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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 53

Greg Bear

  The fourth movement was upon him. Kristine's face showed irritation or pain. The pain changed to dismay.

  The fourth was not the same movement referred to in the second. There were in fact two adagios, but only one was being manifested. The other existed as a creation solely in the minds of the audience, a phantasm of music, yet Michael had no doubt that both movements had been minutely composed and scored by Waltiri.

  He began to fear what the fifth movement might bring.

  The fourth, as played, was slow, primitive, spare, even deliberately inelegant. It was a new world unresolved, the shape undefined, though with all the elements present, coalescing. Instruments played to different rhythms, slowly coordinating, then fading, then coming to agreement again, themes weaving in and out, with then a reprise of the original theme transposed to B minor. Moffat had called this the "explosive," yet it seemed anticlimactic.

  The normal piano began to dominate, with its precise laying down of individual notes and chords, no glissandos, no slides, simply sketching what was to come.

  Then, entirely unearthly, the Synclavier mocked the piano. It created the slides and linked the sketched-out harmonies. It played them back upon themselves and created canons and reversed them in ways only a machine could manage.

  This was the human contribution to the music. The Sidhe would never have countenanced a Synclavier, or anything similar to it - not even a simple theremin. What Waltiri had requested was something only humans could add to music. Through technology, they were performing music the Sidhe could have created only through magic.

  Humans had found their place in the world to come. They had lived in this universe long enough to master it not with magic, but on its own terms. Not with outside skill, but with skills taught by the hard, unyielding nature of reality. And they had turned those skills into devices for creating wonderful, impossible music.But this isn't music any more, Michael thought.

  "What is this?" Kristine whispered.

  The Synclavier had made its point and did not belabor it. Sounding almost abashed, the orchestra resumed its dominance, but the normal piano was done for. It played no more in the fourth and not at all in the final movement. The final movement was home for the mutilated piano and the Synclavier.

  Michael shut his eyes. It seemed as if all his hopes and concerns were about to be examined. The fifth movement would be himself. And he knew Kristine was feeling the same thing - that it would be about herself.

  The music, a sweeping, demanding dance, was now a training ground for a new world.

  In 1939, before its time, opus 45 at this point in the score would have sown the seeds for a translation into the Realm. Other music had accidentally achieved this effect; Clarkham, and perhaps Waltiri as well, had deliberately designed The Infinity Concerto to work in such a way.

  But Waltiri had woven in something else. With time, the effect of the music would alter. It would not translate; it would prepare. The audience was being made aware of the world they would ultimately have to face.

  The music vanished into its own purpose.

  Only in the last part of the fifth movement did the adjunct Song of Power rise up and show its medium again. The music became light and beautiful, consciously showy and rich with melody. The melody switched to C minor.

  "Jesus Christ," said a man behind Michael, loudly.

  Out of the last hundred measures - the measures Moffat had confessed he could not "hear" while reading the score - came quiet assurance, not disturbance. The bomb was being carefully, elegantly defused. The worlds would meet, pass into each other…

  They would not destroy each other. .

  The concerto reached its conclusion. (Rut the unplayed fourth movement echoed; perhaps it would never stop. Das Unendlichkeit Konzert.)

  The music faded.

  The hall was as quiet as empty space.

  Kristine shut her eyes folded her hands as if in prayer. "They're going to like it," Michael reassured her.

  The audience exploded. Everyone stood at once. Applause, shouts of "Bravo!" and exclamations of amazement both crude and ecstatic. Michael stood and looked around anxiously, seeing a few people still in their seats, limp, eyes glazed. But gradually they, too, stood and applauded, returning to the hall from wherever they had been. Moffat took his bow and called out Crooke from the wings. The applause redoubled and did not diminish as the soloists were brought forward. Michael glanced around apprehensively as he applauded.

  He didn't know what he expected next. Whether the sky would come crashing down and the air would be filled with flying Sidhe, whether Clarkham himself would appear ringed in fire, whether Waltiri and his birds would fill the hall… Anything seemed possible. The Song had been played through. How long would it take to accomplish its task?

  The crowd surged out of the hall, forcing Michael and Kristine with it. It stood on the grass and sidewalks outside, shouting and arguing. Kristine was beaming. "It's like when they played Stravinsky and Milhaud," she said. "It's really happened!"

  "I thought they threw the seat cushions around for Stravinsky," Michael said.

  "Our crowd is much too liberal to do that," Kristine said. "Let's find Berthold and Edgar."

  The gathering at Macho's was crowded and noisy. Michael stayed on the sidelines, letting others enjoy their triumph; he had really had so little to do with it. Crooke was flushed, a beer in one hand and a glass of sparkling water in the other, sipping from them alternately and smiling at a short, very shapely woman who had attached herself to him. Moffat held court from a large round table, regaling his audience of students and formally dressed alumni with tales of Hollywood in the fifties.

  "Maybe everything's going to be all right, hmm?" Kristine suggested as she passed Michael in one of her orbits. She made frequent eye contact with him, smiling reassuringly each time. It suddenly occurred to Michael that she was uncertain about his reactions, even a little afraid he might leave without her.

  Little chance of that. Even Songs of Power and the sway of dying and birthing worlds seemed pale compared to what he anticipated.

  He ordered and drank a beer, enjoyed it immensely and almost immediately regretted it; his hyloka, held at a constant simmer under all his careening emotions, fluctuated wildly under the influence of the alcohol. He felt excessively warm - as he had for a time during the concert - and looked for ways through the crowd to a restroom in case things got out of control and he had to doff his clothes.

  But the hyloka settled down, and he felt a simple, direct sensation of well-being. Everything had gone beautifully. Clarkham - wherever and whatever he was now - had failed again.

  Kristine hooked her arm through his on her next orbit and took him with her. "Let's find a door," she said. "It's getting late."

  They went to the Waltiri home, and Michael took Kristine into the upstairs bedroom. As he held her warmth closely, still fully dressed, he felt that nothing could possibly go wrong, ever. She was nervous, he could feel her tension, and he eased it away expertly with his fingers, drawing a line down both sides of her spine, searching for and finding the physical centers of her anxiety and releasing them.

  More things he had not known he could do.

  More growth.

  She started to undo the eyes and zipper of her dress, and he finished the task for her, pulling it away from her shoulders, letting it slide past her hips. He lowered her half-slip a few inches with his index fingers and kneeled, rubbing his cheek against her stomach, feeling the warmth and softness of her skin.

  They made love as if they were lost deep in woods, and nothing mattered or could interfere. There was nothing improper or suspect, nothing to hold him back or bring an edge of dismay to his enthusiasm, nothing tragic.

  The crescented outline of Kristine beneath the sheets was more beautiful than anything he had ever hoped to see, much less have. He propped himself on one elbow and stared at her as she lay in the ghost-glow of the window. Her eyes were half-closed, drowsy; she was content as a tree is
content after a day full of sun. He probed her aura gently and found a smooth continuity, near slumber, mellow.

  He lay back on his pillow. He would sleep with her tonight. They would dream beside each other. For the first time in a great many months, he would be merely a young human being, not in the least important.

  The unplayed fourth movement came back to haunt him just before sleep, making a cold, hard circle at the center of his contentment. In the silence of the old house, in the darkness, the music was almost audible.

  The bomb had not gone off.

  Not yet.


  Chapter Fifteen

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  A voice in his sleep. He cannot struggle up out of slumber, and he feels as if all his senses have been smothered in thick clouds of wool. He struggles without moving or waking.

  I've been right here for weeks.

  He feels the hidden foulness. It fills his mind like a mist of sulfurous gas and ammonia.


  The wool lifts but not enough to allow him to awaken or put his discipline to use. He cannot sense Kristine beside him.

  I've taken her. But that isn't enough. You must go as well. You've become entirely too dangerous, too skilled. Look to your ancestry, Michael.

  The words fade.

  Look to your ancestry. And calm, assured laughter.

  Downstairs, a few sharp measures from the second movement of The Infinity Concerto are pounded out on the piano, then more laughter. Michael tries to struggle up out of sleep, but he knows he is much too late. He has let his guard down; he has been happy, and he has let his happiness and his wish to be normal obscure all the defenses the Crane Women had instilled in him, overtly and otherwise.

  Clarkham has been in the Waltiri house, or very nearby as worlds are concerned, for weeks. Has played the piano when Michael was out; has perhaps even used the house phones to call Kristine. The house has been Clarkham's base of operations.

  Michael feels all of these awarenesses fading. He opens his eyes in time to see everything in the bedroom suffused in sepia. When the sepia brightens, he -

  Chapter Sixteen

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  - felt a pang of grief so sharp it made his stomach twist. Another morning, another day of living with the loss and the sheer misery of his aloneness and vulnerability.

  He closed his eyes and silently rolled his face into the pillow, trying to keep from weeping.


  He rolled back and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Through the still curtains over the open window he heard nothing outside, no cars, no birds, only a steady low whine of wind. The sounds of a desert outside. Sun faded in and out in the room, as if clouds were passing by. He glanced at the opposite side of the bed and saw pillows still wrapped in the comforter, sheets and blankets undisturbed except by his tossing.

  Michael Waltiri

  - no - got out of the bed and slipped on his boxer shorts and pants, white Arrow shirt with button-down collar, slinging the suspenders over his shoulders with both thumbs. Wide-cuff baggy pants riding high above his hips. Wool socks and black patent leather shoes. Sports coat slung over the back of the chair before the vanity, the chair where just weeks before Kristine had put on her makeup, her rayon stockings, her dress and hat.


  And taken the Packard to the bank. Wifely errands.

  He parted the curtains and leaned out the window. Warm yellow sun fell on him. Clouds drifted overhead, rounded and puffy, regular and sheep-like.

  Taken the Packard to the bank and…

  He shut his eyes and bent down to tie the flapping laces on his shoes. Everything was wrong. The world was topsy-turvy.

  She was gone. Quick as that. Just as his parents were gone. They had gone down in a Dakota near Guam, along with other entertainers, all out to

  - the war's over, Michael; it was over before you were born - give the troops a little amusement. And here he was. 4F. Useless. An orphan and a widower. Dead to the world, whatever world there was outside.

  He went downstairs and made himself a pan of oatmeal, mechanically lacing it with oleo and Karo syrup. He ate it mechanically, mind blank and uncritical simply to avoid the pain.

  When he was finished, hall chimes clanged together, and he went to the front door and opened it. His father's partner, David Clarkham. stood on the porch with hat in hand, wearing a very natty camel hair coat and matching pants, with a wide sky-blue tie covered with regular puffy clouds, sheep-like. Michael stared at the clouds and watched them move across the tie.

  "Checking to see how you're doing, Michael," Clarkham said, concern crossing his smooth, young face.

  "As well as can be expected," Michael replied. "Want to come in? Can I offer you a drink? Some wine?"

  "No, thank you. You shouldn't be drinking, anyway. There's a lot of work to be done. Organizing your father's papers, settling things down at the studio. I spoke with Zanuck yesterday. He wishes me to pass along his condolences, both for your parents and… Kristine."

  "Fine." Numb. Pain pushed back by an effort of sheer forced blankness. "Thanks. Tell him… yes."

  "I'll take over the work on Yellowtail. Your father would have wished that."


  "Is there anything I can do for you, Michael? At the studio, perhaps? Need legal matters resolved?"

  "No. The lawyers are taking care of all that."

  "Your parents were such fine people, Michael. They would have wanted to go together. But there is nothing sensible to be said about Kristine. So much death overseas… it seems doubly senseless here. Trivial accidents."

  "Yes. I know." He wanted the man to go away. He wanted to shut the door again and block out the sun and the sky and the regular sheep-like clouds and the faint whine of the wind.

  "I'll go now. Just checking." Clarkham smiled, and for a moment Michael felt a black depth of corruption behind the smile that made him dizzy, that almost brought back -

  "Thanks for your concern." He shut the door and returned to the kitchen, where he poured himself another cup of tea. As he sipped it, he frowned. Why feel such antagonism toward his father's partner? Just a symptom of his genera! condition: a wreck.

  He considered exercising in the back yard and decided it was not worth the effort.

  A blackness descended over Michael Waltiri then, numbing his senses even further, discouraging him from making any plans or thinking too deeply about anything. He loved Kristine very, very much, and they had had so short a life together (How long? Hours? Non sense) that his own youth and upcoming three score and ten years of life seemed to conspire against him, offering a bleak desert of endless and unfilled hours, days, years.

  Michael Waltiri felt as if he had been sentenced to prison. He would live it out; that was all he could do.

  Chapter Seventeen

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  Days and weeks passed, and he ate and slept and worked in the garden in the back yard, keeping the roses trimmed. He patched and rehung the Chinese paper lanterns strung from the trellis to poles in the back yard, and he wiped down the white-enameled wrought-iron table on the brick patio. He disliked the back yard - it gave him the creeps - but he worked there nonetheless, making sure it was tidy, because (it must have been so, though he couldn't remember specifics) he and Kristine had spent time there.

  He remembered someone wearing a fancy dress sitting behind the white table at one time. That must have been Kristine. Not her style (certainly not Golda's - his mother's - style), and why was he so aware of having been frightened by her in the dress? Everything was jumbled by his grief.

  Days and weeks. He shaved with a French razor and played records on the Victrola, Toscanini and Reiner and Strauss and Stokowski conducting on 78s. Endless hours of music, over and over again.

  The grief and numbness refused to fade.

  He never saw anyone, and nobody called him on the phone. He
read the newspapers and occasionally listened to the radio. None of it seemed right, but what could he do?

  Michael felt as if he were in hell.

  Chapter Eighteen

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  He finally gathered up enough energy to take a long walk. He started out at dusk, as the empty sky was a dull and dusty blue, when the twilight seemed willing to last forever, and walked along the empty streets, past the white plaster and stucco Spanish-style homes the neighborhood favored and the ranch-style and the California bungalows. He stopped with a frown and watched an electric streetlight come on with the deepening of dusk and a brown-leafed maple droop its branches over the light as the wind whined. The stars came out and whirled like fireflies on strings and then settled, and the sky became a gelatinous black.

  Michael walked to La Cienega and followed its course, seeing people on the other side of the street, or walking some distance ahead or behind him, but never passing them or seeing them up close. All the shops and restaurants and even the bars were closed. The war, he decided. Not enough to go around.

  Not even enough people.

  The street narrowed as he approached the hills. He looked both ways on the comer of Sunset, at the houses on each side and the shops, all closed and dark, and then at the old theater rising above the roofs to his right. He headed toward the theater.

  In round neon letters, the neon turned off, the name of the theater stretched around the marquee and up a tall radio tower mounted on a silver plaster sphere.









  The doors were boarded over. The wind whispered between the plywood and the locked glass beyond.

  The place was dead. Its hold on reality seemed tenuous, as if it were merely a memory. He didn't like it. He walked away, glancing back over his shoulder. Someone dark was following him, and that frightened the wits out of him. He turned onto a side street and tried as casually as possible to shake the pursuer: a tall white-haired figure in a black robe.