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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 51

Greg Bear

  "The university is going to pay scale for a week of rehearsal and two performances," Kristine said.

  "Labor of love, is it? Well. It's not the busiest season now. Everybody needs work. Okay. We'll manage. My agent will wince, but we'll manage."

  "You're doing it for the challenge, aren't you?" Kristine asked.

  Moffat looked pained. "Challenge isn't the word for it. Arno was always the type to ask for sixty-fourth notes out of the French horns. But in the time I worked with him, he was positively restrained, compared to when he wrote opus 45. Some of it is clearly impractical. Nobody human could play a few of the measures, so to accomplish what the score demands, the Synclavier will be programmed to do some of what he's asking for. Not exactly live, but then, neither is most music today. I want to go over the movements with you - 'tou loo," he added, glaring at Michael, "and see if my plans match your expectations. Remember, this is very humble of me."

  "We'll remember," Kristine said with a hint of a smile.

  "That's it. No gloom. This is a lively piece."

  He handed copies of the manuscript to both of them and went through the movements one by one. The first movement began in A minor, crossed into C major, then returned to A minor. It was labeled allegro con brio. "A quick inrro, with six very odd half-notes tacked on just after it should end," Moffat said. "Beat of eight to the measure. Fast. fast. First piano does most of the hard work here, mezzo forte. That's good. Mutilated piano comes into its own in the second movement."

  "We have a campus engineer building the brass piano baffle," Kristine said.

  "I'm anxious to hear it. I can't make anything out of the instructions - what is it supposed to do to a piano?"

  "We don't know," Michael said.

  Moffat raised an eyebrow. "Good. I like surprises."

  The second movement in C major-minor was in common time and introduced entirely new themes, which gradually blended into a much slowed and much softened reprise in A minor of the first movement. The third movement was a dialogue between an unspecified but closely described instrument - originally a theremin, now to be the Synclavier - and the "mutilated" piano, "Not easy," Moffat commented. "Full of traps. It would take a small army of spiders to play some of the passages."

  The fourth movement was a torturously slow adagio in F major, again blending at the end into a reprise, transposed to B minor, of the original theme. This was the "explosive," Moffat reiterated, not to be rehearsed with the other pieces, not to be played together with the other four movements until the actual performance. The fifth movement, in A major-minor, was a sweeping, romantic landler, a country dance. "Very Mahler. Brisk, not as fast as the first movement, but coming to a cheerful conclusion - and then-" He shook his head. "An abrupt switch to C minor. I cannot 'hear' the last hundred measures. I've been reading scores for four and a half decades now, but I can't hear those notes. That's odd, and maybe it's magical, too. But I've played them on the Synclavier and on a piano, and they're quite interesting."

  "It sounds confused," Kristine said. "All those abrupt key changes."

  "Oh, it's worse than that," Moffat said. "It's downright chaos. There's no way in hell it should work. Psychotropic tone structure or not, it reads like Korngold and Mahler take a vacation with Schonberg and end up on Krakatoa with a gam-elan."

  "You mean, it's bad?" Michael asked, feeling as if the last firm foundation was about to be pulled from beneath his feet.

  Moffat smiled up at the ceiling and closed his eyes. "Not at all," he said. "It's impossible, but it's wonderful. The few sections I've played - masterful. Demonic, but masterful. Liszt with his hair in braids and on LSD."

  Kristine laughed, the first time Michael had heard her laugh in weeks. She glanced at him and pursed her lips primly, then shook her head. Serious. Subdued.

  "I'm sure you two are keeping things secret from me," Moffat said. "I wouldn't want to guess what. Scandal? The Society of Musicians is about to picket us for trying to play this piece again?"

  Kristine leaned forward. "I couldn't have chosen a better conductor," she said.

  Moffat sighed. "What makes you think you chose me?" he asked. "Maybe there are forces at work here of which you wot not of, or whatever." He was puzzled by their silence. "That was a joke."

  "A stunningly bad one," Kristine said softly. "There are a few more details to arrange at the university, and then we'll get the hall scheduled for you-"

  "Which hall?" Moffat asked.

  "Royce Hall."

  "That fossil?"

  "It meets the requirements perfectly," Kristine said. "It's about as close to the old Pandall Theater as we could possibly come."

  Moffat smirked and then held up his hands. "So be it. We're still on for a double-bill with Mahler's Tenth?"

  "I'll be firming that up this afternoon," Kristine said.

  "What a night," Moffat said, rubbing his hands. "We'll knock 'em dead."

  Walking to the main gate, Kristine put her arm around Michael's and squeezed his hand. "It's really going to happen," she said.

  "You didn't think it would?"

  "I had my doubts."


  They passed the guard and waited for traffic before crossing Gower to get to their cars. "Because I've been getting phone calls," she said. "Someone's still trying to stop us. He's not succeeding, but he's trying."


  "Clarkham, I presume," Kristine said almost lightly. She glanced at Michael.

  "He's been talking to you directly?"

  "He hasn't called you?" Kristine countered.

  "No," Michael said.

  "Maybe he's afraid of you."

  Michael snorted, "I don't think so."

  "You say you beat him once."

  "Yeah, with all the Sidhe behind me."

  "But you did beat him."

  "And he survived. Apparently."

  "Why does he feel threatened by this performance?"

  "I'm not sure he does. He hasn't been able to stop it, and he must be a hell of a lot more powerful than…" Michael shrugged. "Than my beating him would lead you to believe."

  "You think he wants it performed?" Kristine asked. "He's running all this interference just to make us follow through?"

  "I don't know."

  Kristine unhooked her arm from his and backed off a step. "I don't know any magic," she said. "What will I do if things really get rugged?"

  Michael had no answer. That made him acutely miserable.

  "I suppose you'll protect me?"

  Michael felt his eyes smart and then a rising warmth behind them. Whether she was baiting him or not, he decided to give a completely serious and sincere reply. "I'll try," he said. "I'll do my very damnedest."

  "You know, I'd like to be self-reliant, but failing that…" She smiled at him. "You'll do. I have to go now - I'm meeting Berthold Crooke at two. The fellovy with the new orchestration of the Tenth."

  They stood awkwardly two steps apart. Kristine moved in

  quickly and kissed him on the cheek. Michael blushed as she backed away. "You'd think we could talk about normal things sometime," she said.

  "I'd love to."

  She cocked her head to one side. "It'll happen, Michael. I'm pretty sure of that."

  "I wish I was," Michael said.

  "Got to go. You'll be at the library tomorrow?"

  "Signing papers. Yes."

  "We'll talk then." She walked to her car.

  You can spend the most important parts of your life on a street, Michael thought, and unlocked the Saab's door. His whole body seemed to be breathing in and out, restless and ebullient at once.

  Chapter Fourteen

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  The next day, at eleven in the morning, two Jehovah's Witnesses proselytizers came to the door of the Waltiri house, and Michael did not have the heart to simply send them on their way. The elder of the two was middle-aged, gray hair carefully groomed, dressed in a brown suit with a narrow gold tie; the younge
r, a trainee about twenty years old, wore a black suit and a red tie. Both carried satchels.

  Michael listened wearily to their prophecies and Bible quotations, and they kept him at the door for half an hour. When he managed to convince them he was not really interested, he shut the door and stood with his back against the dark wood, eyes closed, almost sick.

  They preached the Apocalypse. He knew it was coming - but not as they visualized it.

  He could practically smell the poisoned Sidhe-imposed ignorance, the most modem incarnation of the thousands of years of Tonn's attempts to play God for humans. Some of the poisonous philosophies had been transmuted by humans despite the best efforts of the Sidhe - but how many hundreds of millions of humans still wholeheartedly embraced the blindness and cruelty and the shackles? He stood up straight but kept his eyes closed.

  "No way," he said softly. "I'm just a kid. No way I can understand how to lead so many different kinds of people. I don't want it. I reject it." He opened his eyes and blinked at the framed prints in the hallway.

  The silence demanded, who asked you to lead?

  But Michael could feel it as surely as he could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock. That was what it was all leading toward: his growth, his maturation, the challenges and the apocalypse.

  He shivered and then convulsed, dropping to his knees. His arms shook until he clenched his fists, and he felt the inner abilities - nothing from outside all inside all from within - course through him like power through an electric line, iet loose for a moment, set free and exulting at its lack of restraint.

  For a moment, he nearly died. And even after he had regained control of the power and had wrapped thick steel bars of his will around it, it took him hours to realize how close he had come to simply disintegrating, much as Tommy had done, but for different reasons.

  He walked slowly upstairs and lay down in the Waltiri bed, not tired but stunned, for the first time fully aware of how sensitive he was and how dangerous his sensitivity could be.

  Tiger by the tail.

  Michael - and what he contained, generated, not by his conscious self but by something within him that didn't have a name - Michael was his own tiger. Losing control, he would eat himself alive.

  "Who in hell am I?" he whispered harshly, wiping sweat from his eyes.

  In mid-July, Kristine drove Michael to Nortnridge to meet Bertbold Crooke. Crooke lived in a complex or condominiums at the edge of a broad empty field o'f dry yellow grass. He taught music in a local junior college and had received little attention until the publication of his orchestration of Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony.

  Crooke was a lanky, hawk-faced man with blue-black hair and a perennial shadow of beard. His eyes were his most remarkable feature, large and vaguely horse-like. His teeth were also large and prominent. He was slow of speech and quick to smile, pulling his lips back over his broad white teeth in a way that would have seemed menacing but for the obvious gentleness of his eyes. His manner was self-deprecating but also obviously confident. Michael liked him immediately and felt no need to read his aura; however, to his mild jealousy and chagrin, he saw that Kristine also liked Crooke.

  They sat at Crooke's kitchen table and went over the arrangements point by point. After an hour of discussion, Crooke served coffee and doughnuts and stood behind Kris-tine, looking over her shoulder as she compared the orchestral requirements for the concerto and the symphony.

  "They're not really all that different," she said, shaking her head in some surprise. "We can use practically the same players. Edgar told me the concerto was lush with orchestra, but…" She glanced at Michael. "Mahler isn't known for his spareness."

  "No indeed," Crooke said, "You mentioned Moffat had the orchestra assembled - I don't need to approve them or anything, but-"

  "You'll have equal time for rehearsals," Kristine said. "The university hasn't done anything this ambitious in years. I think it's starting to catch on. Nobody in the department is complaining about costs, and that's a miracle."

  "What I meant," Crooke said, smiling sheepishly, "is that I haven't conducted that large an orchestra. Only college orchestras. I'll need the rehearsal more than the musicians."

  Kristine patted his arm reassuringly. "We have faith," she said. "It's going to come together just fine."

  Crooke made a face and slumped in his chair with a sigh. "Makes me almost wish I didn't start the whole thing…"

  "How did you start it?" Michael asked.

  Crooke knitted his fingers together. "When I was sixteen, I heard a recording of Rafael Kubelik conducting the only portion of the Tenth orchestrated at the time - the adagio, the first movement. I was playing the record in my room, away from the rest of the family. We had a huge ranch house in Thousand Oaks, halls and bedrooms all over - like a maze. Even six kids rattled around in it. The music seemed very sad, a slow and discouraged dance, and then toward the conclusion of the movement, there is this discord - trumpets shrilling in A, the orchestra seeming to scream or cry out…" He shook his head. "It devastated me. I had never heard anything like it. It was…all the oppressed, all those in pain, breaking their bonds and looking up. It was revelation, and it was death, too. It really affected me. I started to shake and cry." The sheepish smile returned. "I knew there had to be more. I found Deryck Cooke's orchestration and listened to that - Eugene Ormandy conducting. It was beautiful, but it seemed to be missing something. The symphony became an obsession for me. I thought if only the piece could be orchestrated the way Mahler would have done it, had he lived, then…" Crooke lifted his hands. "Bingo. How to express it? It would be the greatest piece of Western music ever written, or at least the most powerful. There were times when I simply couldn't listen to the pages after I finished orchestrating them. I couldn't even play parts of the four-staff score on the piano."

  "Some people say you've succeeded in doing it just as Mahler would have done it," Kristine said. "How do you feel about that?"

  "Oh, yes," Crooke said, his expression suddenly stiff and serious. He straightened up and cleared his throat. "That's the way it had to be. This sounds silly… perhaps even a bit insane…" His index finger tapped on the table top nervously. "But sometimes it felt I had Mahler helping me." He laughed nervously, shaking his head. "Have you ever heard it before?" he asked Michael. "Any of the other versions?"

  "Not all the way through," Michael said,

  "It is sublime, even incomplete."

  Michael nodded. The discord, the trumpets sounding a shrill A, all that was very familiar to him. He had heard it while exploring the top floors of the Tippett Residential Hotel.

  Late July in Los Angeles was a procession of cloudy days held over from June, broken by a week of the more usual summer weather, the temperature climbing into the eighties and the sky clear of overcast, if not of haze.

  Michael did not attend the rehearsals. Kristine reported on the progress to him every two or three days. Otherwise, they did not see each other.

  He spent most of his time exercising in the back yard or jogging. Dopso no longer ran with him. Since the incident with Tommy, Michael had heard nothing from the Dopso. The mystery had become all too specific for them, apparently.

  At night, in the house, Michael sat before the fire in the living room, practicing his discipline.

  On July 16th, at one in the morning, after six hours of steady concentration, Michael reached into the Realm with one hand and brought back a leaf and a translucent red insect, much like a ladybug. The insect quickly died, and the leaf shriveled into a brown husk.

  He had barely reached the level of Eleuth. But with just his hand in the Realm, he had sensed a discontinuity that was most unsettling. If reality could be described as a kind of heat or warmth, then his body - sitting on the oriental rug in Waltiri's house on Earth - was in the middle of a kiln, reality invading everything with a bright white glow.

  In the Realm, everything was cold. The fire was going out.

  The real fire before him was dying
into embers as he thought about this. His eyes closed, and almost of their own volition, his arms rose from his sides, and he spaced his hands some five inches apart. His palms tingled, and something passed between them, a silvery extension of his discipline and of the primal emotion Preeda. He tried to bring them together and could not; startled, he opened his eyes and saw a pearly thread stretched between and strung on the thread, a glowing sphere. He could feel the sphere's qualities through the skin of his palms and along his arms; it was enfolded, and it embodied some of the requirements he had outlined in his poem about reality knots.

  But what was it? He slowly pulled his hands apart, and the thread snapped. The sphere swung to his left palm and clung there for a moment before vanishing.

  In early August, the rehearsals neared completion on both the concerto and the symphony. Advertisements were placed in the Sunday Los Angeles Times Calendar supplement, four days before the first of the two scheduled performances. Flyers were mailed out and posted on bulletin boards around the campus. Kristine did much of this work herself.

  On Thursday evening, she appeared on the front porch of the Waltiri house, dressed in an exquisite dark blue-black gown, smiling, holding two tickets in one gloved hand.

  "An occasion," she said. "Shall we go, partner?"

  The dusk sky above Los Angeles was a cloudless, clear sapphire blue, complete with evening star. Kristine drove down Wilshire toward UCLA, talking about the last-minute preparations, why she had been a few minutes late - having to reassure a nervous Crooke by phone that all would go well - and generally expressing her own reservations about the evening. She became quiet as they approached Westwood, glancing at him with one eyebrow raised slightly, lips drawn together.