It had been a hectic month around the Steely Dan Hall of Fame and Caribbean Time Share (SDHOF/TS), what with all the various parties, orgies, and other assorted gatherings celebrating the release of 2vN. But finally your friendly neighborhood Bartendress and Purveyor of Relaxicants had a quiet day to clean up and relax.
I spent the morning seeing to it that all remaining little paper umbrellas had been picked out of the potted palms, and all remaining sticky brown splashes scoured from stray corners and stairways. (Or rather, I directed my assistant in these tasks--you don't think I'd get my mixing hands fouled up with such schmutz, do you?)
When all was ship-shape again, I settled into a comfy chair in the afternoon sun with a glass of Pinot Grigio, one of my assistant's terrific paninis, and a pile of catch-up reading (love that Rolling Stone interview, even with the egregious 'N Sync cover). The birds were singing, the tropical breezes were blowing, the Coltrane was bopping along on the stereo, and all was right with the world ... when all of a sudden my solitude was interrupted by the jingling of the front door chimes.
Ah well, I thought as I rose from my chair and assumed my station behind the bar, no rest for the weary. But my resignation was replaced by wonderment at the strange individual who now strode into the lounge.
"Cuervo Gold margarita," said this fellow, sliding onto a barstool with a slightly over-mechanical grace. "But no salt, please--it rusts my innards."
As I mixed his drink, I noted how his slicked-back hair had the appearance of a black plastic helmet, and how his golden-yellow eyes and pale-yellow skin clashed with the over-large sunset-in-Waikiki aloha shirt he wore. "Hmmmm ... " I said as I placed the chilled glass on a napkin before him, "aren't you a long ways from home, fellah? Like maybe about five centuries and a couple gazillion light-years?"
He did an impressive imitation of a human blink, and a human laugh. "How perceptive of you! But I think you've mistaken me for my rather more famous brother Data."
"Oh really?" I said. Inside, I did a quiet "OOPS!" I began discreetly reaching under the bar for the silent alarm button that would bring in the Mizar Five Brigade at full gallop.
He caught something in my expression. "Oh no no no," he hastened to add. "Not that brother either. Remember, the evil Lore was destroyed, like, eons ago. So to speak."
"Oh yeah. I remember that episode now." Still, I didn't remove my hand from the panic button. "But I don't remember there being any more of you guys."
He put on a remarkably realistic expression of angst. "Now you see, that's exactly the problem. Nobody's heard of my existence, and so everyone else gets the credit I so richly deserve."
Just then the Trane CD finished up. A few clicks of the relays in the player, and what should come up but 2vN itself.
The effect on my customer was electric--literally so, as faint blue sparks blew out his ears. "You hear that? You hear that?" he demanded, jumping to his feet and stalking across the lounge. "The most fabulously rock-steady beat in twenty galaxies--and all I hear is 'oh, the drumming's so mechanical, must be one of those damned drum machines.' Drum machine my android ass! Like to hear any of those two-gigabit penny-ante 20th-century synthesizers do one millionth of the job I did on that track! But of course, they couldn't list me in the album credits, so the arguments rage on over whether it's a human or a goddam drum machine, while I wind up not getting my due yet again .. "
"Hold it, hold it," I said, clutching the edge of my bar to steady myself. "Would you care to explain ... ?"
"Sorry," he said, simmering down and reseating himself at the bar. "It's just that it gets me so upset, I'm like to melt down my emotion chip. Y'see, I'm Data's other brother. Groove. You never heard of me because I blew off that jive-ass Star Trek gig as soon as I was operational enough to know my ass from a socket in the ground. Those 25th-century dudes have no soul! I time-tripped back here, got into studio work, and began to really get somewhere. I became the boss drummer of this century! Except ... for obvious reasons, my work always had to go unbilled in any album credits. You wouldn't believe the number of famous artists whose albums I've played on. The Beatles, the Beach Boys ... you name it. And of course, it was only a matter of time before I got the call from the Guys who demand nothing short of perfection. And I gave it to them too--down to the nanosecond. But do I get any credit? No, again no. And worse, I have all these fans out there in cyberspace demeaning my performance--"
I was so caught up in his little performance right there in front of me that I evidently didn't hear someone else entering the lounge, until a familiar booming voice crashed right through Groove's furious whine:
"Hah! I knew I'd find you here! And look at how you've gotten yourself up--in one of my oldest Hawaiian shirts, yet! Mam'zelle, my utmost apologies. I hope my little friend here hasn't been bothering you too much."
"Hey, Roger!" I cried, with a mix of pleasure and genuine relief at being rescued from this paranoid android, who was now wearing a rather sheepish expression. "No, he's been no bother. Just been regaling me with how he played drum parts on 2vN, is all."
"HIM?" Roger guffawed so loud the bottles on the top shelf rattled. "That's a hoot. Wait'll I tell Don and Walt, they'll just about fall over." He went over and placed a paternal--and strong--hand on the shoulder of the now-blushing android (the blush on him coming out a muddy orange). "Nope, ol' WENDEL here hasn't had an outing on a session since way back in the days of 'Nightfly.' Obsolete, the poor devil--plus as you may have noticed, he's gotten a few bugs in his logic system. Problem is, the silly thing gets bored now and then from sitting around with nothing to do, and decides to fly the coop."
"WENDEL, huh?" I gave the errant android my most severe hairy-eyeball stare. He turned an even deeper beet-orange, and studied the ice in his untouched margarita. "Well, that explains a few inconsistencies in his story, at least. Including how, at least to my ears, the drums on 2vN sound perfectly and completely live ... "
I trailed off, because now I noticed Roger grinning some secret evil smile.
"Alright, Rog," I said sternly, folding my arms. "Give. Tell Auntie Canard. What is it on 2vN, then--live or Mummerex?"
"Now, now," said Roger, his grin widening. "You know Don and Walt made me sign a non-disclosure agreement. Besides--where would a new Steely Dan album be without at least one controversy for the Loyal Fandom to argue right into the ground?"
"Too true." I shook my head. "But tell me one thing. How'd your boy WENDEL here manage to make himself up to look like a refugee from a Trekker con?"
"Oh, that," said Rog, passing his hand right through WENDEL's shoulder as if it were smoke. "Holograms. Terrific technology. One minute you see 'em, and the next you don't--"
And one minute I saw them, and the next I didn't.
I stood there for a few moments in my deserted lounge, brain doing back-flips while the stereo shimmered out "What a Shame About Me." I peered over the bar at the floor beyond. Not so much as a dent in the deep pile carpeting. Though if they'd been holograms would they have left footprints?
I raised my voice to holler to my assistant in the kitchen. "Gretchen, darling--when you made my panini, you didn't use any of the 'funny' mushrooms, did you?"