He made a tsk sound with his tongue. "Where you go, that's where I will go," he said.

"If you want trouble," Journey said, "that's just the way it'll be."

"Turning on me," Eden said with a smirk, "after all we've been through?"

Journey froze. The smug bastard, using her own lyrics against her, picking up on everything before she spoke or moved. She wanted to lose her temper, but fought it down.

Eden glanced over his shoulder at the staging area, where Aug -- the new singer, Steve Augeri -- was pacing nervously. When he looked pointedly back at Liberty, the suggestion was obvious. He could do anything to the band anytime he wanted, because he knew them as well as she did, and knew her as well.

"There's only so much one man can do," Liberty said softly, staying where she was. She showed him the palm of her right hand, and the infinity symbol that burned blue there. "You need to get a life."

Eden smiled. "I knew it, that you'd lead me to it. Nobody gets out."

"No one needs your kind of attitude," Liberty said evenly.

"And you haven't been awake long enough again to be able to speak out of lyrics yet," Eden said with a laugh.

"Don't need no feathers," she said. "Don't need no twine."

Eden nodded, glancing back at the staging area again. "You hide behind your alibis," he sighed. "You can say you're free. But you fool yourself -- you belong to me."

"You twist the truth," Journey said angrily. "Still, you're sincere."

"You're gonna lose your place," Eden said, and began walking toward the staging area.

She stood for just a moment in amazement, watching him walk away. He wouldn't make himself that obvious, he couldn't. The band wouldn't recognize him, not right away...not in time. But he would be throwing away any subtle opportunity to sabotage things from the sidelines if he confronted them now.

Then she realized what he meant to do; point her out. Frighten them and force her hand, maybe even disrupt the show.

She hadn't known Aug long. But he was her singer now, and that put him under her protection. She also had both her guitarist's and former singer's tempers, and they were running full throttle by then. "Stupid fucker. Not a chance, not a goddamn chance," she said aloud, not realizing she had broken out of lyrics and slipped into Neal's -- the guitarist's -- speech pattern. She slid out of her coat and into the growing crowd, headed toward the staging area at an angle.

Eden walked right into the staging area and shoved a roadie aside, and he was immediate beset by security. Two guys in 'event staff' shirts joined in, and Eden simply threw them into the fence that shielded the transport trucks and tour buses from the view of the crowd. Then he was reaching a hand toward Aug, not as if to grab him or even shake his hand but just to make contact...

Confused by the commotion and unable to decide what Eden wanted, Aug backed away, asking questions as he went, face a storm of concern and apprehension. Liberty wouldn't get there in time. Eden was going to cast Possession on Aug, and then who knew what the singer would be forced to do? A couple of the security guys were trying to get back on their feet and stop Eden, but a couple of others turned on them and held them back. Eden had already gotten to them, and they had no control of themselves.

Liberty broke into a run, not caring who saw her do what by then, hoping she could keep it from going any further. If she had a choice between letting the band be rattled and letting them suffer the destruction of their singer -- who would take them with him -- she chose a good rattling. She could see the rest of the band coming out of one of the trailers in her peripheral vision, and another handful of roadies. More event staff were trying to get to the commotion, coming from the concession areas above her. The crowd hadn't seen or caught on yet.

Still, that hand extended to Aug, intending to touch, and Neal and Ross were standing and watching security mix it up amongst themselves. They hadn't seen Aug or Eden yet, didn't realize that the latter was backing the former right toward the stage. In a moment, the only place the singer would have left for an escape would be the stage stairs.

Jon and Deen -- Journey's keyboardist and drummer, respectively -- had appeared, and Jon was the one who finally saw Aug's predicament and shouted. Liberty saw Jon skirt some of the security and head straight to where she didn't want him.

She jumped the fence as close to the stage as she could, swinging over it and ignoring the shouts from more security. A few fans saw her and whooped, deciding she was some crazed groupie. Then she was behind Aug and pulling him out of the way, facing Eden again. She clearly heard Aug say 'whoa!' but he didn't bother asking her any questions.

Eden stopped his advance and grinned at her. "The fields are burning, little girl," he said.

She raised her hand and showed him the infinity symbol in her palm again. This time it was glowing bright enough to see in what was left of the daylight, and Jon stopped where he was. Neal and Deen had caught on by then, and nobody thought to stop them. There was still a riot of security people beating the hell out of each other behind them. Jon started to say something, then paused. He gestured at Aug, trying to get the singer to walk around the pair and stand with the band, but Aug wasn't going to risk the weirdo in leather getting the chance to touch him. Something told the singer it wasn't a good idea.

"Holy vengeance is the justice of hell," Journey said, punctuating the final word by pointing a finger at Eden.

"What the --" Neal began to say, but Jon waved him down, mouthing the words we know these people. Neal looked at him like he was cracked. Jon was looking like he knew exactly what was going on, which just added to Neal's confusion.

"Mercy, mercy," Ross said, and the girl looked at him sharply. "Well, it is the next line of the song," the bassist said.

Lyrics, Jon thought. She's speaking in lyrics, and not because she's trying to. He remembered the dream he'd had, and opened his mouth to say something, but the man in black -- God, where did they know him from! -- had turned to him and spoken.

"You," Eden said with a snarl, "know me. And you've forgotten. You should put your toys away when you're done with them, Jay."

"Who the fuck are you?" Neal said, finally realizing that the nut stood between them and Aug, between them and the girl with the symbol.

"I'm your shadow when you walk away," Eden said. Then he pointed at Liberty. "This, this used to be something, but you let it run down in your hands. Now she can't even save you. If you live, you remember that."

The angered entity raised his hands, keeping his eyes on Jon and Neal, and Liberty knew her time had run out. "Keep down!", she shouted.

Neither of them understood or obeyed her. Ross stood to one side, staring, while Jon and Neal followed the motion of Eden's hands.

"Pray," Eden said. "Pray for rain!"

The first syllable was barely out before Liberty was moving, a flash of color, eyes burning as brightly as the symbol on her hand.

The grass at the Disharmony's feet shriveled and browned, the ground cracking, the moisture sucked from the very air. It twisted outward, rendering everything barren, destroying life, reaching for Jon and Neal in a ripple of blasting heat.

Liberty was around Eden and facing him, spinning, raising her hands in a warding gesture, planting herself between the musicians and the Disharmony. "Edge of the blade!" she shouted, and the symbol in her palm flashed outward, the light spinning down her form and away. Energy met anti-energy in midair and they cancelled one another with a crack like lightning splitting the air, superheating it into a collapsing vacuum as Eden's attack rebounded.

The backlash of it made Eden stumble back a step and raise his hands, and his face was dangerous when he uncovered it again. Then he grinned, and Liberty realized what she'd done: left Aug open, like she was supposed to.

"No!" she shouted. "No!" And she was suddenly in a race to get to the singer, who looked openly alarmed when Eden bore down on him, hands out to grab. Aug turned for the stage stairs and leapt up them with Eden on his heels and the shouts of the rest of the band behind him. The singer darted into the wings, unnoticed by the crowd, and around the covered back of the stage in the shadows. He was out of the stage lights, and most everyone's attention was on the increasingly noisy argument between the possessed and the not-so possessed. He didn't even care what he was escaping; all he knew was he'd better escape it. There was otherworldly shit going down behind him, and as much as he didn't want to leave the rest of the band to it, he knew it was on his heels.

He rounded the barely visible piano, one hand on the smooth surface of its rounded edge.

And he ran full into the figure that had been chasing him.

The impact knocked him back and knocked the breath out of him, and he wasn't certain of much after that. He felt a hand on his shoulder, heard a voice telling him the best way to help would be to climb the scaffolding into the lighting truss, as high as he could. Then he was running again, getting away....

Both Jon and Neal lit out after Liberty's retreating form, and Ross waved at Deen, who understood immediately what the bassist was trying to do. If they circled around the back of the stage, they'd stand a chance of meeting Aug coming out the far side.

Liberty saw the Disharmony block Aug and nearly knock him down, then saw the singer run on unscathed. She couldn't tell if Eden had touched him or was simply playing with him. Then he was out of sight and the Disharmony launched himself onto The Whale and sat, grinning.

There were exclamations and whistles from the growing crowd as people began to notice.

"The singer, or the song?" Eden said to her. "You'll only save one."

Liberty stared at him, flanked by Jon and Neal, silver-blue eyes glowing. "Assault," she said. "Homicide."

"Choose, blue jean girl," Eden said, gaze flickering over Liberty's shoulder to Jon. "Where is your singer? Careless, with your toys?"

Liberty knew damn well that if she went off after Aug, Eden would make short work of The Whale. It wouldn't destroy the band, but it would break more than a piano. And he could raise hell with the growing crowd of Journey fans, whose proximity was still distracting her. She couldn't even think right. Then Jon said, "I can hear a whisper...in a haunted house these days."

Eden threw his head back and laughed uproariously. "Finally. Do you know who I am now, Jay? Do you remember?"

"I know what you're trying to be," Jon said. "I helped write you. I didn't help ruin you."

Neal looked between them, desperately trying to catch on. He couldn't place the lyrics at first, even though they were familiar. He'd never written any of the lyrics anyway, he was all melodics and hooks, and whatever game these people were playing made no sense to him.

Eden laughed again. "We love and we lose," he said. "You helped write that too, and you're ruining it a little more every day. Isn't he, Journey? All the damage has been done."

"You're pushing me to the end," Liberty said. "Walk away. The sun remains."

"They let you sleep for ten years," Eden said, leaning forward on the piano. "And another four after that, while they waited. And out on the wasteland of broken dreams go you and I."

"What do you want?" Jon said. "Retribution? You're looking in the wrong place. It wasn't just our decision. It burned itself out."

"Who cares who's right and who's wrong?" Eden said. "Maybe it doesn't need my hand. I see you burning this out, too."

"Where the hell did Aug go?" Neal said.

On a whim, Liberty glanced around, then something made her look up.

Aug was climbing the scaffolding into the ceiling, ascending rapidly.

"Holy shit," Liberty said. Neal and Jon followed her line of sight and emitted similar exclamations.

Eden meant for the singer to dive from the top, onto The Whale, and die while destroying the piano.

"Choose, girl," Eden said, grinning again. "Singer or song."

She planted her feet and said, "Both. All the damage has been done." And she clenched her right fist in front of her face, ultra-violet colored flame erupting between her fingers and engulfing her hand. Her eyes glowed nearly the same color, and she said, "Dead of night."

Eden straightened abruptly and slid off the piano, his eyes on the eerie, flickering light. It had the quality of a pilot light in the half-shadows of the stage. Someone in the gathering audience screamed, joined immediately after by tens of others.

Jon grabbed the back of Neal's jacket and yanked him back a step. He wanted out of the way but didn't want to leave. They had to get to Aug before he climbed any higher, while the two onstage were distracting each other.

"Go on and good luck to you," Eden said to Jon, keeping his eyes on Liberty.

"Come on, Neal," Jon said. "We gotta get Aug."

They both ran down the stage stairs to try and circle around back and get to the other side...

...and a dozen of the possessed security and stage crew were waiting for them.

Deen and Ross had already made it to the other side, and Deen had begun climbing the scaffolding after Aug despite Ross's protests. the drummer met trouble almost immediately when Aug began kicking at him and trying to dislodge him.

She watched the singer try and dislodge Deen, watched Deen begin to lose his handhold, and she glanced at Eden. She would be giving him an opening, but the decision was made. She gripped one wrist with the opposite hand, then separated them abruptly.

"Chain Reaction!"

There was a heart-stopping moment where nothing happened; then a loose wire in the lighting above, that had been fraying, caused a short when her invocation accelerated the process.

The entire lighting system began to blow out, bulbs bursting and showering the stage with glass. Sparks flew, and it was a wonder nothing caught fire. The combination of noise and lightshow caused people in the audience to begin screaming, some fearing a fire and backing from the stage.

In the distraction, Neal and Jon fought loose of the possessed stage crew and made a run for the other side of the stage.

Eden vanished into the crowd.

Aug froze and blinked, looking out across the world at large, and he renewed his handhold. He couldn't remember climbing, had no idea what was happening, and could only hold on.

"Aug," Deen said from just below him. "You done with the Linda Blair thing?"

Aug glanced down. "What the hell was in that Snapple?"

Deen cursed at him.

Jon and Neal came up the other side of the stage while a member of the road crew who hadn't been affected tried to regain order from the stage. Jon glanced around, but there was no sign of the girl with the symbol or their tormentor.

Aug and Deen began to slowly climb down. When Aug's feet hit the stage, he collapsed to it, out cold.

* * *

The show was postponed for an hour while the stage crew repaired the lighting and wiring, and Aug came to. The band refused to cancel the show, and it went off without any further disturbance.

No one saw the girl with the symbol standing in the wings, singing along to every note.

* * *

As the band left the stage after the final encore, Jon noticed Liberty out of the corner of his eye as she walked away from the trailers in the staging area. The others didn't notice her, busy talking about what had happened before the show, and he jogged after her.

"Wait," he said.

Knowing who he was -- or thinking he did -- he'd almost said you better wait but decided the joke wasn't funny. Not yet, anyway.

She glanced behind herself, right at him, but kept walking anyway.

"Don't walk away," Jon said, and the girl leveled an angry stare at him that instantly softened again. He realized he'd used a Bad English lyric on her and shrugged in apology.

She stopped to look at him, and they stared at each other for a long moment. Jon had no idea what to say.

"I wonder if you're really happy," Liberty said finally.

"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Jon said, without the impatience the words suggested. "How are you even possible?"

"If you saw me, would you know my name?" Liberty said.

Jon sighed. "What do you want me to call you?"

"Liberty," she said. "Journey. A little vertical persuasion would do me right."

He laughed despite himself. "I don't suppose you can tell me why you guys are walking around, or what that was really about."

"Do you know me?" she said. "Do you hear me?"

Jon looked at her thoughtfully, then said, "We just need to keep writing lyrics, don't we. Look, have you always been around, or are we just seeing you because something is so fucked up that you need to walk around?"

"Both."

"That was Bad English, wasn't it," Jon said.

She nodded. "I tell you, it's a crime."

"But he's walking around bein' pissed and talking out of lyrics. Has he had more practice, or is he just tougher than you?"

She frowned, and Jon wondered what would have happened to him had he been anyone else. "Okay," he said. "I'm used to talking to myself, but not my own music. How often can we count on seeing you? Or him?"

She shrugged. "They're everybody's business." Then she frowned as if she hadn't meant to say it.

Jon stared at her and tried to piece it together. "I don't recognize that," he said. "It wasn't a Journey lyric."

"Bad English," she said. "Eden."

"What's Eden? Here?" Jon said, feeling further behind with every second.

"Bad English," she said.

"Okay," Jon said. "Look who you're talking to. If you're Journey, you should be able to just talk to me. We should be connected enough for that. One of us isn't trying hard enough."

Liberty closed her eyes for a moment, and Jon took the time to study her, noticing with a jolt that her hair was getting lighter and that he recognized what she was wearing. He'd spent the Raised On Radio tour in it, and a few photo shoots. Neal's headband from the Frontiers tour. Steve Perry's jeans and street hikers.

She can't let go of him either, Jon thought, remembering their ex-singer. I wonder if that'll change. But he'd been a large part of their history, so Jon didn't think so. There were two items dangling from her neck: one a carved scarab, and the other an eighth note.

Then Liberty opened her eyes again and said, "You never left me."

"No," Jon said. "You'd be gone, now, if I'd left things alone. How long have you really been awake?"

"Last year. When you were planning Arrival."

"Was it because of that? Or did something else cause..." Jon paused. "A lot of bands are walking around, aren't they. Is there one of you for every band?"

Liberty nodded.

"So something happened to the world," Jon said. "Why haven't I seen you until now?"

"You didn't need me until now," she said. "You always need me, but not to fight. The music will die, if Oblivion gets hold of it. Eden doesn't care about that, he just wants you dead."

"Oblivion," Jon said, searching for a connection. "Oblivion Records? They tried to sign us. I think they tried a hostile takeover of Sony."

"Napster was the beginning," Liberty said darkly. "They meant well, it wasn't their fault, but other things took advantage. Took root. I can't stay, Jon."

She said his name like a prayer. He studied her for a moment, then said, "Will you talk to me again?"

"I'm always here," she said. "Nothing will get past me."

Jon had a feeling that if it came down to it, that meant band members too if they got out of line. "I know," he said softly. "I know."

* * *