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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 50

Greg Bear

  Dopso walked down the sidewalk before the driveway, saw Tommy and Michael and smiled at Michael. "Hello," he said. Then he frowned. "What's-"

  "No!" Michael said. "Go back!" Whatever choice he had had was now taken from him. Tommy would kill Dopso and anybody else who walked by. Clarkham's missile was not precise, could not control itself, could not discriminate.

  Across the street, a middle-aged woman in a pink dress sauntered by, taking her schnauzer for a walk.

  Tommy jerked the jacket open, revealing the dull gray gun.

  Michael sent. The shadow that went forth was not even visible. It did not mimic Michael's form. It simply carried another self away, a self he did not need and could use to advantage.

  Dopso and the middle-aged woman saw Tommy lift the gun, turn halfway, twitch and apply the gun to his own head. There was a sleepy look on his face; this would have happened anyway, but nevertheless -

  Michael screamed inside.

  The gun went off.

  Tommy's hair lifted obscenely on the opposite side of his head, and he dropped as if kicked by a bull. Michael closed his eyes and heard the dog barking and the woman shrieking. He opened his eyes and saw the dog dragging the woman back and forth in a space of a few yards. Dopso had turned away, arms held up against the sound of the shot. Splashes of blood covered the sidewalk and grass by his feet.

  Even knowing there had been no other choice, Michael felt sick. He forced himself to look at the body. Clarkham's deposited foulness had eaten away the dead Tommy almost instantly. What was left was not recognizable. It was covered with a shining blackness and had slumped inward, wicked witch style, only the gun unaffected. In seconds, there was little more than a pile of tattered clothing and evil-smelling dust.

  The woman had stopped shrieking. The dog sat on the sidewalk, tongue hanging. "Are you all right?" she called out to Michael, her voice hoarse. Michael was too stunned to answer.

  "God," Dopso said, eyes wide, staring at the dust.

  "What happened to him?" the woman asked sharply, her voice on the edge of a scream again.

  "He's dead," Michael said. "I'll call the police."

  "He shot himself," Dopso said. "But he's…"

  Michael nodded and looked at the ridge of the roof on the house directly opposite. A large crow-like bird with a red breast perched there.

  The woman crossed the street, dragging the dog on its leash behind her back, her eyes glazed with anticipation of disgust. She stepped up on the curb, staring fixedly at the pile of debris. "He's not there," she said, amazed. "What happened to his body?"

  "Please go home," Michael said. Gently, he gave her a forgetfulness, this time hardly even aware he was exercising an ability for the first time. Absentmindedly, he extended the forgetfulness to the dog. The woman wandered off, silent and calm.

  The bird on the roof had flown away.

  He did not want Dopso to forget. He was close enough to the action to need to remember and understand.


  "Do you want to know what happened?" Michael asked.

  "I don't think so," Dopso replied, his voice fading. He shook his head.

  "You'll have to know sooner or later."

  "But not now___Where did he go?"

  "He was sent here by David Clarkham."


  Michael could tell now was not the time to reveal all to Dopso.

  "I'm going to call the police," Michael said.

  He entered the house and walked into the kitchen, slumping into a chair. He picked up the phone receiver and dialed the number Lieutenant Harvey had given him. Harvey's assistant, a young-sounding man, answered. Michael gave him few details, just saying that the lieutenant should call him immediately.

  "I'll tell him when he comes in," the assistant said dubiously.

  Michael hung up and returned to the clothes and the gun. No other people had stepped out of their homes to investigate. Dopso had gone back into his house. Michael could feel him sitting in a chair inside, ignoring his mother's questions.

  The woman and her dog had walked out of sight. Everything was quiet again.

  The clothes themselves had disintegrated. The gun's grip had turned rusty brown and ash-gray. Michael held the gun butt between two fingers and carried it into the house.

  The wind was already blowing what was left of Tommy down the sidewalk, onto the grass and the bushes at the edge of the driveway.

  Chapter Twelve

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  "I think I'm more upset than you are," Michael said, sitting across from her in the cramped apartment. Rock-climbing tools hung on the small dining nook wall like pieces of art; knapsacks, tents and metal shelving covered with rocks filled the hall to the bathroom and bedroom. Kristine's living there seemed to have hardly made an impression. Aside from a three-tier fold-up bookcase beside the couch and a stack of blank ruled composition sheets, the roommate's presence dominated even in her absence.

  Kristine did not speak for a long time. She took deep, even breaths, looking out past the hide-a-bed and through the sliding glass door at the courtyard beyond. "You're sure he died. He didn't just disappear."

  "He died, and then he decayed," Michael said bluntly.

  "I don't know why you should be upset," Kristine said, still not looking at him. "He threatened you, and you lived. You won. Poor bastard."

  "He was used," Michael said for the third time.

  "Did he feel what he was doing - did he know?"

  "I think so," Michael said. "I can't be sure, though."

  "This fantasy of yours is real ugly, you know that?"

  Michael didn't understand,

  "This macho fantasy world. Men do so like to kill each other." Her soft voice dripped venom. "I do care. I loved him. I said I didn't, but… I didn't need you to protect me from him. I don't care what I said."

  "No. He didn't go to you after Clarkham-"

  "Just shut up about Clarkham. About everything. Jesus, Michael, it's so convenient. He didn't even leave a body.

  What did your police lieutenant think about that?"

  "I haven't talked to him yet. It's only been two hours. He's supposed to call me back."

  "Trying to be legal and above suspicion. Good move." She had not cried at all, but her eyes appeared puffy. "I'm not excited now about the strangeness. I was. It seemed fantastic, people disappearing, fairies coming back to Earth, old sorcerers battling it out with music. Now it just seems like maybe the Middle East. Terrorists. Murder. No different."

  "It's not a fantasy," Michael said. "It's deadly serious. Nobody escapes for long." His last four words sounded ominous even to himself. Kristine looked at him directly for the first time since he had told her what happened. She squinted.

  "Are lots more people going to die?"

  "1 don't know."

  "You're talking about a war, aren't you?"

  Michael shook his head.

  "But you didn't really kill… Tommy."

  "I made him kill himself. That's close enough."

  "You didn't murder him because he would have killed you. Self-defense isn't murder. Clarkham filled Tommy with lies. That means he killed Tommy. What do you think about that? Don't you hate Clarkham now?"

  Michael considered for a moment, then shook his head. "Does me no good to hate him, or anyone."

  "But you'll kill him if you get the chance?"

  Michael considered some more, then said, "I'll kill him."

  Suddenly, everything about Kristine seemed to soften and relax. She closed her eyes and drew in a shuddering breath, letting it out with a moan. "I cut him out of my life weeks ago. Isn't that strange? When you build up a dependence on people, knowing you can't possibly ever see them again - because they're dead - that's like having it shoved in your face. It means you'll die too. Am I making any sense?"

  Michael nodded. Alyons, Lin Piao Tai, Clarkham, and now Tommy. Directly or indirectly, three deaths and one failed attempt. That wasn't what Kris
tine meant, but the sensation was the same - he felt his own mortality acutely.

  "I'm supposed to be on campus at two," Kristine said. "I'll wash my face." She stood.

  "Kristine, if I could have done it any other way, I would have."

  "I don't blame you, Michael," she said, two steps from the table.

  Michael stared at her until she turned away.

  "There should be something more between us. Don't you feel it?" he asked.


  "And it's just not working out."

  "That's putting it mildly."

  "I'll go, then."

  "Not that I don't want it to work out," Kristine said. "But we're partners in something else, aren't we?" She primmed her lips in a defiant, hard line.


  "We're partners in the concerto. Clarkham doesn't want it performed. That's enough to convince me. And you?"

  "Yes," Michael said. "That's enough."

  "Then let's move on with that and let the other stuff work itself out in due course."


  "Let me know what the lieutenant has to say. And I'll let you know what Moffat thinks about the new orchestration."

  They parted outside the apartment's main gate, and Michael returned to the Saab. He sat in the car with his hands on the wheel, certain about nothing and guilty because he was hurting, not for being a murderer, but simply because he was no longer in Kristine's presence.

  In truth, everything had been so much easier in the Realm, so much more clear-cut.

  Harvey led Michael down the hallway, his scuffed brown Florsheims clacking, every sound both of them made seeming hollow as it echoed from the ranks of stainless steel doors. An assistant coroner in a pristine white lab smock followed a few steps behind.

  The unofficially-named Noguchi wing of the Los Angeles County Morgue had been added three years before, after years of overcrowding, and was seldom filled to capacity. The last tagged stainless steel door was on a corner with an as-yet unfinished corridor stretching to the left for another dozen yards.

  Harvey gestured at the door, and the assistant placed an electronic key against the code box. The door popped open with a slight hiss, and the chamber bed slid smoothly out. Within the translucent bag on the bed was a blue-green body at least six and a half feet long. The assistant unzipped the head of the bag and pulled the material wide for Michael to see. Other than Alyons, Michael had never seen a dead Sidhe before.

  "Do you know what it is?" Harvey asked.

  "It's an Arboral female, I think," Michael said.

  "And what is an Arboral?"

  "A Sidhe that lives in forests. Is a part of forests. Controls the wood." The Sidhe's face was composed, peaceful. Michael intuited a kind of postdeath discipline at work; the Sidhe had self-control even after life ended.

  "Okay," Harvey said. "I've never seen a human being with skin that color. Even dead. Or with a face that long. Do you know her?"

  "No," Michael said. "I never knew any Arborals." He had only seen Arborals twice, the first time when they had delivered the gift of wood to him near the Crane Women's hut in the Realm. That had been at night, and he had not seen them clearly. The second time had been in Inyas Trai, just a glimpse of them tending the Ban's library-forest.

  "Now after this, I ask you, should I be surprised at what you've told me about this Tommy fellow?"

  Michael could not turn away from the blue-green face. "I suppose not."

  "Because I believe you." Harvey nodded to the assistant, and he zipped the bag up and sealed the chamber. "Thank you." The assistant walked back up the hallway without a single backward glance. "He may not look it, but he's spooked. Twelve years in this office, and he's spooked. Everything's changing now. We found this," he indicated the body, "in Griffith Park, not far from the observatory. It was backed up against a tree. Somebody had shot it. Her. Just once. This is the third unexplainable body found in Los Angeles in the last month.

  "I'm going to ask you a question." Harvey stared up at the fluorescent fixtures on the ceiling. "What in hell are we supposed to do to prepare for this? Wetbacks from beyond. Jesus."

  "I don't think you can prepare," Michael said.

  "There are going to be more of them?"


  "How many more, and where?"

  "I don't know how many more, and I don't know exactly where they'll arrive."

  "The Tippett Hotel?"

  Michael nodded. "That's going to be a major gateway."

  "And if I tell my department we have to surround the hotel - if they believe me and don't let me out on a stress-related discharge - will that do any good?"

  "No," Michael said.

  "They can be killed, though."

  "Arborals, maybe even some Faer, but I don't think you could kill some of the other types that will be coming through. I wouldn't advise you to try."

  "'Wouldn't advise me to try.' Jesus. Maybe I should just resign and take up throwing ashes over my head and wearing hair shirts?"

  Michael smiled.

  Harvey appeared disgusted."You're not doing me any good at all," he said. "And it wouldn't do either of us any good to have you arrested. There's a witness that Tommy committed suicide. This Dopso fellow. Whatever you say about self-defense, that's all that matters. I presume there's going to be a missing persons report. I'll try to take care of that. But what are you going to do?"

  "Wait. Try to be patient. I'm not in control, Lieutenant."

  "Is anybody?"


  "Anybody human, I mean?"

  Michael hesitated, then shook his head, no.

  Chapter Thirteen

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  He walked for miles along the fire trails through the hills, feeling the growth within him and trying to come to grips with what he was, and what he was becoming. This time, the development was internal; it had been triggered by the Crane Women's training but was not now controlled by anybody. He had no specific assigned task. If anything, Michael Perrin was a rogue, an unexpected product of Sidhe and Breed ingenuity.

  Somehow, he was able to work powerful magic on Earth. Forcing a man to kill himself had to be very powerful magic or the word lacked any meaning.

  The sky was clear and hot and dusty blue. Sparrows and mockingbirds sparred through the scrub bushes. The hillsides were already turning brown and gray after less than two weeks of no rain and only a few hot days; they reverted so easily to their accustomed state, almost uncomfortable in the luxuriance of a wet spring. Michael wished he could do the same. His last faint hopes of normality and a reasonably peaceful life had fled.

  He would never sit in a fine old house in Laurel Canyon and write poetry and worry about brush fires. That dream had never been particularly well thought out, but he had recently been placing Kristine in the middle of it nevertheless. He was still an adolescent in many respects. His visions had not yet been completely tempered by reality.

  And why should they be? Which reality?

  Such considerations made maturing all the harder.

  How much magic could he do, and how ambitious could he be? He hardly wanted to test the abilities (not yet skills) he felt within him, but he was impelled to do so. More important than knowing how he had acquired or developed these abilities was deciding how to use them in the coming exodus and the merging of the Realm and Earth.

  He stopped and shaded his eyes against the sun, looking south over the city, the tall skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles faint in the hazy distance. Then he hunkered down and picked up a stick, using it first to break the crusty dry soil of the fire trail into a finer powder, then to write in the powder: "Protect this city from harm."

  He had no idea whom he was addressing, or what. He scratched out "city" and replaced it with "land," then scratched that out and replaced it in turn with "world." He would have to start thinking on a much broader scale.

  Moffat's studio office resembled an especially broad hallway, about three times de
eper than it was wide. Moffat had placed his desk at the end opposite the door. A Synclavier occupied one corner near the door and beside it, a cello in its black leatherette case. On the carpeted floor under a broad glass window showing the false-front tops of the Western set buildings, Moffat had spread printouts and sheet music and scribbled notes on tiny squares of adhesive-backed yellow paper. More printouts had been pinned to the opposite wall, with Xerographic copies of storyboard sketches taped beside the appropriate sections. Beside his desk was a small laser audio disk recorder on a rolling cart. Wires trailed from the unit to a jury-rigged stereo system.

  "Welcome to confusion," Moffat said. "The Lean score's recorded, and I am free to contemplate this monstrosity"- he pointed at the copy of opus 45 on the desk-"at some leisure. I've already worked some of it through on the Synclavier."

  Kristine wore a gray silk dress with billowing sleeves and silver-gray nylons. Michael had never seen her so formally attired. Her behavior was also strictly business. He took the second chair at Moffat's invitation. Moffat sat in his black leather executive seat behind the desk and looked from one to the other.

  "It's in five movements," he said. "I'm sure you're both aware of that. Clarkham's instructions - they must be his, since they're in English and are not in Arno's handwriting - say that the movements should not be rehearsed together, that movement four should be left out until the actual performance.

  Rather like assembling the bomb without the explosives." He smiled, but Kristine and Michael did not. Moffat's smile faded, and he shook his head. "Bit chilly in here, don't you think? Maybe we should open our mouths a little bit and let out some air, warm the place up?"

  "I'm sorry," Kristine said. "We've got other things on our minds."

  Moffat swiveled on the chair to look at Michael. "No comments?"

  "No," Michael said. "But I think you should follow Clarkham's advice."

  "Oh, I will, if only for authenticity's sake. The game is part of the pleasure, don't you think? Do it just as they did it fifty years ago. Now. I've managed to put together a fair string section. I have the two pianos required and a fellow I trust to play one of them. I think I can get another pianist within the week. Two oboes, two bassoons - a celeste. That might be considered overkill, three percussion keyboards, but I'm going to be authentic. In 1939, Clarkham suggested a theremin. I'll substitute something which seems to suit Waltiri's requirements better - my Synclavier. That makes four keyboards. Since overkill is what this piece is all about, who will complain? Not I. The other instruments I can get out of the sessions pool in a couple of weeks. No problem. Now, as for paying these people-"