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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 55

Greg Bear

  "She loves you?"


  "She's a hostage, then."

  "I don't know why he's keeping her."

  "Can he hurt you?" Ruth asked.

  Michael lifted back and looked into her eyes. "Not any more," he said. "I don't think so."

  "Be very, very careful."

  "Whatever happened to your grandfather?" he asked. "And to your father?" He could not simply ask if they had the immortality of the Sidhe.

  "Grandfather was killed in a wagon accident," Ruth said. "Father just disappeared a year after I ran away from home."

  He left the house, stunned and thoughtful. How many times would everything cast itself in a new light? Had anybody else besides Clarkham - apparently - known he was a Breed? The Crane Women, or Waltiri himself? How many Breeds were there on Earth now?"

  Theoretically, because of Aske and Elme, most of the human race could have some Sidhe blood; he had accepted that much months ago. But to be so close to the Sidhe himself - almost as close as Eleuth - was a shock he was not prepared for.

  It explained a great many things, however.

  Mrs. Dopso sat in her overstuffed chair, the light of the reading lamp missing her face and casting a warm glow on her lap, which held a Bible opened to Revelation. Robert sat on a dining room chair next to her; Michael sat on the couch.

  "Then the house was haunted," Mrs. Dopso said, seeming to derive satisfaction from the confirmation.

  "In a way, yes."

  "But it doesn't matter much now," she went on. "The whole world's haunted."

  Michael nodded.

  "I've been reading the Good Book," Mrs. Dopso said. "I'm afraid it doesn't give me much comfort."

  Michael, remembering the debate with the Jehovah's Witnesses, said nothing.

  "Will there be a war?" she asked. "I mean, will we drop bombs on them?"

  "Not that kind of war, I don't think," Michael said. The old woman nodded. Dopso moved his chair forward.

  "Should we move out of the city?" he asked.

  Michael shook his head. "No. I don't recommend it."

  "What are you going to do?" Robert pursued.

  "I have a lot of…tasks. Jobs. I'm not sure where I'll start."

  "Maybe you'll be a diplomat," Mrs. Dopso suggested.


  "So young. Everything has become serious, so serious for somebody so young." She closed the Bible. "Will Christ come to Earth again?"

  "Mother…" Robert said with only mild disapproval.

  "I need to know. Is this the Apocalypse? I don't think you could be the Antichrist… but is it Clarkham, then? Or one of the… what did you call them… the Shee?"

  "I don't think so," Michael said softly.

  "But everything will change," Robert said.

  "Everything will have to change."

  "I don't believe it." Robert stood up and stretched his arms out. "The world doesn't work this way. It's a delusion."

  Michael could think of nothing to counter that. "I owed you an explanation," he said after a silent moment went by. "And I'm telling you what little I know. I presume I'll have to tell others also. I don't know how many will believe me. There are probably thousands of people out there trying to cash in on what's happening. My story won't be any less crazy than theirs."

  Robert shook his head. Mrs. Dopso simply placed her hand on the Bible in her lap.

  "Godspeed," she said.

  That evening, lying in the downstairs bed but not sleeping - he might never sleep again - Michael wondered if he should offer his help to those dealing with the Sidhe. As a mediator, a diplomat, or simply an advisor. Lieutenant Harvey might appreciate such guidance.

  But it was immediately obvious to him that he could not. Becoming involved in the confusion might be brave, even noble, but it would ultimately be futile.

  The enormity of the confusion was awesome. Billions of people becoming aware of a new reality almost overnight… He could not encompass such an upheaval. Some would welcome the change, taking it as an adventure - the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, those who yearned for apocalypse, whether it be Christian, nuclear or any combination thereof. Others would opt out, ignoring it or simply drawing up their barricades, in effect, becoming crazy, unable to face a reality they had never been prepared for. Facing the change realistically, Michael realized, would be almost impossible, for the humans of his time had been enmeshed in status reality for so many thousands of years…

  If he tried to involve himself directly, he would be swept away in the hurricane of disruption, no matter what his powers.

  But there was another less overtly courageous approach. He would go behind the scenes, doing what he had to do - finding Kristine, fulfilling his pact with Tarax, finding and eliminating Clarkham - and at the same time, he would work toward an understanding of the major problems.

  When he was prepared, he would take whatever role was best suited for him.

  "Coward," he whispered in the darkness. He unfolded his senses then, impetuously answering that self-accusation with an immediate act.

  And felt:

  The city, spread across its hills and shallow, wide valleys, vibrating, moving like a sluggish river this way and that in its tide of individual thoughts, disturbed like an anthill by a stick brought down from some direction it could not comprehend.1 Children having nightmares, having seen not airplanes not kites or gliders not even flying saucers, but Amorphals, wraiths and ghosts, or having been told about them not just by other children but by grownups on television with pictures.

  Thousands contemplating their sins and the inadequacies of their lives, their inability to face unforeseen change, contemplating suicide.

  He focused:

  On a pregnant woman not more than five blocks away, radiant with health, holding her full abdomen as she lay in bed next to her sleeping husband, wide awake, mind suffused with a shadow I decided to have it and now look now look what it will be born into.


  A boy, fourteen or fifteen, mind twisted like a wrecked ship, thoughts caroming without pattern, full of anger, trying to feel his way through instinctively to a method of dealing with the little he did know, wondering if his dead father was coming back with the ghosts to punish him. Walking a city street - Santa Monica Boulevard - alone, armed with a small pistol, daring something weird to pop up in front of him yes he could deal with that images of a dozen movie screens and big guns and Max Factor blood, flying acrobatic martial artists, and finally of drawn-faced priests pulling forth huge crosses and losing to the devil.


  Faer, huddling beneath a city bridge, weak and exhausted, waiting to cast shadows should they be discovered, their magic much weaker here; their horror and confusion matching, if not exceeding that of the humans they had met.

  Umbrals, dark and brooding and powerful; they had dug holes for themselves in the ground beneath the trees in Griffith Park and waited for the night; or they had lingered in shadows, dazzled by the sunlight, whispering softly to each other as the long day passed. Now they were abroad, trying to find a niche for themselves in this unfamiliar world.

  The Pelagals had already set up liaisons with the creatures of the sea and swam with whales and sharks and huge wide-finned manias in the sparkling moonlit waters beyond San Pedro harbor.

  He extended his range and focused once more on humans. There was something he had to acquire, a sense about the world. The sweat started again on his skin. The effort was almost painful, but he stretched the range of his probe and the breadth of its sweep, until he could feel himself extended high up into the sky, and deep into the Earth and across the city for miles around. Then he drew in the height and depth and seemed for a moment to cup the land in his hands, touching lightly upon a million, two million, five million minds.

  The richness of flow was overwhelming. He drew back and became selective again, but over a much wider area.

  sleeping city dark and nervous

  This is what humans a

  to work all day work for wages hope for gain and all this comes this nonsense fall behind expected expected this is the way life is it gets you you don't watch it and it creeps up on you Oh yes Daddy says Mommy says meanness meanness don't touch the cat that way I should have listened and not taken that position before the board Satisfaction in that the world is falling apart and still I have peace in the garden with the thick crumbling soil works into my fingers and sprinkle the bone meal think this was an animal once a cow I suppose now it's garden that's what we'll be garden stuff walking meat and bone meal for Earth's garden Yes it was sex and I don't know what to do it comes up it sneaks up I must answer like an animal not an angel ape not angel wish for self-control but what the hell Pills and such death and simple joy in a bottle so hard so hard to be good when what feels good to me kills me a bit at a time what did she say in sleep she comes to me just stares with that look she always had when she was alive I wonder is it really her and she's talking in my sleep to me? Shot strategy all to hell all that work all that dedication and now it doesn't mean shit well I'm free [tomorrow back to the struggle act like it's all the same but it isn't it's a nightmare out there] Thick waves oily and blue-green up around my sleeping ankles I can wake up before it covers my head I know I can but what if I'm not asleep same dream this has happened before but I can feel it cold and know it's rising I can see the moon overhead full drawing it up over my head and those people on the shore, they see the seaweed around my ankles, they know the knife is dull Ceiling blank and dark spackle landscape it's like a joy that doesn't let me sleep he loves me and it doesn't matter all else Stupid goddam kikes every year stronger hate them so much liars and niggers and their women breeding and the brownies from the south and now this shit who can take care of it maybe they'll all kill each other and what's left over will be mine ours

  Take it then take it and be damned CROSSING OVER yes God is with me and I can cross over swift river river of sinners Listening! Must pray Jesus for a drink Wait for the sun stretch out my outrageous arms and warm them in the sun sleep in the dumpster tonight listen for the trucks in the morning mustn't drink all this tonight or I'll sleep through the truck will get me eat me What can I teach them now it's all changed have a hard enough time anyway who wants to take a test when ghosts walk the streets and oh God I'm scared what must they be feeling just young kids faced the bomb now this

  Kill him Shouldn't have eaten that Kill him Damned dog cleaned it up Pray Pray Prey Walked all over Like frogs on lily pad staring at each other oh it hurts I want to love Lust^for nirvana that's it make them lust for enlightenment Breaking down everything Can't say it what I feel it's been twenty years we're together and she's everything and I'm so afraid of her for her for me Tomorrow I might be dead and no worries then it's getting close what can I expect five years maybe six

  The grownups don't know nobody knows what do I tell my sister Growling stomach Filth filth and degradation Kill them Kill them Whistling I can't go on just being hungry and the children that bastard kill him Why won't they let me be Listening! Somebody listening! Feel -

  He expanded the range of his probe. It seemed an effortless maneuver, but he scrambled to become more selective -

  And nowhere Kristine

  Beautiful women in bed making love and not thinking of love and the men not thinking some thinking of cars High glass and steel Lord could use a sniff a line how much I wonder call Marge no turn in script tomorrow Kill them Meeting Immigration car lawyer card car card lawyer My baby my baby [Emptiness, hollowness, grief close to bliss it has burned so deep] The way the paint muddies when you use those colors Bad mix Station nulls out that way six antennas got to save Utah from 50,000 watts I'll remember and tomorrow River flows river deep moon wide in my loins the blood dances with the moon 1 hate her for what she did but I hate everybody they hate me I know How do I convince them they are so bored they might as well be dead

  [Pain so intense and prolonged it makes him flinch]


  Something searching for him not Clarkham not Tarax, long and dark plying the waters ot the Earth, a huge and ancient sinuosity, inwardly human.

  He tried to withdraw, but it was upon him. gripping him with unbreakable gentleness, leaving a message:

  Soon we must meet. Our time is coming.

  Then releasing him.

  And Michael, still and cold in the downstairs bed, eyes stinging, deduced, knew, what it was that had reached out several times to touch him: the oldest living being on Earth, even now that the Sidhe were returning; the only representative of the first humans, alone of his kind cursed by the Sidhe to remain sentient after all the rest had been transformed into shrew-like animals. Alive and thinking and remembering for sixty million years under that curse.

  The Serpent Mage.

  He pulled back within himself, head aching, and struggled to reduce the pain with his discipline. He had overextended; he had been met, matched and exceeded.

  Chapter Twenty-One

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  The Tippett Residential Hotel now stood at the center of an evacuated no man's land about three long blocks in diameter. Helicopters patrolled above the Strip and the Hollywood hills in the early morning darkness, spotlights searching the cur-fewed streets. Soldiers waited nervously beyond their sandbag and brick barricades. They had been awake, most of them, all night.

  Michael walked casually down Sunset toward the barricades. Police cars were parked diagonally in a line across the street before the Hyatt. Highway patrol and LAPD officers stood with arms folded, talking with each other. They paid him little attention. Gawkers had been around for days.

  He reached out and skimmed across their thoughts, taking in all that had been happening - all they thought had been happening - and distilling from the different viewpoints a reasonably clear picture.

  The hotel had become particularly active about two weeks before. Hundreds of Sidhe had appeared in the building and exited, most from the ground floor, vanishing into the city. A few had flown from the roof on epon, the Sidhe horses. Amorphals and Faer, at least, had joined in the exodus through the Tippett. Other varieties of Sidhe - the Pelagals in his sleeping vision, for example - had taken other routes, using other gates.

  It would not be difficult for many of the Sidhe to doff their clothes, find or steal or even buy others and merge with the human population. With a few simple illusions - cosmetic touchups in their appearance - the Faer, at least, could pass.

  Now, however, the gate through the Tippett was blocked, at least on the ground. Michael had to go back into the building and find out what the situation was. If a backlog of refugees was building up, something would have to give, and that meant more people - and perhaps Sidhe - would be hurt or killed.

  But that was not his main purpose. It was possible the gate was two-way - or that he could use the presence of a one-way gate to enhance his own abilities and cross over into the Realm. And perhaps there, someone could tell him where Kristine was…

  Tonn's wife.

  He did not feel easy relying on Tarax, at Tarax's leisure, to regain Kristine.

  The line of squad cars and police was easy to penetrate. He threw a shadow of himself walking back up the street and moved casually past them, unnoticed. A sandbag emplacement blocked the street a dozen yards beyond, with three armed National Guardsmen sitting behind it, weapons aimed toward the Tippett Hotel. They had their backs turned to Michael. He suggested that if and when they turned, they would see - and recognize - another guardsman. None of them turned.

  The side walkway of the hotel was hidden from view. Michael climbed the battered front fence quickly and found the side door open a few inches. Pausing to close his eyes and concentrate on the service hallway beyond, he took a deep breath. Nothing. The hallway was empty, as was the first floor - empty, that is, of anybody or thing he could probe. He knew he could not necessarily locate Sidhe.

  The lobby of the hotel had changed little since he was
last there. The elevator doors reflected a muddy, distorted view of the light coming through cracks in the freshly-boarded entrance. Bullets had penetrated the wood and left the remaining glass in pale diamond scatters on the faded and torn carpeting.

  Michael walked up the stairs slowly and paused on the landing, glancing over his shoulder at the lobby now half a floor below. Indefinite emotions, memories, hung in the air like evidence of a passing cigarette: not good emotions, and not human.

  It look him a moment to recognize the mental spoor of frightened Sidhe.

  On the second floor, he saw a piece of fabric cast aside in a comer opposite the elevator door. He bent and picked up the cloth, holding it loosely in both hands. It was a jerkin, dark amber, embroidered with vivid brambles and unfamiliar thorny flowers. The jerkin smelled like a winter forest. He laid the fabric down, disturbed by it, and saw another piece of clothing and a wooden staff on the stairway, the staff lying along one step.

  The higher he climbed, the more discarded articles of clothing and accessories he found: bits of polished and engraved rock, even viewing crystals similar to the ones he had peered into in the Crane Women's hut, but dark and empty; a long full robe the precise color of a thunderstorm; several pairs of slipper-like shoes; and gems that would command a fortune in normal times.

  On the fourth floor, Michael stopped. The spoor was strong enough here to tighten his stomach. The thought of powerful and noble Sidhe knowing such fear, almost panic, was frightening in itself.

  On the fifth floor, he felt rather than heard a movement in the shadows. The dawn light did not relieve the gloom much. He walked between a thin forest of creeper-like electrical conduits hanging from the ceiling. The interior walls had been torn out long ago, leaving the entire floor open but for the elevator and stairwell.

  The floor undulated and crawled as Michael slowly approached the rear of the building. His feet brushed soft objects, and he stopped; the objects soundlessly huddled and bunched away from him.

  His vision adapted with uncanny quickness.

  "Birds," he whispered. The floor was carpeted with sparrows, pigeons, robins and blackbirds. They all watched him warily, without menace but also without fear, and silently; not a single coo or chirp among the thousands of them.