Swingin' Saturday: The Swing of Things, Chapter 2

She was an older woman, in her late 50s but very fit. Her chin-length silver hair shone and she looked casually elegant in tan slacks and a navy blouse. “Dr. Chakwas,” Moreau exclaimed, still playing a counterpoint to the melody. “I told you I could find you a band.”

“Indeed you did, Jeffrey.” The doctor smiled. “However did you recruit them all?”

The music jangled to a stop. “Recruit?!” Jenkins spun to look at the others. “You mean we had a choice? I thought these were my orders!” Moreau's grin became decidedly shifty. Kaidan chuckled a little, despite a flicker of anger at the trick. He would have volunteered to join a jazz combo anyway but Moreau's message about the first rehearsal had seemed like an authentic assignment right down to the tone and return address. He'd have to watch the tricky keyboard player.

“Now you know why everyone calls him Joker,” said Dr. Chakwas, shaking her head. “Well, it's nice to see that the Alliance still has soldiers who know good music, anyway.” She greeted everyone in turn. It was clear that Anderson had known her for some time. He didn't seem any more put out by the turn of events than Kaidan felt. It was rare to find people who could play a real instrument much less someone familiar with classical music like Benny Goodman or Duke Ellington. Joker must have hacked pretty deeply in Alliance personnel files to put this crew together. Pressly and Jenkins were still shooting glares at him and Kaidan thought he'd better try to smooth things over or they wouldn’t get to hear Chakwas sing before the whole thing fell apart.

“I'm glad you could find enough for a whole quintet,” he said. “It means we can get a full sound and do more complex versions of some of these tunes.” Everyone considered that for a moment as Joker smiled nervously. Then Kaidan grinned. “Now with a singer we can really swing some of them.” He wanted to keep everyone focused on the music. Playing helped keep his migraines at bay, the sound sweeping him out of his own head. He hadn't been part of a combo for several years and he missed the interplay that such a group offered. “Dr. Chakwas, how about we take a crack at Mack the Knife and see how it goes?”

She smiled at him, seeing through his attempt at distracting the two disgruntled musicians, and agreed graciously. Anderson set the pace and Kaidan and Joker joined in, with Chakwas leaping straight into the first verse. By the time they'd finished doing scat, solos, and a big finish they'd been cemented into a group. Chakwas had a throaty, mellow sound, what used to be referred to a “whiskey and cigarettes” voice, quite a bit sexier than her dignified appearance. Jenkins had been tentative at first but had demonstrated plenty of creativity in his solo. Anderson drove the song, weaving around the melody and holding steady through every change.

Kaidan couldn't suppress a wide smile to match the one on Pressly’s face: it had been so long since he'd really cut loose and the famously wide-open song had given all of them room to stretch out musically. There'd been fumbles and missed notes but clearly everyone in the room not only knew how to play but could fake their way until they caught up as well.

They worked through several other songs, stopping often to exchange suggestions and ideas, before Anderson looked at his watch. “It's 2200 hours,” he announced, “and this old man needs his sleep before duty in the morning.” Kaidan realized he'd been there for three hours. He couldn't remember when time had last passed this quickly.

He loved his job, the leadership he could give to young recruits and the rare chances he had to show what he could do with the neural implants that had crippled or killed so many, but his trumpet exercised an entirely different part of him, one that had been withering with disuse. “So,” he ventured, “when's our next practice? What are we rehearsing for, anyway, Dr. Chakwas?” There was Joker's grin again. It seemed he knew the answer to that, at any rate.

“Why, for my birthday party, of course,” Chakwas answered. “But the Alliance would like to show the Asari that they're not the only ones who can make music so if we're a hit they may ask us to play some more-formal occasions.” Jenkins paled a little and surreptitiously patted his sax for reassurance.

“Why don't we meet here again in three days?” Anderson suggested as he busied himself putting away his bass. It seemed that Kaidan wasn't the only one anxious to confirm another get-together. “The doctor's birthday is in a month so we've really got to pull together if we're going to be ready.”

Everyone agreed as they took apart and cleaned their instruments. Chakwas sailed out the door as regally as she'd first appeared, as if denying the sound of her singing voice. The only person not preparing to leave was Joker. He sat at his keyboard still, fingers flying through an improvisation on the Happy Birthday song. “Do you need help stowing that?” Kaidan asked him.

“Nah, I'm good.” Joker seemed suddenly shy, barely glancing at him before returning his attention to the keys before him. “I'll just hang out here a little while. I could use the practice.” He ran the melody up and down the board. “I'm a pilot. There isn't a lot of room on a ship for a full keyboard so I only get to play when I'm grounded or on shore leave.”

Which one is it now? Kaidan thought. He didn't think he knew the man well enough to ask but if he handled a ship as well as he did a keyboard then Joker must be one of the best the Alliance had. His fingers fairly flew even with his attention divided as it was now. Reluctant to push, Kaidan bid him a good night and headed for home. He, too, had regular duty at 0700.

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