THE DEMON HAUNTED WORLD Chapter VI
(c)1998 B Stearns

Is it so frightening, to have me at your shoulder?
--Jethro Tull, Bungle In The Jungle


"I didn't kill him," Steve said yet again.

It seemed to be all he could say, after they'd shown him the pictures.

Too many angles of Neal the way he'd been found. He could have done without seeing that for the rest of his life. The images were burned into him, had thrown him so far off that it was all he could do to keep breathing. No one deserved to go like that, and no matter what they'd thought of each other, it hurt.

What, what was the last thing I said to him!

The auburn haired DA who'd come in to question him--in front of the legal counsel his lawyer had suggested--gave him a look that said she'd heard it all before, and better phrased, too. Someone had told him her name. He'd already forgotten it. The world was hazy and unfocused, and he made no attempt to wade out. His own lawyer was better suited to the things he'd run across professionally, and had admitted it. This guy looked fresh off the bar, and Steve didn't care about that either. He was going to wake up, eventually, and it would be over.

The DA jabbed a well-manicured finger down on the folded sheets of lined notepaper directly in front of him on the table.

"This document in front of you, bearing your signature, states that you did. Are you denying that this is your signature?"

"It...looks like it, but I didn't sign this," Steve said.

"Then you're telling us it's a forgery, with your fingerprints on it," she said with obvious disbelief. "Mr. Perry--Steve--do us all a favor. Tell us what really happened. You have a decent lawyer, it was a crime of passion, so with luck and some creative plea bargaining you'll do minimal time. Right now you're wasting mine by maintaining your innocence. The least you could have done was get rid of this. The sample of your handwriting we have matches this perfectly, down to the millimeter, and you even misspelled exactly the same words. No forgery would be that good. The fingerprints on the weapon used to kill Mr. Schon match yours. So can we cut the bullshit, please? You did it, and you were so distraught that you committed it to paper afterward and kept it to--what?--torture yourself? With the hope that you'd be caught, and could unburden yourself. All we need you to do now is admit it and get it over with."

He stared at her in shock, unable even to counter with another claim of innocence.

"Steve," his lawyer said, "you don't have to say anything, yet."

Wow, Steve thought. He's a hell of a lot of help.

"And while you're at it," the DA continued, "we'd also appreciate an explanation as to why Mr. Schon's fingerprints are on it in addition to yours. Any thoughts on this matter?"

Steve continued staring at her, meaning to say he was sure there was a rational explanation, that it was all just a huge misunderstanding, but mainly he just stared and tried to figure out how the hell anyone's fingerprints had managed to get on the thing.

"Are you going to tell us the voices told you to do it?" she said. "That is what it says, that you heard a voice telling you to 'give' them to someone. It also mentions someone named Jonathan. Did you by any chance happen to 'give' him, as well?"

"Ross," Steve said, fastening on the idea the name represented with desperation.

She waited.

"Ross, and Smith, they'll tell you. It says I killed them too, but they're still around...you have to ask Ross!"

"Ross Valory," she said.

"He'll tell you I was home all night, I didn't do this!"

"What was he doing at your residence?"

"I....I called him." Neal had been the one to call Ross, but saying that at this point would only make things worse.

Oh good, he thought, I'm still optimistic enough to think things can actually get worse.

"Why."

"To tell him..." he trailed off, knowing there was no point, that it didn't matter anymore what he said or didn't say.

She gestured at him, a small circular motion with one hand that said go on.

Steve shrugged. "To tell him something weird was going on. Jonathan's been kidnapped by beings from an alternate dimension. Or something."

She regarded him with a perfectly straight face for a long moment before straightening and staring at Steve's lawyer. "I can't do this," she said calmly, and walked out.

Steve raised his eyebrows at his lawyer, who was gaping at him. "That's it?" the kid demanded. "After all that, you came up with aliens?"

"Hey, truth is stranger than fiction," Steve said. God, he was tired. "Now send Gillian Anderson in here to interrogate me, before my people return in the mothership."

* * *

"What the fuck is wrong with you!"

Steve continued shaking his head. "The truth shall set us free."

They were sitting in one of the interrogation rooms where Steve had tried to explain things four separate times. They were at least letting Ross talk to him, alone, with only a guard outside the door. Ross had already been cleared of any wrongdoing by then and was tired of saying he knew nothing about what was going on. Yes, Neal had left around one a.m.. Yes, he'd camped out at Steve's after that. Yes, he'd fallen asleep. And been unable to say for certain that Steve had stayed put, and not gone marauding through the countryside killing guitarists before returning home and going back to bed.

Life was generally funny as hell to Ross. Life had stopped being funny pretty damned fast over the previous two days.

"That was your idea of humor, smartass?" he said to Steve, lowering his voice further. "You have no idea how bad this is, do you."

"That's exactly it. I don't really believe any of this. There's no way it's happening..."

"You don't have any of your memory back," Ross interrupted.

"The note is in my damn handwriting, but I don't remember writing it, and now you're telling me you guys kept it in case you ever had to prove to me that it all happened. You keep acting like this is supposed to make sense to me. You weren't surprised about the silver-haired girl, you weren't surprised that Jon is...somewhere else and that I can hop across, and you're not surprised that..."

Steve paused. "Neal is dead," he said, stunned by it all over again. "Christ, Ross. Neal is dead."

Ross leaned back in his chair and stared at Steve, wanting to say something about having seen the singer come back from such a state several times. That he didn't believe this was the end. But it wouldn't hurt to let Steve mourn Neal for awhile, when it had been the other way around so many times. And Steve wouldn't believe him anyway. "We have to get you out of here, or we can't do anything," he said finally. "The namers warned you to stay out, and you didn't, so they set you up. Jon still had the note because he figured he'd need it, maybe, but it wasn't him that needed it at all."

"I'm just playing along," Steve said distantly. "This is the dumbest nightmare I've ever had."

"You're not waking up from this one, kid," Ross snapped. "I'm gonna get you out of here before they decide to do more than frame you. Hopefully, Siarion'll be able to help us find a way out of this intact. You need to play it cool until I get you out. Can you do that?"

"Are you guys really gonna keep this up?" Steve said.

"I need you to keep your mouth shut until I get you out of here. That's all. Lie low and don't talk. Do that for me."

Steve shrugged, looking at the ceiling. "Worth a try."

Ross softened a little. "One more thing," he sighed.

"Hmm."

Ross pointed at the standard issue faded orange clothing Steve had been given. "The jumpsuit. It's definitely not you."

* * *

Kent, Washington, July 16th

The dark haired woman was contemplating her schedule for the following day when the evening news came on, background noise that she allowed to filter through her attention until the words singer Steve Perry arrested and murder reached her. She walked back into the living room and stared at the TV, incredulous. Like most newscasts, it dropped the bomb and then ran, moving on to the weather, something she would have cared about minutes earlier. In a way, she was picking two people up at the airport the next morning because of the man who'd been so briefly thrown onto the screen as a wanted fugitive.

They'd been planning it for nearly a year; people who'd been talking to each other for years and sending each other birthday cards, people who'd never met but had begun a friendship because of the music they listened to were finally coming together...even though there didn't seem to be many of them left. A 'Journey weekend', she'd said.

"Great," she said aloud. The phone began to ring behind her, and she didn't even hear it until the third ring, lost in thought. She picked it up and said, "Lora."

There was brief silence on the other end. Then Lora said, "Syd? How did you know it was me?"

Startled, Syd took her eyes away from the TV and said, "I don't know. God. What's going on?" How much weirder did life just get? "Did you see the news?"

"See it? I'm living it. Steve is in trouble."

"That's putting it a little mildly, isn't it?" Syd said. "What the hell happened?"

"The way I had it explained to me, it's too much for over the phone. Neal was murdered a couple of nights ago, and the news didn't pick it up until Steve was officially charged. When you pick me up at the airport tomorrow morning, Steve's going to be waiting for us. It's a long, crazy story. We--me and Ross--posted bail for him, and he's going to jump it by coming with us."

Amazed at how sane she still sounded, Syd said, "The police will be watching you, though, knowing you'll help him."

"Right, which is why Steve and Ross will be waiting for you guys at a different gate. I'm keeping Siarion with me."

"Siarion," Syd echoed.

"You'll see. You'll have to, to believe it. She said we need a group of fans. We were already getting together this weekend, so I figured, the last place anyone would look....well. Listen. I'm asking you, and the others, to be accessories, basically. You can say no. I would understand. We could still find our way around. We just need some time to figure this out."

There was a moment, just a moment, where Syd considered bursting into laughter and telling Lora to stop with the practical joke she had obviously gone so far to create. Then she said, "He's been set up for this, hasn't he."

"Yes. You're not even going to ask me if I think he did it?" Lora said.

"No." She paused. "We'll be there."

Lora sighed with relief. "And...you remember Jon, don't you?"

"What do you mean?" Syd said, bracing herself for whatever else was coming.

"Jonathan Cain."

"Jesus Christ, has he been arrested too?"

"Never mind," Lora said, with even greater relief.

* * *

July 17th

"Okay," Ellie said when Syd picked her up the next morning. "Mrs. Cryptic Phone Call, they never got back around to Steve on the news last night, and CNN certainly didn't care, so what the hell's going on? Steve's murdered Neal, Jon's missing, and we're picking up some fugitive rock stars in addition to Lora and Two. At some point the original plan of having a good sane Journey weekend flew out the window."

"I don't think Steve actually killed Neal," Syd said, maneuvering her Saturn back into traffic. "There's just a note in his handwriting that says he did."

"Who did, then?"

"Probably the same people who kidnapped Jon...I don't know, I came into this a little late, too. Just concentrate on helping me figure out what we're doing about it, now that we're in it. And we're in it. Trust me."

* * *

They hadn't been recognized on the plane.

It was a relief; too much had hinged on their anonymity. The fact that they hadn't been noticed at all was either testimony to the care they'd taken trying to be incognito, or it proved to them once and for all that nobody cared who they were anyway. SeaTac International was jammed with summer travelers, and even someone looking specifically for them would have had a bad time. They'd been gone long enough, and maybe the world had moved on without them.

That was fine with Steve.

It was another twenty minutes of silent, unobtrusive tedium before Steve began to pace. He'd been sitting too long and had to stretch his hip out, and he ignored Ross' attempts to tell him to cut it the hell out. Then, while looking for the number Lora had given him in case something went wrong, he dropped his wallet and scattered its contents.

Cursing softly, he bent down to retrieve what he could from under the nearest seats when another pair of hands began helping. He straightened and stared at the striking dark haired woman who was offering him what he'd dropped, meaning to thank her. She didn't let him.

"I'm Syd," she said. "Start walking, don't say anything. We have to get out of here before someone finally catches on."

Steve and Ross both nodded, scooping up their carry on bags and following her wordlessly back through the terminal. Moments later, another woman fell in behind them, a redhead. Two escalators later and nearly to the parking garage, a third woman joined them from the crush of people, with Lora and Siarion in tow, a taller redhead who walked alongside Syd. Ross and Steve glanced at Lora in concern, but Lora smiled and looked unpreturbed. Siarion was staring at everything with subdued alarm, and Steve purposely took her hand. Having her wandering lost in a major airport would have put an appropriate cap on things, but he wasn't willing to risk it.

At the entrance to the parking garage itself, leaning against the wall by the doors, was another woman, a blond who shook her head at Syd, then raised her eyebrows at the musicians. Steve didn't like the look on her face. There was too much amusement there, and if any of it was funny, he had yet to see it. Then he remembered the way he'd acted in front of the DA, and let it drop.

They walked in a loose group down the side of one aisle until they reached a bright red Honda Civic. The taller redhead unlocked it, and Syd unlocked the Saturn next to it. "Steve, Ellie, and Siarion, you're with Gaby. Ross, Lora and Two, you're with me. Let's get out of the second most public place in Seattle before we push our luck any further."

* * *

They started piecing things together on the way back to Syd's, keeping things low key despite the fact that two of the people they'd gathered to honor were actually with them. They started with the introductions, since they spent the majority of the trip stuck in traffic. It was a beautiful, moderately warm day in Seattle, and the traffic was damn close to LA standards. The annual Bite of Seattle was in full swing, I-5 was closed, and the Mariners were playing an early game. Together it made for a perfect mess, but no one was complaining about being trapped in the car yet. It gave them time to catch up.

"So you guys were all getting together this weekend anyway," Steve said finally. "For us. And each other."

Gabrielle, the taller redhead, took her eyes off the road long enough to glance at him in the rearview mirror. "Right. Hang around, see the sights, play tourist."

"None of us would even know each other, if not for you," Ellie said from the front seat without turning around.

"I know," Siarion said. "That is why we are here."

It raised the hair on the back of Steve's neck, and he felt for the Saros stone, inexplicably glad it was around his neck again. He'd retrieved it along with the rest of what he'd had on him when Ross and Lora had posted his bail. What good it would be to him now was anyone's guess. What good it would do to spend the next few days with fans--who weren't exactly acting like fans--was beyond him.

Ellie turned around at the sound of Siarion's voice, and the two stared at each other for a moment. "And you need fans in particular because...?"

"These fans in particular," Siarion said immediately.

Ellie looked at Steve. And the humor came back, as if she was struggling not to crack up laughing. "Okay, these fans in particular because..."

"Because all of you got the lights on in time," Siarion said.

Ellie widened her eyes and moved them slowly back to Siarion. Gabrielle said, "Fuckin' Christ."

Steve realized he was in the middle of something bigger than he'd thought, something he was glad he didn't remember, and he watched Siarion nod.

"Who the hell are you?" Ellie snapped.

"Back off, El," Gabrielle said immediately, almost over the top of her. "Once we're all together, we'll get it figured out."

"No. You don't make a statement like that, then let it drop!"

"Don't make her explain it more than once," Gabrielle said. "Dammit, I'm driving, here. I don't wanna hear this, in the car."

"People are dead," Ellie said to Siarion. "You're damn right, get the lights on. You better be explaining that."

"You have always been in a hurry," Siarion said. "Leave it alone, for now. I will explain whatever I can, when we are all together."

Ellie narrowed her eyes at Siarion, then looked at Steve.

"What I wouldn't give to hear what's going on in the other car," Gabrielle said tightly. "Got a seven margarita discussion going on in this one. If you don't turn around and face front, I'm gonna pitch you right out onto the bridge."

"We won't let anything happen to you," Ellie said to Steve, and he was more frightened then than when he'd been arrested, than he'd been when he'd realized Neal was dead or when they'd been standing over Jon's headstone. The world was coming apart to the point where strangers had his life in their hands, in both the literal and figurative sense. And even worse...he was beginning to believe that they really were the only hope he had left.

"Love to know what's going on in the other car," Two said.

Syd shook her head. "No, you don't. I put them together on purpose. Someone want to explain who Siarion is?"

Ross said, "You're driving. It should wait."

"She's not human, is she," Two said.

Ross looked at her. "Why is everyone calling you 'Two?'"

"Because we have the same name," Two said, gesturing at Syd, "and she was here first."

"And you don't mind that," Ross said.

"Does Steve Smith mind being called Smitty, just because there was another Steve in the band?" Two said.

"Ah," Ross said.

"And there's only one Jon, but everyone kept calling him Jay anyway," Syd said.

"Then I take it he still exists, the way you guys see it," Ross said.

"Who, Jon?" Two said. "Yeah."

"But if there's anyone besides us who realizes he ever was, I haven't run into them," Lora said from the front seat. "Journey broke up in 1981, according to the entertainment industry."

Two looked at Ross, who quickly said, "But two or three days ago, we were getting ready to go back on tour with a new singer. The way it is today makes it a little hard to do that. Aug exists--he's still with Tall Stories--but he's never met us. He's not going to. I haven't checked much to see what the rest of us are supposedly doing with our lives, now. I'm afraid to."

"But I can tell you every track off the last four albums you guys have done," Syd said. "I can hum the choruses, too, so there's no way those albums didn't happen."

"They didn't happen," Ross said. "Here, or now. The world's been changed, but we got left out, somehow."

"That's why I didn't say anything to you until I found out if you remembered Jon or not," Lora said to Syd. "About what's really going on, here. We've been passed over by whoever did all this in the first place."

"Why," Syd said.

"Great question," Ross said. "Hypothesis welcome, starting now."

* * *

Syd and Ellie checked Syd's third floor apartment before letting the others come up and settle in. Both Steve and Ross had cringed a little crossing the threshold, wondering what they'd find on the walls--

--and felt equally stupid when they found tastefully framed classic film posters instead of the shrine to their career they'd been fearing. The only nod to their existence was an autographed Stanley Mouse print from the Captured album. Their surroundings were saner than their current circumstances. Syd caught them looking at the walls, and the look on her face told them she knew exactly what they'd been thinking.

Full introductions were made once everyone was settled in and the door had been locked behind them. Leaving the news on quietly in the background, they began the story again.

The entire thing, told mainly by Ross and Siarion now that Jon and Neal were no longer in a position to tell it, took roughly two hours. It was long past pointless to disbelieve any of it, and their audience took it in with fascinated concern, waiting to ask questions until a breather was called. Then they ordered Chinese from a small place down the street and milled around a little to stretch.

"Conference," Syd said. "We don't mean to be rude, but those of us on the fan side need to talk this over a little."

Lora, Ross, Steve and Siarion all nodded, and the remainder went into Syd's bedroom and closed the door.

And they stared at each other. For a long, long moment.

"Steve Perry is drinking tea in my living room," Syd said, "with Ross Valory and someone from who knows where."

"First thing we need to do is make sure no one else knows where they are. And we have to get past the whole 'gee, this is amazing' bullshit," Gabrielle said.

"Believe what, though?" Two said. "The alien story? Sure, why not? If aliens were going to pick anyone to screw with, it'd be Journey."

"Siarion backs it up," Ellie said. "She's not far from alien herself. Listen to her, she can't even speak in terms of relative time, as if she doesn't get it."

"We've got a couple of folks on the local cable access channel that do the same thing," Gaby said.

"Hell, most of California does that," Two said. "But she's really, really not from around here."

"And we haven't even gotten to the part about what it was we were turning the lights on for," Ellie said.

Two and Syd stared at her. Gabrielle said, "I can't believe you've been able to shut up about that as long as you have. You were fuckin' gonna kill her, in the car."

"Nobody needs to listen to me freak out about any one thing, when we have so much to freak out about," Ellie said.

"When were you going to get around to that?" Syd said.

"She knows about it. We weren't having recurring nightmares, not all four of us," Ellie said. "I'm gonna swing her right off your deck by that braid if she's messing with us, though. What, something's been turning Journey fans into whatever was chasing us, because they couldn't get hold of the band until the majority of us were gone?"

"Too many hands holding," Syd said. "I'm not sure I needed to know any of that was real."

"How is it we remember Jon?" Two said.

"I have a feeling that's the main part of how and why we're involved," Gaby said. "We've probably been in this for some time, and it's just now biting us in the ass."

"It's the biting part that worries me," Syd said. "Neal is dead. Whether it was a copy of him or the real thing, someone or something still took a crowbar to him. This is officially on a volunteer basis."

"Then I suggest Two gets out now," Gaby said.

Two looked at her. "How do you figure?"

"Who else has kids? You were supposed to be gone for a weekend. We're talking aiding and abetting at the least, with a chance of crowbars. If something goes wrong--well, more wrong--Jesus, we've already got aliens and police and fugitive rock stars."

"Oh my," they all said in unison, stilling the urge to laugh.

"Anything could happen," Gaby finished.

"Look, no one should be in this," Two said, "but I had the option of never flying up here at all. If I was gonna back out, it would have been yesterday. We're all in this together, or nothing."

"Okay," Syd said. "That's it, then. Now what?"

"Did you check to see if any of your CD's are missing?" Ellie said.

"I don't want to," Syd said.

"If it stops at Captured, it doesn't mean anything," Gaby said. "Some freak could have been in here and hauled off with Escape on upward."

"I believe Lora, if nothing else," Syd said. "What next, start calling radio stations and requesting 'Open Arms'? I already get 'Journey who?' from most of them as it is."

"No one's debating that Jon and Neal are gone," Gaby said. "Proving that an entire timeline is screwed in just one area is another thing, though. Think about how twisted these creatures have to be, to go to that kind of trouble."

"If we keep talking this out, a way out of it will probably pop up," Two said. "As for what the hell we can actually do about any of it...."

"We need a plan," Syd sighed.

* * *