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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 54

Greg Bear

  Michael came home and shut the door.

  He felt as if he had been suspended in a jar, some museum specimen, all life drained, time and blood replaced with formaldehyde.

  Chapter Nineteen

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  At some point he began to write poetry, though he had no memory of having ever written poetry before. He wrote about what was on his mind all the time: Kristine.

  Who goes in me

  The one who pulls my

  Lost mind into dawn is

  Innocent of guile

  From cold dreams to fire at

  End of day she crowds a zoo

  All my animal thoughts She

  Is innocent of guile Does

  Not see my labyrinth More

  Than flesh in space words on paper

  In me she lives Once She lived her own

  Now alone in me she goes

  And after a day sitting quiet in the dark upstairs bedroom, he took out a pencil and wrote on a paper napkin:

  *Watch him developing!*

  But where's his knowledge?

  *See that bright little pinpoint? That's it.*

  And his maturity?

  *Coming along slowly.*

  I see a dark spot, too. Someone missing?

  *He's lost someone.*

  Looks like he's trying to replace the dark spot with the bright. *He thinks he may be able to bring back the lost.*

  Can he do it?

  And no answer; the pencil stopped at the end of the napkin. The next day, he could not find the napkin, or any of the poems he had written, and there was an odor of something like ammonia and sulfurous gas about the house that drove him outdoors.

  He sat before a clump of gladioli, squatting on the sidewalk with nobody to see him - nobody visible, anyway - and held a leaf in his hand, concentrating on it.

  Focus. Detail. Clarity. Sharpness.


  He could not concentrate on the leaf. It seemed to shy away from him, all its innermost details fuzzing and his attention drifting with them. That was not right.

  The anger he felt was quickly damped by his dark mood.

  Have to get over this. Can't think straight.

  He stood up and wiped his hand on his pants for no particular reason. He was always clean; he did not sweat and had not taken a bath since


  He looked down the street and saw the white-haired figure in black watching him. It raised its arm, and Michael ran back to the house. Even behind the door, however, he knew he could not escape this time.

  Mixed with his horror was an inexplicable spark of hope. If what he saw was his death, coming for him, then it would take away the burden of this dreary life, this grief-bound hell.

  He stood two steps from the door, waiting.

  A light, almost casual knuckle-rap sounded on the door.

  Michael swallowed back a substanceless lump in his throat and reached for the doorknob. Before his hand reached it, the lock clicked, the deadbolt slid aside and the knob turned. He retreated three steps.

  The door swung open. He recognized but did not know the man standing on the porch. He was tall, slender but very strong-looking, of indeterminate age, face long and somber, hair white and fine as mineral whiskers from a cave. The collar of the robe was the color of old dried roses, cut from dusty velvet woven with floral details that seemed to blow in a wind quite different from that whining even now outside. The man's eyes were the color of pearls, and his skin was pale as the moon.

  "Michael Perrin. Do you know me?"

  His voice was like a sword drawn across folds of silk. Michael shook his head, then nodded. He could feel power radiating from the man.

  "Do you know where you are?" A stinging pity came to the man's face, mixed with mild contempt.

  "No. I'm not at home."

  "You are loghan laburt, loss-cursed. You cannot see through your pain. You have been wrapped in a large but poorly conceived almeig epon. A bad dream."

  "Your name is Tarax," Michael said, feeling something rip in the back of his head, a shroud around his thoughts. But the name brought him no comfort. He began to shiver.

  "I am indeed. I can bring you out of here, but you must do something for me."

  "I don't remember clearly. I can't think straight."

  Tarax narrowed his pearl-silver eyes, and Michael felt another parting of the shroud, letting in some memory. "Music," Tarax said. "The songs of worlds breathing in and out."

  "Before I was here."


  "Nothing is right here. Where is Kristine?"

  "She can be part of our bargain."

  "Is she dead?"

  "She might as well be," Tarax said, "unless you pull yourself from your self-pity and think clearly."

  "She's not dead." The veil lightened and dissolved. The grief withdrew its dark wings and flew up and away from him.

  "You were trained by the Crane Women," Tarax said. "They are gone now, and nobody replaces them. I need their function. You can fulfill that function." Tarax's smile was distant and ironic; that he should come to a mere human child with such a proposal…

  Michael said nothing, simply reveled in the clarity of his mind and the relief he felt. He listened closely.

  "I have a daughter," Tarax said. He stepped inside, and the door swung shut behind him, without making a sound. "My only offspring. She is of age for training in the discipline. She will attend me as a priest of the Irall, so long as it lasts, and on Earth after that."

  Mention of the Irall drove away his relief and brought back a new dread.

  "You have the heritage of the Crane Women within you. You can - you must - train my daughter in their ways. If you agree to that, I will tell you how to leave this dream and return to your world."

  Michael nodded once, signifying not agreement but that he was still listening.

  "If you succeed in training her, then I will reveal to you where this female called Kristine is trapped, much as you are trapped here."

  "We are enemies," Michael said. "You hate me."

  Tarax raised his hand, long fingers pointing, and tossed those words away. "I hate nobody. We have cooperated in the past, and you have been aware of that. And there is the Law of Mages, which must be observed."

  Indeed, they might have cooperated; Tarax might have been part of the conspiracy to nullify Clarkham. But what was the Law of Mages? "We failed, then. Clarkham is still alive."

  "Not precisely alive," Tarax said. "The struggle isn't over."

  "I've been warned never to trust a Sidhe," Michael said.

  "Do you have any choice? At the very least, you will return to your world."

  Michael considered. "What could I possibly teach your daughter?"

  Tarax betrayed his only sign of uncertainty at this question. "What the Crane Women have willed, I presume."

  "You'll take the risk that I might not be able to pass on the discipline?"


  Michael faced the Sidhe and stood erect, saying. "Then I agree."

  "You can take yourself back to Earth now. You know how. Simply use what you know. Ask yourself where you are." Tarax turned, and the door swung open. The Sidhe reached out with his long fingers and ripped the door apart, letting it drift in dusty shards to the floor. The wind ceased its whine.

  "How?" Michael asked, frightened again.

  Tarax faded, and then he was gone.

  Michael trembled and stared at his hand. Already he could feel the memory of this experience slipping away and the dreary grief returning. He looked upon the house as a refuge, a place where he could grieve in comfort; it seemed suited to him, since he had lost everything.

  He bit his lip and wriggled his fingers. "Where am I?" he asked. He thought of the floorplan and the

  There was no piano in the house. This was not Waltiri's house, and Waltiri was not his father.

  brick patio and white wrought-iron table, which Kristine had never seen, much less sat be
hind, and the figure in the flounced dress, Tristesse, that had been somebody something else.

  It was so simple. He reached his hand through the air - not across but through the intervening space - and tore aside the dream. Then he stepped through the descending ruins of Clarkham's trap.

  And stood (shadows slipping away from him)

  In the middle

  (dust on the floor, a single track of footprints)

  Of the upstairs room in Clarkham's house.

  Rare summer rain fell on the roof, a sound so simple and soothing that he closed his eyes and listened for almost a minute before walking down the stairs and out the front door.

  He had not been trapped in Clarkham's house; that much he knew almost immediately upon returning. Clarkham had created a crude and simple world for him and held him there. The house had not even been an integral part of it; where he had lived had seemed a mix of the Waltiri house, Clarkham's, and even parts of the house next door to Clarkham's.

  Michael walked slowly up the walk to the Waltiri home, exhausted but inwardly reveling, each breath he inhaled like an intoxicating liquor.

  How long had he been away?

  "Finally home!" Robert Dopso stared at him from his own porch.

  "How long have I been gone?" Michael asked.

  "Long enough, believe me. Just long enough for everything to go to hell. Your folks have been by here several times, talking to Mother and me…"

  "Kristine? Have you heard from Kristine Pendeers?"

  Dopso frowned. "Nobody else… Your parents mentioned a somebody-or-other Moffat. No women. I've got your newspapers here - those that have been delivered. The city's a shambles. Nothing's on time or reliable now."


  "Haunts," Dopso said, shaking his head. "It's been at least a month since we saw you last."

  Michael unlocked the door and entered, hoping vaguely that Kristine might be waiting, but the house was empty. Forearmed now, he probed deeply for signs of Clarkham, physical or otherwise, but found no evidence of him.

  Dopso came up to the open doorway with .an armful of newspapers. "Where should I put these?" he asked. "And your mail, too. Not much of that."

  Michael indicated the couch. Dopso deposited the pile and stood, wiping his hands on his pants. "I've been thinking," he said, "that maybe it's time you give Mother and me the full story. I've had time to sort a few things out - that fellow who shot himself and disappeared. We both decided that if anybody knows what's going on, it must be you. We'd be very grateful if you'd let us know."

  "AH right," Michael said. "Let me catch up, and I'll come over this evening. What time is it?"

  Dopso checked his watch. "Five-thirty."

  "Make it eight."

  Dopso nodded, stood for a moment with his hands in his pants pockets, as if waiting to say something more, then shrugged his shoulders.

  "Oh." He stopped halfway down the sidewalk, raising his voice so Michael could hear. "You might want to clean out your refrigerator. The electricity isn't on all the time now."

  Chapter Twenty

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  Michael read the papers voraciously; there had been no news at all in Clarkham's dream-trap, of course. What he read both horrified and exhilarated him.

  The Sidhe were reappearing all over the world, in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Apparently, large migrations from the Realm had resumed just days after the performance. He thumbed through the papers, tearing pages in his haste. England, of course - and Ireland and Scotland - : appearances by the hundreds. Whole sections of Ireland were now closed off by impenetrable and immaterial barriers, erected by the Sidhe; there was no way of knowing what kind of Sidhe. The editorials and reports he barely glanced at; they were, of course, not informed, and their guesses were ludicrous, if very twentieth century: aliens from space, high-technology terrorist actions.

  They had no idea what was happening.

  In other areas - India, China, the Soviet Union - news reports had stopped, and all travel had been banned. There were hints of enormous disruptions and even battles.

  In Los Angeles, the "invasions" had centered on the Tip-pert Hotel, through which hundreds of "tall, strangely dressed" individuals had passed in just the last two weeks. The building was now surrounded by National Guard troops, but (Michael whooped and shook his head) that did not stop individuals from flying off the roof, some riding gray horses and others without apparent aid, vanishing into the sky.

  The Sidhe were returning to find Earth a hornet's nest. How many had died, both Sidhe and humans, so far?

  There was an enormous amount of work to do. First, he had to meet with his parents.

  And then - Kristine. He had no idea how to find her. He wanted to pound the walls with frustration; his fingers gripped the pages of yesterday's Times until the paper curled up as if in pain.

  When would Tarax send his daughter - or could he believe anything from Tarax's lips? Michael had found his way back - that part of the bargain had been carried through. But anything else… "I am so God damned IGNORANT!" Michael yelled, throwing the papers from the couch. He walked stiffly into the kitchen, face red with frustration, and tried to comb his hair back in place with his fingers as he punched out the number of his parents' phone.

  Ruth stared off across the living room, eyes focused on something far beyond the opposite wall. John regarded his son directly, his face almost slack, eyes tracking with little jerks.

  "Everything that's happened here since you left, it's been more than a nightmare for me," she said. John leaned forward and took her hand. "The world is real," she continued. "These things don't happen. But they did, and now they do again."

  Look to your ancestr't Michael sat stiff as a wooden dowel »n the familiar chair, in the familiar living room. His father's maple, oak and rosewood furniture surrounded them, and from the TV and stereo stand, the VCR clock blinked on and off, in bright turquoise numerals, 72:00, 72:00, 72:00. It had not been reset since the last power outage.

  "She's never told any of us," John said softly. "I tried to get it out of her over the years."

  "Now, I'm going to tell," she said. "Look at your hair, Michael."

  "That's rather hard to do," John said, smiling. "You'd have an easier time of it, sweet one."

  Ruth tapped his extended hand with her fingers but did not grasp it. "It's the color of my great-grandmother's hair…" She sighed. "In West Virginia, back when it was still old Virginia, before the Civil War, my great-grandfather took a Hill wife. That's what he called her. In the family Bible, her name is Underhill. Salafrance Underhill."

  Michael had read the names and always thought that one strange and beautiful, but he had never been told anything about his relatives so far back.

  "She was a tall woman. Some said she was a witch. My grandfather always said she died, but my grandmother said she just went away, around the turn of the century. Great grandfather never married again. And my grandfather, before he caught sick and died, asked that my parents keep my hair cut short always, and when I was grown, marry me off right away, because 'In our family a woman is a curse.' That's what he said And my father always obeyed his father without question. I would dream things at night, and in the middle of the night, Father and Mother would come into my room, and Father would tell me what I dreamed was bad - he knew what I was dreaming - and he would beat me."

  Her face had gone soft and her eyes large. She looked as if she were crying, but no tears came.

  "I would dream of forests, and of Salafrance Underhill living in the Virginia woods, deep back where the great maples and oaks could sing their own songs when the wind blew through them. And her eyes were the color of old silver dollars. That's what I would dream of, and when I dreamed, I knew she was still alive… but not on Earth. She had gone back with her people. She had left my great-grandfather with two babies to care for, one a girl that died young. I think he killed her. And one a boy. My grandfather. And they beat the dreams out of
him early."

  John patted the chair arm rhythmically with one hand.

  "So from what you say," Ruth went on, "my great-grandmother must have been a Sidhe, and that makes you and me Breeds."

  "Lord," John said hoarsely. He cleared his throat. "This is a day, isn't it?"

  "I left Virginia when I was fifteen and went to work in Ohio. I met your father in 1965, and it took me three years after we were married to decide to have a child. Your father pestered me year after year, but I was afraid, and I couldn't tell him why. I didn't know what I'd do if I had a girl. What I'd tell her."

  "Do you have powers?" John asked, matter-of-factly.

  "I've never tried to find out," she said. "Outside of stuff that could get away with being called intuition. But Michael… He's always had a way of seeing, a sensibility Even though he was male, I've feared for him. All his poetry and his thinking. He had something. So now there's this. Now people might believe about Hill women and fear and cutting hair short to stop something not right, not Christian. When he went away… I felt where he was. and I couldn't tell even you, my husband. I couldn't believe it myself because so much time had passed, and everything was hazy. I'd blocked it for so many years - the beatings and the dreams. My mother looking so scared and not knowing what to do."

  She lifted both her arms, and Michael came to her, and she enfolded him and asked, "What are you going to do?"

  "I don't have any choice, really," he said, voice muffled against her shoulder. She opened one arm and motioned for John to join them, and they sat on the couch, as they had after Michael had returned, all together, silent.

  "Will they ever go away?" Ruth asked. "The Sidhe?"

  Michael shook his head. "I don't think they can," he said. "They wouldn't be coming back to Earth if they could avoid it."

  "And you love this woman, Kristine."

  "Yes," he said.