Bill Kyndall woke up with a start. He had been dreaming again, that same dream which had been invading his sleep these last several nights. The dream where he was free, sitting on the grass with Gina, enjoying a Sunday afternoon picnic lunch

"You're running out of time." Gina says, a somber look on her pretty face.

"I know, but what am I supposed to do?" replied Bill.

Gina just glanced at him, a tear slowly starting to well up in the corner of her eye. Her one remaining eye, the other having been lost during the struggle when he had been captured and his Gina killed. His captors weren't out to hurt Gina, he now understood. She had simply gotten in the way, become collateral damage.

Bill groaned and sat up on the plush sofa where he'd drifted off to sleep a few hours ago. He looked around at the view, assured himself that nothing had changed, and resigned himself to another stretch paying his rent.

His captors were alien visitors, and not the kind that slip up from Nuevo Laredo. They were from another star system, traveling who knew where, and they'd decided to drop in on good old Terra.

"Lucky me", thought Bill with a bitter tone in his mind's vocalization. "Why did these guys have to drop in and screw up MY life?"

The representative of the K'fen didn't bother to offer an explanation. T'bal, his contact and liaison, wasn't the most loquacious guy on Earth, or any other world either, far as Bill could tell. Bill wasn't even sure T'bal was a guy. There were a lot of questions that needed answers.

"Speak of the devil." T'bal entered the enclosure which housed Bill's prison. He came up to the golden bars of the arched enclosure and looked dispassionately at Bill.

T'bal wasn't a bad looking guy as far as aliens went, Bill supposed. He was tall, almost 7', but not off the chart tall. He was also slender, not at all bulky. He had long chestnut hair which flowed from his head like a thick mane. Two arms, two legs, bilateral symmetry and all that jazz. Bill had asked about the world where T'bal and his friends had originated, and Bill was informed that it was much like Earth except the gravity was a little weaker. T'bal told him that all his people were similar, tall and slim. He had also told Bill that they were also hungry, having developed an appetite for exotic food.

Earth was a candy store to the K'fen, full of exotic tastes and textures to sample. T'bal had shocked Bill a little by munching on a green apple while drinking a beer. The K'fen weren't too cool on appropriate food/drink pairings.

Bill turned his attention back to his captor. "T'bal, what do you wish today?"

T'bal looked at Bill and responded "More."

Bill thought to himself "Ok, you chatty freak, coming right up. But first, if I have to pay the piper, let's get him to play MY song."

"T'bal, first there are some things I require. I'd like some different clothes, some different food and drink. I'd like to be set free of this gilded cage for a while, stretch my legs, take a hike."

T'bal reflected, then replied, "Different food and body coverings, yes. Free of enclosure, no." A man (or alien) of few words, was that T'bal.

"I dunno, I seem to be forgetting things." Bill knew he was pushing the envelope.

T'bal stood silently, as if listening to other voices, ones that Bill couldn't hear. That was exactly the case. The K'fen were highly telepathic, not requiring speech among themselves. "Maybe that accounts for T'bal and his lack of words", thought Bill. T'bal's eyes flickered, and he volunteered the first information Bill had ever received unrequested.

"T'bal not like Bill either. T'bal understands sarcasm. T'bal soon resolve problem regarding Bill."

"Just what the hell does that mean, you freak?" stormed Bill, not caring for T'bal or his attitude.

T'bal looked at Bill without expression once again, turned to leave and said a single word over his thin shoulder "Sing."

Bill went to the supply area and got a clean goblet, poured himself some cool red wine. He'd developed a real liking for the stuff recently. It's easy to do when you have access to a never ending supply of the good stuff.

Bill thought for a moment. "What will I serve up to my captors today?" Bill's purpose as far as the K'fen were concerned was that of a radio. They listened to his thoughts and had found that Bill had both a remarkable ability to recall songs and lyrics, as well as a huge playlist in his head. When he found out why he was a captive, he had railed at his captors, demanding "Why the hell don't you guys just fly down to Wal-mart, get some CD's and a couple of CD players? You don't need me for this."

The K'fen had replied in halting Earthspeech "Machines fail, machines not dependable. We don't require machines. We have you."

Bill had gone off on them, yelling "You ain't got jack, Jack. I'm not playing your little games. What the hell do you think my last name is, Wurlitzer?" A lot more along the same vein followed, but it was all irrelevant when they focused the neural amplifier on him. They had immobilized him, then inserted a single silver needle into his finger. The needle had been heated to a dull red. When it slipped into his flesh the neural amplifier had taken the pain and grown it into something hideous. What had been a very painful but localized sensation became a ball of fire eating his entire lower arm. Bill fainted from the pain, but not before he had a chance to scream until his throat was raw. After a couple minutes of the neural treatment, the K'fen had simply ramped up the sensation until Bill passed out, crumpling like a used tissue.

Upon recovering consciousness, Bill was informed that he would perform his function or suffer the consequences. The tiny beads of sweat that appeared on Bill's forehead were more eloquent than any reply he could have uttered.

All in all, following that first rude introduction to his new life, Bill had made the best out of a bad situation. He had treated the aliens to mental concerts, giving them Elvis, Madonna, Herbie Hancock, and Beethoven. Bill's job was to recall every song he had ever heard and mentally present it to the K'fen. As far as his captors were concerned, they liked it all. "Mary Had A Little Lamb' was greeted with the same response as "Blue Danube". Bill had to smile, thinking how much they really dug Van Halen, the incarnation with David Lee Roth. They weren't too keen on Sammy Hagar, though. "I guess you guys can't do 55 either. Freakin' Nazis."

Depending on how he was feeling, he treated them to his interior musical library. In a period following his capture and capitulation, while still grieving the loss of his lovely Gina, he had treated the K'fen to every rap song he knew. The plan had backfired, and they ate it up with obvious gusto.

Bill drank some of the red, and started remembering a little Perry Como. He made some dry toast and hard boiled a couple eggs while reeling off Nat King Cole singing "Unforgettable". Peeling an egg, then salting it and dusting it with pepper occupied his hands while his mind replayed the "Hokey Pokey". The morning passed away, Bill doing his job, enjoying the fruits of his labors. As far as food and drink were concerned, he had carte blanche. The same for books, movies, games, almost anything he wanted except what he really wanted. Bill wanted out.

Bill had a plan, but he was afraid, so very afraid that his own thoughts would betray him. He tried to work out the details in sections, not linking the sections together, hoping to disguise his plotting. He couldn't have known the K'fen were selective, simply ignoring his mental output when it wasn't replaying music.

Bill had gotten the information that the ship was located hidden on a ridge near Skygusty, West Virginia. The ruggedness of the terrain and the sparse local population made discovery unlikely. The ship was also cloaked, hidden behind a curtain of bent light waves. The ship generated a field which allowed any casual observer to see around the ship, creating a virtual shield of invisibility. The only way the uninvited guests would ever be discovered was if someone physically walked into the mass of the ship, an unlikely event. Even if discovered, the ship would simply take off and land somewhere else. Bill hoped they'd stay put until he had a shot at working his escape plan.

T'bal had been just a bit careless. As his duties became more monotonous. he had allowed Bill to see how he opened the gilded cage on the occasions it had been necessary. Bill had tested the cage and found he could also open the lock. The lock actuated by mentally focusing a particular tone in close proximity to the mechanism. Simple enough, Bill thought. Old T'bal had figured so what if Bill got loose, where would he go? They'd just come along and slip him all neat back into his cage, then give him a little reinforcing lesson from the neural amplifier.

"Tutti Fruiti" played in his head, figuring a bit of Little Richard might make them content.

Bill stopped momentarily, played the mental tone and felt the door open under his light push. "Nights in White Satin" started up in his head.

Bill approached the neural amplifier, and examined it carefully. The controls were simple enough, a series of pictograms showing the pattern desired, intensity, duration, and the option to initiate a feedback loop. Bill set the pattern to diffuse, the intensity full on, the duration for 1 hour, and cued the feedback loop to continuously repeat the input. He figured that would give him time to make his getaway.

"Farewell, adieu, and you and you and you..." Bill thought as he readied his escape. He cut the music in his head and started the neural amplifier, broadcasting his next gift to the K'fen. "I love you, you love me, we're a great big family.." The purple dinosaur danced in his minds eye as the K'fen crumpled under the assault.

Bill made for the outer lock, repeated the mental tone to open the lock, and emerged to breathe the air of a free man. Slipping down the slope to be obscured by the forest, he thought, "I'll teach you creeps the meaning of pain."

SciFiQuest 2107