A tale of Bop City
It’s no news to anyone that some artists produce much more powerful quantas than others. This phenomenon has nothing to do with the source performer’s talent, popularity, or personality; Bop’s quanta mechanics have never found any correlation to explain or predict the outcome of the process. We know there is a huge range of power among quantas, with some of the originals still as dynamic as ever. Few quantas, however, display the potency of a King Cougar, Image, Selene, or Electric Sky.
When Tom Jarenski’s quanta counterpart was created in 1967, it was the apex of a period of massively powerful creations. The variety and potential of that generation is partially attributable to Dr. Raley’s efforts, as his journal reveals…
Sept. 3, 1962
Today’s results prove conclusively that the introduction of my chemical compounds to the quanta process enhances the potential and adds a greater variety of abilities. Dr. Amwerth and Mr. Bop have intimated that I may soon have an enormously powerful set of subjects, or more accurately several sets, from some most interesting parts of the world. [Here Raley refers to the burgeoning surf, folk, girl group and British acts.] I’ll need to learn more about these subjects to tailor the mix for the best results. Must speak to Bop about the Cassandra.
Feb. 12, 1964
The debut of 4th Power on Sid Van Eull’s program has elevated my status here at MAX-Q [Bop’s center for Manufacture, Advancement, and eXperimentation: Quantas]. Previously I was seen as something of an eccentric, if not an object of ridicule. Now, as my input on the quanta program has borne such fruit, it seems inevitable that the project will be mine. 4th Power is such a success I am eager to see the reception of the Key, the Surf*tars, so many more.
One in particular is troubling; I have struggled to find a proper formula for the subject. If I can do justice to this subject I doubt I will ever find a greater challenge. [Raley is discussing Pete Shelley and the efforts to create the Mystery Tramp.]
Raley was almost universally successful in stretching the parameters for quanta performance. While quantas could not generally become stronger or faster than the strongest or fastest of past generations, Raley’s innovations imbued the new generation with flashier abilities and presentations, as well as a host of new abilities that looked like magic compared to their predecessors. Among Raley’s frequently used formulas were Flash 123, which allows the quanta to create an alternate-reality version of himself; TOS 39, which creates armor; and SR/B 162, giving the quanta the ability to split into different versions of himself and dividing his powers between the two. Raley’s greatest achievement came with the creation of Electric Sky. Again, from his notes:
June 12, 1967
For years I’ve heard stories of this amazing talent. I knew someday he would be brought here to be quantified and I’ve been working on the cocktail to match the expectations weighing on my shoulders. It’s difficult so early in the subject’s career to predict what abilities will best complement his later accomplishments but I believe I have a satisfactory solution. I used 20% FFA5PM, allowing emotional manipulation; 25% UXM130, for sound-to-light conversion; 25% GSX-1/OM for atmospheric manipulation; and 30% X-1/JGCX for distance telekinesis, truly to move the audience. Coupled with the random Elgim factor, the resultant quanta should be amazing. That, in fact, is why the Park is holding a very rare public quanta creation at the Monster Pop Festival in the Commune this weekend.
And so it was. That debut of the oh-so-aptly named Electric Sky set the stage for so much to come, from his spectacular debut at the end of source Tom Jarenski’s set, to 20 years later, when…well, that’s the story at hand.
Some analysts have questioned the wisdom of creating so powerful a quanta. The truth is, a tremendously powerful quanta is far safer than a regular thief with a gun. We know who the quantas are and where to find them. And regardless, the program is nearly self-perpetuating now. It’s a status symbol for performers to receive a quanta treatment. There is a relationship between Electric Sky and Timmy Joe Bright’s quanta, however, that goes far deeper and is more important than simply two more quantas.
Bright had long been a devoted disciple of Tom Jarenski, so it was no surprise that the cocktail Raley prepared for Bright’s quanta was quite similar to the one that produced Electric Sky. That factor, though, coupled with the subject’s traits and the Elgim factor, resulted in a debut even more spectacular than Sky’s. The operation took place on January 20th, 1986, in a specially-constructed venue west of the Park in the clearing where Bop Aid had been held the previous summer. Electric Sky and Jarenski attended, as did the Northern Blue family and other quantas, performers, and Bop notables. Still none of us were prepared for what happened.
We knew Sky had lived among his extended family having adventures with the Blue Gods. We had not, however, seen the fabled home of this fabulous race, so when Sky pointed his flaming guitar to the heavens and revealed its majesty, it was stunning. And that was just the beginning. Timmy Joe Bright was on the stage to see the creation of his counterpart. He, Tom, and Sky gathered around the tank containing the soon-to-emerge quanta and began to perform ‘The Sky is Crying.’
And so it was. The heavens turned black, then exploded in a blanket of lightning, filling the sky to the horizon with a kaleidoscope of light and thunder that provided a bass and rhythm for the performance. The chamber that was to open slowly and regally for the new quanta to emerge vanished in an azure fireball and the quanta stood, too bright to look at, silhouetted by the blue-white afterglow. Several photos and video records show the newborn quanta, Starhammer, but no clear images could be obtained, because before the glow faded, Starhammer vanished.
Starhammer vanished before the eyes of 200,000 people and two dozen quantas. The ceremony was to have been a passing of the torch from Electric Sky, the psychedelic-blues quanta-hero of the 1960s, to Starhammer, his spiritual son of a new generation. It was not to have been a potential crisis, or the beginning of a cosmic odyssey, heroes fighting secret wars across a multiverse of infinite worlds. That is precisely what it became, as one after another the most powerful quantas ever known stepped forward, volunteering to search, to battle, to overcome any obstacle to find or rescue one of their own. Electric Sky, as the most directly involved quanta in attendance, assumed direction of the developing effort and suggested organizing a task force rather than depleting all of Bop’s defenses. It seemed natural to draft the Blue Gods pantheon first, and Sky swiftly asked or accepted the help of the Cruiser, Dixie Dog, Blue Shadow, and even the counterpart of Sam’s long-ago mentor Blind Vernon Jellison, Blue Wanderer. The group selected to locate Starhammer comprised the Master, the Rio Trio, the Bard, Space Cowboy, the Mental, Blue Pearl, the Outcast, Heartbreaker, and Castor and Pollux. Electric Sky did not accompany the party, choosing to dispatch them to seek the advice of the oracle Blue Mama. We have records of that meeting and the subsequent quest from the Mental’s journal.
Master: We have come, honored oracle, seeking information about our missing colleague known as Starhammer.
Blue Mama: Look here, Master, I wouldn’t be much count as an oracle if I didn’t know things like that, now would I? I can answer your questions, but I promise you won’t like all the answers.
Me: Why is that?
Oracle: ‘Cause it’s the future, ain’t it? Is anyone ever totally happy with how things turn out? You get the bad with the good. For instance, Mental, you’ll be fine, but things won’t always be so good for your original. And you two, Blondies, you won’t both be coming home. Outcast? Tell your boy to get used to it. You three—you like being on the road like this? You’d better. I could tell you more, but right now you need to get started on the reason you came here. This boy you’re looking for, he has enemies. Three of them, created by his brother. He didn’t mean to; sometimes life does these things.
Space Cowboy: So, three enemies? Where do we start?
Oracle: Don’t push me, Tex. There ain’t no shortcuts to destiny. I’ll give you their locations and you can decide what to do. Your first threat is Fenrus, and he is hungry like the wolf he is. No pushover there.
Second is the giant serpent Jänliehukr, your friend’s nemesis. I’m telling you, watch out for that dragon’s attack. The third target is in the land of the dead. I’m not saying your boy is dead, but you’ll have to travel the highway to Hel before this is over.
Bard: Mistress, we thank ye. May we offer payment?
Oracle: It ain’t like that, Irish. Sky and me settled our accounts long ago in services to the Blue Gods. You children hurry along—you have a long, hard road ahead of you.
With that information, or perhaps despite it, the group chose to divide into three parties, reasoning that if the future was writ they may as well act quickly. So it was that Electric Sky gathered us in the Great Hall of the Blue Gods and gave each of us instruments capable of transporting us through the unnavigable distances of the mystical realm. The Outcast, the Bard, Heartbreaker and I went to confront howling Fenrus, Space Cowboy, Castor and Pollux and Blue Pearl set out to engage Jänliehukr, and the Master and Rio Trio went to call on the ruler of the Blue Gods’ underworld. The hall around us melted away and all of us in the three groups felt the earth move under our feet as we were shifted through dimensions.
The Outcast blinked and looked around at the winter-ravaged steppes. I was on my hands and knees and the Bard and Heartbreaker huddled together, either for warmth or security in this bizarre environment. Bare-limbed trees with twisted trunks clawed through a cracked and rutted landscape patched with ice and rubble. No sign of life or any means to sustain it appeared…yet, the bitter, acidic air was abruptly split by a fearsome howl. Instinctively we drew together, back to back, on watch for any movement, any sign that might betray the source of the cry.
Outcast: There’s nothing here, nowhere to hide! Does anyone see anything?
Bard: I can’t see far, but there appears to be naught here.
Me: Fenrus is supposed to be huge—how can it hide?
Heartbreaker: This is a land of magic—don’t look for sense in it.
The howl returned, louder, longer, more threatening all the time.
Me: Is it closer?
Outcast: Who knows? Just be alert…
The ground beneath our feet crumbled. A pit opened as we scrambled out, clutching at the withered roots of the pitiful trees around us. I was first out of the hole, clawing for a handhold as trees pitched into the chasm. I grasped Heartbreaker’s wrist and began pulling her out. I heard the Bard and the Outcast on the other side of the pit and looked over to see Jake Blade pulling them out. Blade explained he had been later to respond to Electric Sky’s call, but had been dispatched to join us.
Below us the howling grew louder and more primitive, resolving into a distorted guitar wail as a creature manifested, blocking the red-orange glow beneath us. Monstrous, it rose, filling the pit just as the howling filled our heads, shattering any chance of thought.
As the beast crested the edge of the pit, it resolved itself into a quasi-human wolf, shrinking to a near-human size but still towering over us. Easily eight feet tall, the lycanthrope was almost human in appearance now but dressed in shaggy clothing. When it opened its mouth a lupine howl emerged from a hole with too many too-sharp teeth.
Bard: You…are Fenrus?
The wolf laughed, a crazy-making sound that had terrified men since they dwelt in caves. “You see anyone else around here? You lookin for me, right? You found me!”
Blade: We’re looking for a being known as Starhammer. Blue Mama sent us to you.
Fenrus: Blue Mama? If she wants anything from the Wolf she shoulda come herself. Wouldn’t have been the first time…
The ground trembled with the Wolf’s every word.
Heartbreaker: So you haven’t seen him?
Fenrus: Girl, does it look like there’s anyone else around here? I only came because you don’t belong here! Since you’re friends of Blue Mama, you can go, but go now and don’t come back. I got no time to trifle with you childrens.
With that, Fenrus began to grow again and the disembodied howl returned. He plunged into the hole and continued to grow until his form filled the opening. The ground seemed to heal itself over him, trees and rocks springing from the scarred earth.
The record of the second group come from Pollux’ tale of his brother, written after this adventure concluded.
“We arrived at what we took to be the mouth of a cave. We were surprised because we had understood that Jänliehukr, the Crawling King Snake, circled the entire realm of the Blue Gods. We couldn’t see how a regular cave, even on the largish side like this one, could be a home for the worm.
“Well, it warn’t his home, and it warn’t no cave, either. What we thought was some kind of milky ice over the cave’s mouth was an eyelid. It rolled back and we realized we were looking into a twelve-foot eyeball, with another one forty feet away, and we were standing on the damn thing’s snout. Us bein there must’ve woke it up, because as soon as those eyes opened it r’ared up and we tumbled off. Now Space Cowboy can fly and generate constructs, so he floated us and Blue Pearl down—which is good, since we woulda had about a thousand feet to fall.
The snake wasn’t done with us, though. We hadn’t come to fight, but dragons ain’t known for debate. It lunged and clawed and lashed at us, all while we yelled and tried to talk to it. Finally, the Cowboy shot Pearl up on a platform while Castor and I flanked it. It seemed that Cowboy was making progress; the snake insisted it had had no visitors for years before we appeared. Not hard to believe—who wants to visit a giant snake? With that answered, we were ready to go and we let our guard down—always the last thing you want to do around a dragon. Jänliehukr whipped his head around and struck at Castor. It didn’t bite, didn’t even make contact, but venom sprayed out and my brother was covered. He grabbed his throat immediately, wheezing. His eyes bulged, he dropped his axe, and he didn’t take 10 steps before collapsing. It was chaos as Space Cowboy tried to shield the rest of us from the venom and get Castor back to us at the same time. The dragon was hissing, thrashing, blasting clouds of flaming poison into the air, and then like an exploding shell we saw a flash of light and saw an explosion. Fireflash appeared, teleporting in and sweeping Castor out of the snake’s path. Castor was still gasping for air and chemical burns covered his body. Fireflash joined us and we connected the instruments Electric Sky had given us to escape this disaster.
(Fireflash, the quantapart of Ford Locke, is a speedster and teleporter, able to generate light and explosions. Like Jake Blade, he had arrived late to Electric Sky’s call for assistance, but just in time to save Castor’s life…in a fashion.)
The Master and Rio Trio stood in a forest of flames, orange and purple, that licked around their boots and clawed at their capes and coats. Before them rose a castle of granite, its jagged edges draped with the torn flesh of those who had tried to escape the tortures within. As the saying went, it was simple to get into Hel, but Hel to get out. For all its legendary status, the only thing imposing about their destination was its size. There was no decoration, no ornamentation to distinguish it from a natural mountain, except the massive doors carved from the very same stone that stood, open for them even now, at the base of the towering boulders.
Master: No sense waiting, gentlemen. Let’s get started.
Pecos: We was jest waitin on you. Head up, boys.
The quartet marched toward the gap as darkness closed around them, the flames dropping away and shadows replacing them, flowing toward them like tar. The heat of the flames evaporated and the air turned chill with the oily-fish smell of a morgue. Unnatural sounds emanated from the door before them, not just the wails one would expect but shrieks and shattering noises as if a horrible battle raged. At first Deguello started to dash forward, but Pecos held him back.
Pecos: No rush. Anyone in there is already had his fate settled. We’re only here for one, an’ there’s no need to hurry.
Deguello considered this and waited for the others as they began to perceive a glow in the cavern ahead of them. Before they could ponder its significance a brighter, closer light behind them drew their attention. Too intense to look at directly, the light faded to reveal the other Blue Gods Electric Sky had dispatched and those who had shown up later. In front of them all, however, were three newcomers. D.J. King, the Texas Cannonball, and the Velvet Bulldozer, quantaparts of the Three Kings of the Blues, stepped out of a brighter corona of blue light surrounding a patch of other-worldly swirling colors.
The Cannonball spoke first: I see we must be in the right place if all you folks are here too.
Jake Blade: I don’t know about that, Cannonball. We all came here because Sky asked us and I, personally, want to see this successor of his. I believe a few have already offered up part of their abilities for this guy to be the new blues messiah, but I want to see for myself.
Blue Pearl: If Electric Sky believes in this one, that should be good enough for you, Jake.
Blade: I’d rather just make up my own mind, Pearl.
Space Cowboy: Nobody’ll see anything if we don’t get to it. I guess we’re headed for that glow…?
DJ King: That glow? You mean you can’t see it? We could feel it for the last part of this trip. Look through there; it’s a star—a guiding star the three of us have been following from our own towns back in Bop City. Cannonball was at Antone’s East when he felt the calling, and the Bulldozer was at JLH.
Velvet Bulldozer: Seemed like someone jes picked me up out my seat and pushed me towards the door. I grabbed my guitar and came along, met up with these two on the way.
King: I saw the glow in a vision as I was comin across the bridge from Memphis. I’d never heard of this Starhammer, but that’s what it looked like—a star on a long handle, like a staff.
Bard: Let’s get moving. You can never tell how time will pass under here.
Outcast: You been in Hel before?
Bard: I’m Irish; we invented it.
The expanded group continued along the well-worn path, the only illumination provided by the dim, distant glow they approached and any powers they themselves manifested. Without warning, the floor seemed to melt away beneath them, turning almost vertical and too slick to gain any traction. They were nearly flung through the air to land in a great open room far beneath the surface, breathless, sore, and disoriented.
But far from alone.
They gazed around and discovered their foes from earlier, Fenrus and Jänliehukr, as well as the colossal demons from Frost Giant Forest, assorted ogres and trolls, and their apparent host, Apollyon. He was flanked by chairs in which were seated the father and mother of the blues, John Robertson and Lizzy Smyth, dressed like royalty but clearly prisoners. On a dais behind them was a T-shaped stock, glowing with mystical energies, to which an unknown figure was shackled. That this must be Starhammer was obvious to all of them, but the obstacles separating them from their goal appeared insurmountable.
Apollyon spoke. “So I have been graced with a visit from nearly all the Blue Gods. This one must be even more important to you than I thought. Is this your fabled new Blue Messiah? No—don’t answer. I couldn’t care less about your plans for him. With access to the great creators here and this massive source of energy, I intend to reabsorb the emotional heft of the blues and return myself to the position of power I deserve.
Apollyon had been spawned by accident when pop idol Sandy Crockett knocked a batch of restricted synthetics into a quanta-cocoon during a media tour. He compounded the problem by grabbing for it, mixing his DNA with the brewing quanta. The new quanta was allowed to mature but rebelled against the very principles of Bop (Sam and City), becoming the very antithesis of rock and roll and Sam’s ultimate nemesis. A plot to destroy the blues retroactively was typically grandiose of Apollyon, and the fact that his plans had never succeeded made him no less eager to keep trying to terminate all that Sam stood for.
Outcast: Apollyon, you know we can’t let you do any such thing. We’re here to rescue Starhammer and we’ll be freeing John and Lizzy while we’re here.
Apollyon: Oh, you can’t let me, as though what I do hangs upon your approval! Well, of course you will be trying all that. That’s why this time I have gathered all my forces. Have at it!
As dismal as it had seemed, the truth was much worse. Apollyon had in fact gathered the numerous demons and foes the Blue Gods and other quantas had battled. It was to be a true battle royal, and only one side had known the true scale involved. In addition to the opponents the Blue Gods had seen already, dozens more materialized from the caverns around them; Les Longhair, the Chairman and the Board, Radio Pirate, Midnight Idol, Little Demon, Silver Shirt, the Chartreuse Chanteuse, the Moaning Mullet and more poured out to join battle.
It seemed to rage for hours as the Blue Gods and their allies brought the power of the blues to bear against their diverse foes—Heartbreaker, Fireflash, and Cannonball wailing against Fenrus and the Midnight Idol; Castor and Pollux dueling with the Board’s King Cool and King Comedy; the Master and the Bard battling Radio Pirate and Sir Striper. The wounded Castor collapsed and was rapidly evacuated from the fray by Deguello, but it was a dispiriting moment for the Gods—they knew it was the loss of more than one of their own because Pollux could not concentrate with his brother in jeopardy.
Deguello and Fireflash alternated trying to speed to free the Parents of the Blues, but Apollyon had reserved the Frost Giants to guard them and speed made no difference to their size. The battle was shifting to Apollyon’s favor when another explosive crack stopped all the combatants in their tracks. In the heart of the battle four new figures had materialized. It was Quattro Tarot, the torchbearers of Jimmy D and Barkin Hound—the Juggler, the Hermit, Le Fors, and the Heirophant with his familiar, Black Dog. The quartet had inherited the pure blues power from their forebears and Apollyon recognized they would be difficult opponents, even if the other Blue Gods were not present.
The Juggler raised his hands and spoke: Stop this. The blues is not a commodity to be warred over, split and distributed. It is a feeling and an art, to be shared by those who feel it and enjoyed by those who can receive it. It is no fuel for hatred or conquest. It is a healing balm, a method to make you feel better by feeling worse.
As the Juggler mesmerized the crowd with his words, the Hermit freed Robertson and Smyth and Le Fors began a slow, steady, and insistent rhythm that was beginning to remobilize the Blue Gods and disorient their foes. The Heirophant was moving through the crowd rallying them to action. As the Juggler finished speaking, the Tarot turned toward each other and joined hands and instruments in a symbol of power, streaming toward Starhammer and shattering his bonds. He dropped from the stocks holding him, the poison crown on his head rolling away, and he grabbed his weapon, the very one Apollyon’s giants had used to pierce his side, and swept the devil from his feet as if he were dusting his broom. The tide had turned and the Blue Gods had Apollyon’s forces on the run. Fenrus and Jänliehukr blinked out of sight returning to their mystical homes. The human foes were gathered like cattle and returned to earth. Apollyon’s more unconventional allies were left to him to deal with, under the watch of the Tarot, who explained to Starhammer that his axe was now imbued with blues power reaching back to the source itself, the Mystic Delta. He was to be the new conquering Son of the Blues, traveling with his squires the Rio Trio and his consort Lady Carim Balla.
Starhammer: But, where am I to live?
Heirophant: You shall live in the home of the Blue Gods, Tejasgärd, and this shall be your path.
The four again joined their power and opened a rainbow bridge that didn’t split the cavern so much as it pierced it, showing a clear path to the celestial demesnes of the Gods.
Hermit: This bridge is always open to you, wherever you go, and is guarded by Jamm-bon so that none may pass without your blessing. From Tejasgärd, you may travel anywhere you wish using Mjämmer, your weapon, as a key.
With that knowledge, the newborn quanta raised the hammer over his head and returned the entire company to earth. Starhammer began his adventures, seeing the cosmos and learning of its delights and dangers. The lesson he would learn time and again, though, was that he might leave home, but he could never leave the blues.