An Excerpt from Arcana Aeternum

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The Part that Introduces the Band

Mark of Hubris is an Improvisation-Procedural band with four members: Nikki Starr on strings and vocals, Gavin Moss on percussion, Cielva Oliver on keyboard and vocals, and the phonic processor affectionately referred to as Klive. ImProc bands depend on a phonic processor to compose sheet music on-the-fly to back up their own improvisation. They rose into popularity as the recording industry fell in favor of live performance in pre-space times.

The bands perform in the auditoriums stationed every twelve floors down the center of the spokes. Auditoriums are also used for lectures, demonstrations, conventions, and sporting events. All performances are also available as live feeds. The individual recordings can still be purchased, but this venue rarely turns a profit.

The Part that Introduces the Band

The dressing room—if a collection of luggage and instrument cases stacked in the rough approximation of a vanity could be called a dressing room—was largely empty. Nikki lounged fitfully on the stiff patent leather couch across the room, absently updating his public journal on a terminal window he had opened on the surface of the armrest.

As much as he earned from his public appearances, it was equally important that he plug products and feed the public’s insatiable need for rumors to whisper about at social events.

Recently, he hadn’t had the heart for it. No, it was something more than that. It was more like he always had a moral objection to the idea, and was only recently acting on it through inaction. It didn’t matter if he was discussing products he genuinely, personally enjoyed; he felt it was dishonest. He didn’t feel he should earn more from such reviews simply because he was a public figure. Why was his subjective opinion of Yolinda Marx’s latest line of footwear any more valuable or useful than someone else’s? The scientists at the Consumer Review Board he could understand. They had machines and protocols that churned out objective information about the products to back up their reviews. He was just an asshat that sang songs for a living.

This was ignoring the level deepening of depravity Nikki witnessed every time he shared the slightest disagreement among the other band members. If he talked about how well practice sessions went, or how much the band was enjoying their time at one spoke or another, the site traffic (and therefore his pay rate) would take a hit, but in the rare event that he and Gavin were fighting, or if Cielva stumbled out of her hotel room completely wasted, it’s all anyone wants to talk about. The community craved conflict, so it seemed he could not make a living unless he was miserable. Fortunately, the deeply personal history he had with Cielva had long since been mined for entertainment. His other sordid affair was, fortunately, a tightly kept secret.

The seeming mutual exclusivity of happiness and profit was the very quandary that had plagued public figures for all of known history, but at this point, Nikki could not be more passionately apathetic towards the situation. He did not care. There were going to be disagreements, and bad things were going to happen, but as far as his personal journal was concerned, he was having the time of his life. Hell, it wasn’t far from the truth. The heaping metaphorical pantloads of affection utter strangers piled upon him were quite the effective drug, and were more than enough to dull his old pains.

A knock at the door shook Nikki from his brooding thoughts.

“Alright, alright, I’m done!” Nikki shouted, closing out the terminal he was working in with a quick swipe of one hand and sliding into a sitting position to adjust the buckles on his boot. He’d assumed Gavin was asking for a turn in the dressing room.

Gavin entered the room, fussing with his cuffs; He was already, for the most part, dressed. The drummer was a bit taller than Nikki, and at least twice his mass, a big hulking bear of a man in a stetson and a duster. It was always rather humorous to watch the man fuss with little things like buttons and keys. At the moment, he was shaking his head, waving off Nikki’s concerns with one hand while holding the offending cuff in the other.

“You‘re alright, Nik. I dressed in the hall, and Ceil‘s in the bathroom. I jus’ need some help with tha back uh this darn thing.”

Mark of Hubris was going on something of a prudence kick. For the last few years their signature had been body modification—tails, fins, scales and the sort, and it had been at least as many years since anyone in the band had worn anything more than makeup, so the clasps and knots involved in their new ensemble were something of a challenge at times.

Nikki hopped off the couch and proceeded to tighten the buckle in the back of Gavin’s vest. “They say there’s nothing sexier than a man in uniform.”

Gavin rolled his eyes. “Cowboys don‘t wear uniforms; they were sort of anti-establishment. A cowboy uniform would be uh oxymoron.” He didn’t like to think about anything other than the music before a gig, and Nikki took advantage of this at every opportunity.

“You’re an oxy-moron.” Nikki muttered as he continued to make Gavin as uncomfortable as possible, adjusting zippers and buckles here and there, making a point of invading his personal space. “Anyway, cowboys also wore leather and never bathed, so it‘s not all cowboy. That‘s just the hat.” This was true. Gavin’s vest was of an oriental cut, with a high collar and the overlapping panels, but the embroidered design down its side was a Gaelic weave. Other articles of his dress were similarly mismatched, though nothing particularly original.

“Well I think tha hat makes tha outfit,” the drummer said, slipping said hat back over his head with a flourish before slapping at Nikki’s pawing hands. “Now would you stop that?”

A soft voice cut across the room. “Boys, boys, you know the rules. The sex comes after the gig.” Cielva, though mousy to the point of invisibility, had a knack for snide comments, especially at her bandmates’ expense.

While Nikki had nothing against the occasional male consort, Gavin was the perfect antithesis of the group he considered ’his type.’ On the other hand, Gavin himself was, under his chivalrous façade, every bit the chauvinistic homophobe. Either way, both parties were simply appalled at the idea, and quickly scrambled away from each other.

Cielva cocked her hips to one side, set her hands thereupon, and gave her boys the sternest look a woman of her stature could muster. “Now are you wankers ready, or am I playing this whole bloody gig by myself?” Cielva was very proud of her European lineage. Though she often made small, understandable mistakes in her affectation, there was to be no doubt of her ancestry, as her brilliantly red hair seemed to naturally defy the effects of aging.

They stormed through the narrow halls under and behind the stage.The trio was a hodgepodge of ancient earthen fashion, from Cielva’s primarily punk rock regalia to Nikki’s heavily Georgian frock coat and cravat, with several intentional anachronisms to spice up each outfit. Everyone wore blacks and reds with white accents to bring the motley mess together. As per their band’s signature, each outfit was designed around the suits of a deck of cards, accentuating each of four gender identities. Cielva as the feminine hearts, Gavin as the masculine spades, Nikki as the androgynous diamonds, and the little Klive processor emblazoned with the neutrois clubs.

The symbolism was actually quite historied, as Mr. Starr would be quick to remind the public whenever the opportunity arose. The point, present in the tip of the spade, has been a near-universal symbol for masculinity since the beginning of symbolized record, millions of years ago, well before man transcended Earth. The symbol is paired with its inversion, the cup, which is present in the bottom of the heart. The diamonds suit is composed of a combination of the two, traditionally and intentionally being taller than it is wide to emphasize that it is both a cup and a point. In their private conversations, Gavin would point out that this and other combinations have been used to represent angels, beings composed of the best of both genders, and conclude that the clover symbol also has roots in his holy trinity.

“Who we have catering tonight?” Gavin asked, scratching his chest absently “I think I need to grab something ‘fore we get on stage.”

Cielva scrunched her face to one side thoughtfully. “I think it’s the fresh produce buggers. Apples and bananas an’ shit.”

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