One Big Soap Opera
by Charlie Ball



Alex sat at his desk trying to wade through the stacks of forms for his student visa. He thought it ironic that for a country that was initially started, then later expanded, by immigrants would now require nothing short of a thesis in order to gain permission for an extended stay. Add to that all of the information required for admission into Juilliard as well as the information for lodgings while attending -- Tolstoy's War & Peace began to look small by comparison...

He looked at the clock on the wall behind him and decided to take a break. Lunch would start in about twenty minutes anyway and he needed to stretch his legs. He headed outside toward the garden, intending to walk around the grounds for a bit before heading toward the kitchen.

He made it as far as the path toward the garden before he heard, "Oh, there you are, Maestro! I was hoping to find you at home. The butler said you were here and let me in."

Alex winced for two reasons. The first was that he hated being called by the code name the Ministry had given him when he first began his training. A code name was half a step short of a skintight costume, something to be avoided at all costs. The second reason was that the voice belonged to Lieutenant Johnson, his former sparring partner. He had flattened him a few months earlier and it still bothered Alex, even if Johnson had completely healed within hours of the event.

Alex wasn't sure where the lightning had come from and couldn't be sure it wouldn't happen again. If he couldn't control it, it could happen by accident and someone else might get hurt. Someone who wouldn't heal quite so quickly. Gerry was a good example. They had been playing football two years ago and Alex was at least partly responsible for Gerry breaking his leg. Gerry still had a limp to this day.

"Lieutenant Johnson, it's good to see you. You're just in time for lunch. And please, call me Alex," he said, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice.

Johnson looked a bit wistful as he replied, "As much as I'd like to, I've been sent to collect you for a few tests. It seems that Captain Andrews has had an epiphany of sorts regarding your, uh, random powers and he wants to get started straight away."

Alex nearly groaned. A mountain of paper work and now this.

"Did he specify when these tests were to begin?"

"Well, now that you ask, I don't recall hi saying that he had a definite time set to start," replied the lieutenant.

"I see," said Alex. "We could go now, I suppose. It's a shame though. Cook said there would be roast beef sandwiches for lunch. He was baking the bread for them this morning. Smelled awfully good."

"I see your point. I don't suppose that it would hurt to have a quick bite before we head out."

******

Alex glanced again at the wall clock. The time read half past eight. Captain Andrews had said that he had a lot that he wanted to accomplish and that once Alex started, he was to continue with the test no matter what phenomena might manifest during the testing. Alex, a bit mystified at the instruction, shrugged and agreed to do so.

Captain Andrews, as it turned out, had arranged for the training hall to be outfitted with a state of the art sound system. For the last several hours, the speakers had poured out every manner of music ranging from Bach and Beethoven to Van Halen and Aerosmith. Alex had been outfitted in tight fitting trunks and had sensors applied to various points on his head, chest and limbs. For the hundredth time, Alex silently cursed the inventor of the adhesive that kept all of the sensors stuck to his skin.

The testing began with Alex running the obstacle course without music, apparently to get a baseline. After two laps, various kinds of music would begin to play. It was an eclectic stream of music that seemed to vary in tempo and volume as well as style. During the faster paced music, Alex seemed to find his second wind and the obstacles became less of a hindrance as he continued around the course. At one point, in the section of the course where he was to strike a row of punching bags as he ran by, the last bag was sent into the wall where it embedded itself into the concrete. Alex was a bit surprised but, as he had been told at the start, he kept going.

After the obstacle course, Alex was asked to sit at a table with one of the Ministry's scientists while the music kept playing. The volume was a bit lower but it was still easily heard. This time There was a battery of Psychological tests. It started with simple word association and then moved on to other forms of analysis. Alex was asked to describe how he felt as different types of music played. The music would play for a minute or so before the question was asked each time. Alex's responses ranged from "relaxed" to "edgy," from "euphoric" to "angry."

As the questions continued, there would be an occasional manifestation, generally minor. Sometimes a spark of electricity, sometimes the table would rattle, and once, near the end of the series of questions, Alex expressed that he was a bit hungry and the doctor conducting the interview was halfway to the door before he realized what was happening.

After the last bit, Captain Andrews chimed in over the speakers. "I think that should do it for now, Alex. Why don't we call it a night while we digest the readings we've gotten."

"No complaints from me. I've got a mountain of paper work to do for admission to Juilliard and I'd like to get it sent off tomorrow. Would you care to let me in on what this is all about?" Alex asked, sounding a bit more confident than he felt.

"I won't know for certain until tomorrow and I'd prefer to wait until then. Perhaps, if you and your mother are free for lunch, we can discuss it then."

Alex gave an inward groan and replied, "I'll have to see what her social calendar is like, but I can give you a ring tomorrow and let you know." If it was something that Andrews wanted to discuss with his mother present, it must be a little more serious than he thought.

"Good. Tomorrow then. Good night, Alex."

"Good night Captain."

******

"...and it was very clever of you to have discovered what causes my son's abilities to manifest, Captain", said Allyson St. John-Smythe. Alex's mother seemed genuinely pleased and relieved that the mystery had been solved.

"Thank you. I'm afraid, however, it wasn't so much cleverness as much as fortune that led to the discovery. I was reviewing some files and complaining about the volume of the music on the office radio when it dawned on me," replied Captain Andrews. "The boys in the lab took it from there."

Alex had been listening to the conversation, mostly pleasantries, for the last ten minutes and they still hadn't gotten around to the reason for this meeting. Alex cleared his throat and said, "I get the feeling that you two have already spoken a little about this..."

Alex's mother gave him a somewhat startled look and smiled. "I'm sorry, dear. When the Captain called me this morning saying he wanted to meet with us, I'm afraid I coaxed a bit more information from him than he intended to impart over the phone. Perhaps I should be quiet now and allow him to get on with things. Captain?"

Captain Andrews smiled and replied, "Yes ma'am."

"Well Alex, it would seem that when you were given the code name 'Maestro' it was a bit more accurate than we had realized. It was originally intended more to reflect your musical talents and skills than your metahuman abilities. On the surface, it seemed that your talent as a musician sort of, well... outstripped your physical development. Granted, you've already physically developed pretty much to the pinnacle of what a non metahuman could achieve but you won't be throwing around armored cars or anything." Andrews paused and added, "At least not on a regular basis."

Alex  replied, "I see Actually, I don't. What has all this got to do with my playing lab rat yesterday? I mean, I'm still trying to get some of that adhesive off of my skin."

Captain Andrews gave an embarrassed grin. "Sorry, I've noticed a tendency to digress as I've reached my middle years. Essentially what we've discovered is that these seemingly random abilities you've displayed aren't all that random. Each time you've displayed a new ability, you've been in the presence of loud, obnoxious music. Some call it 'Rock & Roll.'" Andrews paused, apparently pleased at his own joke.

Allyson, with a wry grin, spoke, "Oh dear. If it were anything but that..." Looking at her son's pained expression, she added, "Oh for heaven's sake Alex, I'm only kidding. I think it's a very good thing to know. I do wish it were something a bit more in the classical vein, but..."

"Oh, it's not just rock music. Any kind of music will do, apparently. Classical, Big Band, maybe even something played on a kazoo. It's just that to date the power manifestations have only occurred with the more modern styles of music."

Andrews continued, "After yesterday's tests, we've determined that, as long as the music is lively or fast paced, the powers can manifest. At least the more spectacular ones anyway. There is evidence to suggest that nearly any kind of music can produce a power manifestation, but the effects can vary a great deal and may not always be what is expected. We'll need to monitor him more to be certain but it's possible that the same tune could produce widely different effects, or even no effect at all."

Alex took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "How is this possible? I mean, how is it that all of this can happen just by playing a song?"

"Ah, well... That's a bit more difficult to determine. Yesterday's tests were by no means conclusive, and the 'How' of the whole thing seems to have the boys in the Lab divided into two camps. Some of the specialists at the Ministry are hypothesizing that you go through a unique bio-chemical phenomenon while 'influenced' by varying grades of music." Turning to Alex's mother, he said, "They believe that his body somehow metabolizes hard-sounding music, converting it into other forms of energy or even into forms of matter.

"The other camp," continued Andrews, "argues that Alex possesses some sort of innate ability to transmute matter and energy, but psychological 'buffers' prevent him from fully being able to execute this power.  Turning his attention back to Alex, he continued, "They continue by saying that your powers are currently displayed through your emotional interpretation of bass-driven, guitar-wailing, loud and obnoxious forms of music -- er, Rock & Roll, that is. That's one reason to explain why your powers can vary so much. The effect has may be generated by how the music makes you feel. If your attitude toward a piece of music changes, the effect will likely change as well. Both educated guesses are grounded, but only time and further studies can tell if any of them are actually true."

After a brief pause during which Alex and his mother absorbed all that had been said, Allyson said, "Well, Captain. I think that you've given us a great deal to think on today. I know that I'm certainly relieved to know what's been causing these powers, especially in light of my son's trip to the United States. Fortunately no harm has come of them as of yet and I'm certain that your discovery will ensure we can minimize future embarrassments."

Captain Andrews had been dealing with superior officers long enough to know a dismissal when he heard one. "I'm glad that we at the Ministry have been of some small service, Ma'am. I hope that you won't mind if we 'borrow' Alex every once in a while to continue our tests. The more that we can find out about his abilities, the better he will be able to control them."

"Of course, Captain. I'm sure Alex won't mind. He still has a few months until his return to the States and He should have no trouble fitting it in to his schedule..."

Alex took another deep breath. "If you'll excuse me for a moment." Alex got up and headed toward the lavatory. Once away from the table and out of earshot, one word escaped his lips.

"Damn."

******

Later that afternoon, Alex met up with Gerry and Jessica, hoping to get his mind off things and catch up on what had been going on while he was in the U.S. Unexpectedly, they showed up with a new friend, Kat, short for Katsuo. He was, apparently, something of a genius and, even though only sixteen years old, owned his own software company. He also carried himself with a maturity far beyond what was considered normal for his age. On the whole, Kat was friendly enough and interesting. Gerry and Jessica were certainly taken by him.

They talked a bit about what had happened while Alex was away, sight seeing with Kat and the like. Alex gave them a synopsis of all of the things he had seen in the States but left out the part about meeting Weaver. He wasn't sure how to describe him beyond "homeless eccentric" so he stuck to answering questions about his "night-out" at the Boom Room.

When Alex announced that he would be going away to attend Juilliard, They all congratulated him and wished him success. This bothered Alex a bit. Kat's response he could understand since they had only just met. He had expected a stronger response from both Jessica and Gerry since they had been friends for far longer. Gerry had been his best friend since he was ten. They had met Jessica when they were both fourteen and it had been generally assumed that Alex and Jessica would become much more than friends when they got older. Alex discovered that he was a bit hurt by their response, or lack thereof.

As the sun touched the horizon, Kat excused himself, thanking everyone for a wonderful afternoon. Jessica left a short time later, giving a hug to Alex and then another to Gerry.

"So," started Gerry, "how did your meeting go today?"

"Wonderful," replied Alex, his voice oozing sarcasm.

"That bad?"

"Worse. The Ministry discovered and aspect to my abilities that I wish had remained buried and undiscovered for thousands of years. It seems that I'm getting my 'new powers' as a result of ambient music."

Gerry paused for a bit, then said, "Okay. Now, this is bad because..."

"Because, it means that my primary haven from being... different... is now the thing that makes me different! Whenever the press got too inquisitive or the people at school looked at me like I'd turned green and grown gills, I could go off and it would be just me and the music. It always made it easier to cope. While I was playing music, it didn't matter that I could keep up and maybe even beat an Olympic athlete. It didn't matter if I was poked and prodded by a group of doctors while they tried to figure out why I was putting on so much muscle so quickly. It didn't matter if I had accidentally broken my best friend's leg -- Well, you get the idea." Alex was a little embarrassed by his rant.

"Yeah. I do. Don't worry about it, Alex. Things'll work out, usually whether you want them to or not."

After a little more small talk, an awkward silence settled on the remaining pair. Finally Alex spoke.

"I don't want to come off sounding like a whiny little twit, but I sort of expected that you and Jessica would react... well, differently when I told you about my going away to Juilliard.  I mean, I wasn't expecting a wail of despair or anything, maybe just an expression of regret or something. Have I missed something? Is anything wrong?"

Gerry cocked an eyebrow and shrugged.  "Look, Alex," he started. "We know how much Juilliard means to you, and especially your mom, but Jessica and I can't go on standing by the wayside. We've got to move on as well."

"Move on?" Alex discovered that he was gripping the arm of his chair fairly tightly and had to concentrate to relax.

"Well, yes," Gerry replied. "You'll be thousands of miles away for months at a time. We can't just sit around waiting for you to get back so our lives can go forward as well. Jessica and I have started dating each other, I'm sorry to say. I mean, ever since you became less available as a friend, my friendship with Jessica became stronger..."

"I've never been 'less available' as a friend, Gerry. If either of you had needed anything, you know all you had to do was call and I'd have been here in hours." Alex was finding it difficult to relax the grip he had on the arm of his chair.

"That's not what I meant, Alex. It's just that you're going ahead with your life. We have to do the same. Unfortunately, our ways aren't coinciding. You didn't think that we'd always be together like we have been, did you? Again, I'm sorry. But you've just got to accept things as they are and move on..."

After a moment, Gerry pushed away from the table and left Alex to his thoughts. When Alex was finally able to let go of the arm of the chair, the sun was fully below the horizon. That hadn't sounded like the Gerry he knew at all. It was hard to believe that he could have changed that much in just over a month...

"Damn."

With that, Alex stood up and walked to his car...
 

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