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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 64

Greg Bear

  "I don't think the Realm has more than an hour remaining," Michael said. He could feel an almost nauseating vibration in his palms.

  Three people pushed their way through the crowd in the upper tiers of the arena. They broke into the clear and climbed the steps to the walkway, approaching Michael and Shiafa. Michael saw Nikolai first among them and smiled broadly, then hesitated as he saw Savarin and Helena trailing him. But there was no bitterness left in him now. He had sacrificed those shadows long ago.

  Nikolai ran toward Michael and hugged him vigorously. "We're all here!" the Russian enthused, his face red from exertion. "Ah, all that has happened since I tried to escape! But we're here, all of Euterpe… Emma Livry and the others… and you!"

  Helena smiled nervously, hanging back. Michael extended his hands to them as Nikolai stepped aside. "Friends," he said. Helena swallowed hard and took his hand firmly in hers. Sa-varin nodded solemnly and did likewise. Nikolai removed a handkerchief and loudly blew his nose. There were tears in their eyes, he saw with another pang. In the middle of his interior preparations, he could not feel such strong emotions.

  "So wonderful," Nikolai continued. "We will all be together when it ends."

  "It isn't ending," Michael said. ''We're returning to Earth. We're going back the same way you came."

  "There was a rumor…" Savarin said. "Mozart is going to play… And the pageant is canceled. Is that true?"

  Michael nodded.

  Helena glanced over Michael's shoulder at Shiafa, her eyes narrowing. Helena had aged noticeably - she appeared to be thirty or older. Michael doubted that so many years had passed in the Realm.

  "You should find your seats now," Michael said.

  "You will not believe who is here with us!" Nikolai enthused "Besides Mozart. People we've never heard of, but wonderful artists and-" He saw Michael's concern and clasped his own hands together before him. "Later. We talk later." He ushered Savarin and Helena down the steps to seats below the walkway.

  The faces of the crowd filling the arena were as varied as the leaves on an autumn tree. Michael saw all races represented, and with some surprise - would he ever be beyond surprise? - he realized that more than half, perhaps three out of four of the humans assembled were women.

  These were the best, the ones the Sidhe had thought the most likely to imperil their position as the supreme people on Earth. They had been gathered by the Maln across thousands of years and brought to the Realm… and most of them were women.

  Magic is passed through the female. Was that adage, or something like it, true for both Sidhe and humans? And did the proportions of the crowd filling the arena explain a major curiosity about the arts on Earth - the predominance of men?

  A single broad aisle without seats was left mostly clear. Michael and Shiafa descended the steps between a few standing humans dressed in Sidhe garb and makeshift styles from their own eras. They watched Michael and Shiafa pass without a word, and from them Michael felt that thing he had always assumed was the difference between humans and Sidhe: a strong sense of reserve and style, of discretion. He also felt the strength of their personalities and saw the clarity of their eyes, whatever age they had finally settled on in the Realm's odd scale of time, and the expressions of calm anticipation. There was fear, but no panic; concern, but no hysteria. They all fully expected to die soon, but they were prepared and self-possessed.

  Michael and Shiafa came to the center of the arena, an elliptical stage about sixty feet wide in one direction and thirty feet deep. The ponderous black grand piano was already on stage, its lid opened.

  Could the Song of Power be played with just a piano? Waltiri's concerto and Mahler's symphony required complete orchestras… but then, they had been patterned for many instruments. Mozart's playing would not be so patterned. Scale was not the secret - it was the subtlety of design. And if the music was not enough… Then Michael would engage his own power, and Shiafa's.

  But there had been an expression in Mozart's protruding eyes… There was more to magic than could be encompassed in Sidhe disciplines.

  Michael looked around the inner circle of benches and saw Ulath and the Ban of Hours seated nearby. Ulath regarded him with calm expectation. Beside the Ban sat the delicately beautiful dancer Emma Livry and her odd, thin woman companion. Emma was not looking in Michael's direction; she was waiting for Mozart, her rapt attention fixed on the stage.

  Mahler was nowhere to be seen.

  Michael's impatience grew. He probed for Mozart and found the composer waiting in a small dark room beneath the stage, talking quietly with Mahler. Mozart's mental state was unperturbed, almost casual, but the energy within was enormous, and his confidence was a wonder to feel. He doesn't doubt he will succeed, Michael realized. You are what you dare.

  Already, time was beginning to play tricks. As the Realm condensed and collapsed, fragments shredding and rotting away, even within the Sklassa he could feel the deep tremors of each moment straining to pass, each second shuddering with a kind of pain.

  Mozart took a deep breath and left the small room, climbing a short flight of steps onto the stage. He wore a sky-blue coat, short white kneepants and high stockings, and a powdered white wig. The Ban smiled upon seeing him, and Michael realized that Mozart, like Livry, had been one of the Ban's favorites.

  Michael probed his memories, saw a ghostly figure in gray commissioning Mozart to write a requiem… and the Maln moving in to end his career on Earth before he could finish the requiem -

  Clarkham! The figure in gray, as Moffat had heard, could have been no other. Mozart had almost certainly been Clarkham's first victim, even before Coleridge.

  Once again the emotion he felt toward Clarkham lay rich and heavy in him, not precisely anger, but a kind of necessity.

  Michael's thoughts came to an abrupt dividing line. He looked across the stage, where Mozart was even now sitting at the piano, as casually as if he were alone.

  Beneath the oily black sky, with time's heartbeat fluttering in his palms like a wounded dove, Michael felt tears running down his cheeks.

  You'll kill yourself. Say good-bye to everything you've ever been. There's a sixteen-year-old boy still buried in you who wants nothing more than a normal adolescence. You'll kill him; he is you. A new person starts here, not normal, weighed down with impossible responsibilities. He thought of the key and Waltiri's note and the door through Clarkham's house. If he had simply left that avenue untraveled, would any of this have happened? Would he have involved himself in this incredibly convoluted, beautiful, horrible nightmare? It seemed that all of reality had changed when he entered that door.

  The Jehovah's Witnesses, with their crazy and unshakable convictions about history and prophecy, about the way the universe was… Were they any crazier than he, with his new knowledge? Perhaps not.

  But they were weaker.

  The most frightening realization of all was that he could be master of this particular nightmare. He could swing worlds one way or another, creating paradise or hell or simply continuing the monstrous progression of the past.

  Mozart applied his fingers to the keyboard without hesitation.

  / am the key. A few realize that now. But I am not even sure who I am or what I am going to do. Michael tried to recall the self-confidence he had felt earlier, the undoubting assurance of what had to be done. He could not. Something like that assurance was necessary, but he had disliked himself, feeling thus.

  Still, he did not have the luxury of long introspection.

  Mozart sat at the piano with head cocked to one side, listening to the music before his fingers drew it from the keys. Then he began to play, slowly at first, with implications of unease, fear, in the key of G minor. But he quickly moved to the major, and the music began a climb to exaltation.

  For a moment, Michael tried to analyze that music. Then he simply shut his eyes and let the music penetrate him. Without analysis, without the feeling that there was a score behind the sounds - there wasn't, of course -
the music could do what it was meant to do. It could define and create a language of worlds, not words or thoughts, guiding Michael at the same time that it put the audience in a spell. They would learn the differences between worlds, and they would discover they had a choice…

  For Mozart's playing was virtually a definition of sanity and peace and order. It was not lacking in conflict; it did not sugar-coat. It calmly and confidently outlined a place in which it would be wonderful to live.

  From what Michael remembered of Mozart's music in Waltiri's collection of records, that was what virtually all of his music had done. In a world of people adapted to hard times and social infighting and inhospitable realities, it had gracefully outlined an alternative.

  The best that we can be.

  Michael looked down at his hands, folded before him.

  Something glowed between the intertwined fingers. Ulath was still watching him. There was apprehension in her eyes. The Ban of Hours, listening to Mozart's music, had clasped her own hands before her breast and lowered her head as if in prayer.

  "Shiafa," he said softly, raising his hands. "Will you join with me, this once?"

  She was trembling. "We will die," she said. He thought of Eleuth, trying powerful magic before she was ready.

  "I don't think so. If we don't try, we'll die anyway, and everybody with us."

  "My father will protect me," she said. "He is the God of the Realm."

  "He has left you to me," Michael reminded her. Would Tarax interfere?

  "What do you want from me? That which I will give only in mating? I don't even know what that is."

  "No mating," Michael said. "No loss. I need what you have inside you, but I cannot take it. You can only give it to me - to us - and I will not keep it."

  Shiafa lifted her eyes to the sky. The music was not so much heard as lived, now. Mozart was succeeding. "I am so afraid," she said, shuddering.

  "So am I." Michael unclasped his hands, and the light between them went out. He held his right hand out to her. All around, save for Ulath, the audience paid them no attention, entranced by the music. "There isn't enough time to train you and give you all the discipline. I cannot make you what your father would have you be. The old traditions are inadequate. Help me forge new ones."

  Shiafa took his hand and grasped it firmly. White light escaped from between their fingers.

  In the palm of his other hand, Michael felt time come apart like a squeezed clot of dust. The sky went from uncertain blackness to the nonexistence and nonquality of death. The arena skewed and bled upward, all of its coral redness fragmenting and smearing.

  Now we begin, Michael told Shiafa through their joined hands. The humans in the arena had been enchanted by Mozart's music, but they had not had time to transport. It was necessary for Michael to make his first small world and wrap them in it.

  Where are we? Shiafa asked.

  We are dead, I think, Michael said. There was no seeing, no feeling, only their thoughts and joined energy. Around them - if "around" could be used to describe relations without space or coherent time - were the people who had been in the arena and Mozart's music, pure pattern without sound. Michael used the pattern as a model.

  There was no time to lay down solid underpinnings for the world. Instead, he began a "gloss"- warmth, distance, some semblance of time. What else did a world need? Limits. He established a size.

  And saw three hands. His hand and Shiafa's, joined, and his other hand. In his free hand he saw a pearl the size of a walnut. The pearl blossomed and became a coral-red rose. The edges of the rose's petals spread out as red lines, vibrating to Mozart's pattern. The red lines marked out a space, twisting to meet and close off the space. The lines then vanished. Again, in his free hand was a pearl, this time the size of a baseball. He closed his fingers around it and pushed it back - not necessary. He would save it for another time.

  Space and warmth surrounded the five thousand. Michael listened for the Earth. It was, of course, quite close, singing its complex, steady, but somewhat out-of-tune melody. Do you fee I the Earth? he asked Shiafa.


  This is what war between Sidhe and humans left behind - a garden gone to seed. Hatred and pain and deception.


  Our people are more alike than either would suspect.


  I need you to help me bring all of us to the Earth. Do you feel how it must be done? Training through necessity…

  She replied that she could feel the necessity but not yet the method.

  Just listen … he suggested. Feel the addings and takings away. We must come to the Earth when it is neither adding nor taking away, and then we must synchronize.

  She was no longer afraid. He felt in her some of the confidence he had experienced earlier.

  Dare, he said.

  Together, they dared.

  He saw the between-worlds arrayed beneath them like nightmare relief maps, all the shadows and discarded possibilities. He veered away from them, toward the song of the true and finished Earth.

  The limits of his little world were fading. His first creation would hold together only briefly.

  The Earth unfolded, and around it, all the possible points of space and time. He disregarded those possible points - how the Sidhe felt their way between the stars, back when the world had not joined with so many other worlds and was so much smaller - and concentrated on the familiar.

  Young, homesick Michael Perrin rose up and asserted himself. Shiafa did not object. Neither did the newer, more powerful Michael. Los Angeles spread its night tapestry below them.

  They needed a place to let the bubble burst, a place that could accommodate everybody, an empty place…

  Dodger Stadium, dark and deserted under the warm night skies

  Accepted them, and Michael's first world died.

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

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  Five thousand people, some of whom had not seen the Earth for millennia, stood on the turf and soil, spread out over the diamond, infield and outfield, all the way to the fence.

  Moon and sun briefly arced with shadow and fire in the sky as the dead Realm spread across and through the Earth. Everybody fell to their hands and knees as the ground shook. The noise and quaking went on for a very long time; Michael wondered if Mahler's symphony had been enough to cushion the fall. Then the noise subsided, and the ground became still.

  Michael released Shiafa's hand in the silence after.

  "Thank you." he said.

  Shiafa sat up with her legs crossed beneath her. "This is Earth?" she asked, staring up at the dark seats arrayed in concentric rows and the few scattered security lights.

  "It is," Michael said.

  "It doesn't feel right," she said. "It feels harsh."

  He did not disagree.

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

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  Morning light was already touching the high cirrus clouds above Los Angeles. Michael, Shiafa, Nikolai and Ulath walked through the people sitting, standing, conversing or just staring - at the sky, the walls, the tiers of seats - while Michael tried to assess the extent of their problem.

  Five thousand people. Frightened, most of them unfamiliar with the Earth. Soon to be hungry. Brought abruptly into a world already upset and confused. Most of them illegal aliens.

  "I need some organization," he said. "How did the Ban administer them all in the Sklassa?"

  "They have speakers - one for every fifty - and a knot-maker for every ten speakers. The knotmakers address the assistants of the Ban," Ulath explained.

  Michael pursed his lips, thinking rapidly. "Where is Biri? The other assistants?"

  "I saw Biri inspecting the walls around the field," Nikolai said. Michael probed for him, found him and sent a dubious Nikolai to bring him into the center of the group, near second base.

  "Nobody should leave the stadium until I've learned what conditions are like outside. I think"- he knew, a
ctually, but the feeling was unfamiliar-"that Bin will cooperate with us. Together, we can keep order - where is the Ban?" He could feel her presence but could not pinpoint her location.

  "She has chosen to spread herself among her children," Ulath said.

  "What does that mean?"

  "She is diffuse now. She will attend to us all and to the Sidhe of Earth."

  "How do we communicate with her?"

  "I speak to her," Ulath said.

  "Yes, but why did she do this now, when we need her?"

  "Because Tarax is here. He has brought the Realm to its end and now begins his rule on Earth. She protects us best by spreading herself."

  Michael closed his eyes briefly to feel for her. What has happened to you now? Are you dead?

  "The Ban is not dead."

  "I still have a lot to learn about the Sidhe," he said.

  "Perhaps about the Ban only," Ulath suggested, smiling.

  Nikolai and Biri approached, Bin trailing the Russian by several steps. "This is a foul place," Biri said. "It is dirty and painful."

  "There's no place like home." Michael told him they would need a perimeter of protection to prevent people from entering the stadium and to discourage the captives from leaving.

  "That is simple enough," Biri said.

  "Ulath and the Ban's other assistants will help you." T

  "I can do that alone."

  "Fine. I have to leave to make arrangements outside. Is everybody here except the Ban?"

  "The Ban is here," Ulath reiterated.

  "Yes. Well?"

  "I think so," Nikolai said.

  "Where are Mozart and Mahler?"

  "I will find them," Nikolai said, running off between the crowds of people.

  They're still remarkably well-behaved, Michael thought. No clamoring, no confused milling about. And it's not because they're dazed, either. Perhaps there would be fewer problems than he had imagined, at least among the five thousand inside the stadium.

  Savarin approached Michael alone. His robes were stained green with grass and smudged with dirt. "This is truly Earth?" he asked.