“I’ve always wondered why my friends can’t be counted on to answer their phones but wrong numbers will always pick up after the first ring.”
That was the response Andrew gave when prompted by a voice in the monitor room to prove it was really him.
There was a terse, “Yeah, okay,” in reply, and the metal doors parted, revealing the blinking lights and superb air-conditioning within.
The monitor room was circular in shape, kind of like the Oval Office except the guy running the monitor room was actually well-liked. This man’s name was Coz, and he looked like he was trying to kill his keyboard using Chinese finger jabs.
He was answering the abysmally numerable questions submitted by Tally Hall fans. These questions covered every computer screen in the room, questions like, “When will their next tour be” and “Is Zubin married”.
In answering the fans’ questions, Coz was slamming his fingers so hard on the keyboard encircling him that the hoverpads supporting it would buckle from the force. Every time he went from “A” to “L” too fast, all his keys did the wave like a bunch of football fans.
The Tallies all stepped down into the room, except Joe, who felt the need to jump over the three steps instead of walk down them. The loud clunk of his boots hitting the floor caught Coz’s attention, and he swiveled around in his chair to face them all.
Coz didn’t look much different since the last time they’d seen him: same height, same weight, same gender. His eyes still held a cold, calculating gaze, even when he glanced at the Diet Pepsi in his free hand, and he still had his office-boss beard — the type of facial hair that says, “I’m in charge, so get me a biscotti.”
At the moment, though, a biscotti was as far from Coz’s mind as the idea of becoming a ballerina. The normal sharpness of his eyes was diluted with worry, so Italian biscuits and dancing in tights was obviously out of the question for now.
“Heya,” said Coz, getting up from his chair, and the Tallies returned the greeting with happy faces.
“Sorry I wouldn’t let you in here at first,” Coz went on. “Jillian found a voice modifier in the junk room, and I was afraid it was just her trying to get me to open the doors.”
“But you usually leave them open,” said Andrew. “Why wouldn’t you want them in here?”
Coz placed his fizzing drink on an open part of the keyboard, next to his models of the four kinds of Deafcaps. “Have you seen what those two have been doing in there? I’m surprised you let them handle your instruments.”
Joe shrugged slightly, his shoulder being weighed down with his guitar now strapped on. “You know they weren’t actually handling our equipment. We didn’t even send our stuff over ‘til we had our fingerprints encoded on the spacepac,” he lifted the tuna can in his hand, “so they couldn’t have touched our stuff even if they wanted to.”
“And I’m sure they wanted to,” Coz said with a smirk.
The Tallies all smiled politely at his joke (however true it was), and Joe checked his guitar for scratches one more time before taking out his phone. His guitar dematerialized as his finger jabbed one of the empty blocks shown on his spacesaver app.
“Of course, these were just downloads,” Rob said to fill the silence. “We wouldn’t have even considered Jennie’s offer if our instruments needed tuning or something and had to be physically held. I’d be afraid of the girls dropping something.”
He took the spacepac as Joe handed it to him, and he repeated Joe’s action of taking out his jPhone and scrolling across the screen to find his spacesaver. “Can you imagine having to lug all this stuff around?” Rob said once he found the right icon.
“I wouldn’t be in the Music Industry if we had to carry all our junk out every time we needed it,” said Andrew, who was losing a staring match with one of Coz’s Deafcap figurines.
“I was referring to having the girls moving our stuff around, but you make a good point. I don’t particularly like the idea of carrying our equipment myself.”
A moment after saying this, Rob sighed in annoyance, having forgotten that his metallic thumb wouldn’t work on the fingerprint-reading lock of the spacepac, a lock that, if it could talk, would have said, “What is this silver thing being shoved in my face? It is too bulbous in proportion to the rest of this man’s hand, and it doesn’t even have ridges for gripping things. Whoever attached this thing to something besides a toaster oven should be dragged into the streets and shot.”
But because this lock could not actually speak, it remained silent as Rob pressed his other thumb to its reader and held his jPhone up to it. His guitar and other equipment made the transfer as a Technicolor mist.
“Well,” said Ross, “that strategy might actually work. You know, carrying our stuff everywhere, having to set it all up before we can use it. My drums would be especially fun. Then the Deafcaps might laugh themselves to death.”
“So, what happened to you?” Coz asked, and he nodded at the bleach stain.
Ross felt the need to look down at his vest again, perhaps fascinated by the contrast of white on black. “Cleaning droid at the hotel,” he said. “We do have multiples of our uniforms, but I was afraid of running into another droid before we got here.”
“So you just walked around all morning with bleach stains?” said Coz. The others snickered. “Surely you have an app on your phone to take care of that?”
Ross paused and let Coz’s question sink in. “Oh…So I do.” Rob patted Ross’ head as a man pats a dog that’s brought him a dead squirrel.
“Why’d you stop at a hotel anyway?” said Coz.
“Just the two teleports here were exhausting, and we’d already gone through six yesterday,” Rob explained. “We just needed to rest.”
“This is why I always travel by plane. Always comfortable.”
“But they’re way too slow, and they cost more. Besides, we would’ve been going through security all day just to get on the plane.”
“Okay, Coz, what’s going on?” said Zubin, who until now had been listening to the others with a passive expression.
Of course, all the members of Tally Hall had noticed the look in Coz’s eyes the moment they walked in, but all had thought better of trying to rush any answers out of him. Though Zubin had come off as rudely impatient, he was in fact genuinely concerned. They had been talking to Coz for a full minute and he still hadn’t said something remarkably snarky, and Zubin recognized this as a sign of the apocalypse.
“You look worried,” said Zubin, “and you asked us to come in person for this news. It must be a bombshell.”
Coz sighed and sauntered back to his swivel chair, snatching his drink off the keyboard as he walked. He threw himself down in the seat and leaned back as he took a long sip, wanting to delay telling them if only for a few more seconds. After emptying the can, he lightly placed it next to one of several delete buttons, and he drew in breath.
“It’s about Casey.”
“Kasem?!” Andrew gasped.
“Yes, Casey Kasem,” said Zubin. “He’s back on radio and probably wants to interview us. Casey Shea, you ding-dong!”
“Ah, yes, Casey Shea,” said Andrew, “our dear old friend who toured with us a couple years ago. A solo artist and guitar player. Likes cake.”
Everyone stared blankly at Andrew.
“Why are you talking in exposition?” Ross said with a raised eyebrow.
“Talking in what? Sorry, I blacked out for a second. What were you saying, Coz?”
Coz blinked stupidly. “Er…About Casey?”
“Yes, about Casey,” Rob said, his voice rather anxious. “What happened to him?”
“It’s not really about what happened to him, but what could be happening to him. I’m trying to think of a way to put it delicately…”
“You know us, Coz. You don’t have to sugarcoat anything,” said Ross. “Be as blunt as you like.”
“Blunt? Oh, well, in that case, Casey’s probably had his voice sucked out by some Deafcaps.”
The Tallies’ mouths fell open like the doors of refrigerators that have been pushed over. After a moment Ross slowly said, “Yes, that certainly was blunt.”
“Wait, what do you mean he probably had his voice sucked?” exclaimed Andrew. “Since when are people unsure if they’ve had their voices ripped out? I hear it’s a pretty memorable experience, and not in the Disneyland sort of way.”
“Well, as you just bizarrely pointed out, Andrew, Casey works solo. He was by himself, so no one knows exactly how it happened.”
“How what happened?” said Rob.
“How he was taken by Deafcaps.”
There was a stunned silence full of equally stunned faces, but one of those faces gradually changed to express good humor. “Are we being punked?” said Joe. “We’re being taped right now, aren’t we?”
He looked at all the screens lining the walls of the room as if one of them would betray all the others and say, “Yeah, I have a camera right here.” But like the lock on the spacepac, the screens couldn’t talk, and even if they could, they would be lying if they said Coz had just pulled a cruel, sick prank.
“Why would I kid about something like this?” said Coz.
“Because you have a dark side just like the rest of us?”
“But I’m not joking.”
That wiped the smile clean off Joe’s face. “That doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Deafcaps have never kidnapped anyone. They may drag people off to take their voices, but they let them go afterwards. All but the Prowlers do, anyway.”
“This time they didn’t let their victim go. I know it’s strange.” Coz pulled a silvery, square-shaped communicator out of the pocket of his pants. “I got this from Al. It’s the message Casey sent to the Music Industry asking for help. He was probably taken right after he ended the transmission.”
Rob took the communicator in his hand and turned it over a few times with his thumb. “And why didn’t Al let us see this? Didn’t he think we might’ve wanted to go after Casey?”
“Yes, that’s exactly why he didn’t tell you. He knew you would take it personally.”
“Casey is our friend, so I’d say that makes it personal,” said Zubin.
“Some band called the System had already taken the job when Al finally got this message. That band that went after Casey never come back. Al didn’t want you guys to go missing too. That’s why he told me about all this. He knew I’d find out eventually anyway, and he told me not to let y’all know.”
“But you told us anyway?” said Andrew.
“Remind me to stop telling you my secrets,” Joe said with his signature boyish grin.
Zubin walked with purposeful strides over to the keyboard, and Coz got up from his seat to give him room. With a few button taps, Zubin cleared all the wall screens of fan questions, revealing desktop wallpapers of Coz’s cats. Coz cleared his throat.
Rob and Joe crowded in with them at the keyboard while Ross found an app on his phone to get rid of the bleach stains. Andrew, meanwhile, had also gone over to the keyboard, but stood on the opposite side of the others and had taken one of Coz’s figurines in his hands.
With a few voice commands and a URL code, Zubin had brought up a 3-D map of the world on the largest of the monitor screens. “So where was Casey when this happened?”
“Here in Glenside. That’s the main reason I asked y’all to come here for the news. I knew you’d want to get right to it.”
“We can’t go immediately, though,” said Joe. “We’ll have to prepare.”
“You’re always about preparing, right down to the last detail,” Rob groaned, “and we have no idea what those aliens might be doing to Casey right now.”
“Joe’s right, Rob. We can’t rush into this,” said Ross, coming to join them with clean clothes. His comment was immediately followed by a very dirty look from Rob, not aimed at Ross, mind you, but at Joe, and Joe was more than happy to return the this-band-ain’t-big-enough-for-the-two-of-us glare.
Seeing the dissension he had inadvertently caused, Ross quickly elaborated, “We don’t have to go over every detail of this, but there are big things we need to do before we get Casey, like making sure our instruments work, for one.”
Coz cut his eyes at Rob and Joe to gauge their reactions. The former, not being one to frown for very long anyway, had ceased scowling and had followed Zubin’s gaze back towards the computer screen. Joe on the other hand still looked angry, but he probably wasn’t still annoyed with Rob. Joe just had a tendency to forget what his face was doing if he fell into deep thought.
Following Ross, Andrew spoke up. “First things first,” he said, and he stopped playing with the alien figurine. “We have to call in Bora.”
And who is Bora, you may ask? The same question was once posed to Tally Hall by one of their newer fans, and Rob had answered thus:
“Bora Karaca is a good friend of ours. He plays several instruments, knows martial arts, and is a very good cook. I’m going to marry Bora.”
Bora, it should be added, was a mercenary, one who for the past decade had been hired out exclusively to Tally Hall. If there were aliens to be fought or free food to be consumed, Bora was there, and with the fierce voice of any mercenary did he answer his phone: “You kinda caught me at a bad time. I’m watching my stories.”