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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 65

Greg Bear

  "Yes,1' Michael said. "You aren't by any chance a speaker or knotmaker, are you?"

  "Henrik is a knotmaker," Ulath said.

  Savarin grinned sheepishly. "I am always the organizer," he said.

  "Good. Then you'll help us-" He spotted Nikolai returning with Mahler and Mozart. "Excuse me."

  Michael hugged Mozart firmly and shook Mahler's hand. "You've done it," he said to them.

  "Wolferl played magnificently," Mahler said.

  "Yes, well, such an audience, nein?"

  "Would both of you be up to accompanying me?" Michael asked. "I'll need help outside. Nikolai, you too…"

  "Gladly," Nikolai said. Mahler inhaled deeply and shook his head. "The air smells very bad here."

  "There's lots to get used to. But there're some people - friends of mine - who would very much like to meet you. 1 have to make some phone calls - talk to them." If phones are still working,

  "I will go," Mozart said. "This is exciting, really." He sounded more willing than he looked. Mahler rubbed his hand back across his high forehead and gray hair.

  "Ja," he said. "But be careful with us. We are not young men, you know."

  "Speak for yourself," Mozart said.

  In a group, they made their way off the field and down a ramp. Michael was searching for a pay phone, though he didn't have any money in his ragged clothes.

  "There is a frightened man ahead," Shiafa said as they passed the door of a locker room. Michael had felt him also - and he was armed.

  "A security guard, probably," Michael said. "Best to be open." He cupped his hands to his mouth. "Hey! We need help."

  A portly, middle-aged man in a gray uniform came out of the shadows with his gun drawn. "Who in the hell are you?"

  "We need help," Michael said, holding his hands in the clear and nodding for the others to follow suit. "I need to make a call. There're a lot of people on the field-"

  "I saw them. They're like those freaks coming out of everywhere."

  "No, no they aren't," Michael reassured him. "They're people, most of them, and so am I. But they need help. We have to call the police, the city. They're going to need shelter, food, clothing."

  "What in hell is this?" the guard asked, clearly out of his depth. He was close enough now that Michael could see his sweating face and the wicked gleam on the black barrel of his service revolver.

  "I need to get to a phone," Michael said.

  "They're not working. I mean, they're only working some of the time. Who are you?"

  Michael approached the guard slowly, hands extended, and gave him his name and street address. The guard finally acquiesced and took them to a pay phone near the end of the corridor. He did not put away his gun, however, and he stood well back from them.

  Michael smiled his thanks and dialed for the operator. He got a beeping noise and then a recording: "All phone connections are for emergency use only. An operator will be on the line soon. If this is not an emergency, please hang up. Penalties may be levied for abuse of emergency services."

  Half a minute passed, then a weary male voice answered. "Emergency service only. May I help you?"

  "Yes. I need to reach the office of the Mayor."

  "You're whistling in the wind, buddy," the operator said. "You're on a pay phone. Unless you need the police or are reporting an accident with injuries, we don't service pay phones."

  "Fine," Michael said patiently. "Connect me with LAPD Central."

  "It's your head."

  Several minutes passed before he was able to get a line through, and then an even more weary female voice answered.

  "I'd like to speak to Lieutenant Harvey in homicide," Michael said.

  "Lieutenant Harvey is no longer on homicide. He's on Invasion Task Force."

  "Wherever he is, I need to talk to him."

  "Is this an emergency?"

  "Yes," Michael said. He glanced at the guard. "I'm talking to the police now." he said, cupping his hand over the mouthpiece.

  "Invasion Task Force, Sergeant Dinato."

  "My name is Michael Perrin."

  There was a sharp intake of breath and then a quick, stuttered, "Hold on. I'm transferring you to Lieutenant Harvey's office now."

  "Thank you," Michael said. He banked his hyloka carefully, realizing how tired he was. The guard held his ground, but he had lowered his pistol a few inches and was mopping his forehead with a handkerchief. He inspected them closely, his eyes darting from Mozart's blue silk jacket and white breeches and hose to Mahler's dark robe and Shiafa's ragged pants and loose blouse. "Where all did you come from, anyway?" he asked nervously.

  "From Dreamland," Mozart said. "We've just awakened."

  "You're all German?"

  "I'm Russian," Nikolai said.

  "All of you?"

  Michael recognized Lieutenant Harvey's resonant "Hello" immediately. "Where the hell have you been?" Harvey asked. The lieutenant sounded exhausted.

  "Not far. I'm calling from Dodger Stadium. I have something of an emergency here."

  "Oh?" Harvey asked cautiously.

  "I'll need food, supplies and shelter for about five thousand people. Human beings. There are a few Sidhe here, as well."

  Harvey's silence was prolonged. "That will stretch us a bit," he said. "Dodger Stadium? Where?"

  "On the field."

  "I mean, where did they come from?"

  "The Realm," Michael said.

  "All at once?"

  "All at once."

  There was a sharp edge to Harvey's laughter. "You know," he said, "I'm almost accustomed to this crap now. You gave me the basic tools to help me accept it. I guess I owe you. Are these people dangerous?"

  "No," Michael said. "Mostly, they're frightened. Some have been away for a long time."

  "All right. I'll see what I can do. Are you going to stay there?"

  "I don't think so," Michael said, thinking rapidly. "I have a lot of other work to catch up on. We'll have a committee here to meet your people and work with them."

  "I'll put together a team now. I feel silly asking you this, but when will I hear from you again?"

  "I don't know," Michael said. There was simply no way of telling how much time his next few challenges would take. "Can you get me an open phone line? I need to call my parents."

  "Sure," Harvey said. "Hold on for a sec."

  "Thanks," Michael said.

  Chapter Thirty

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  The taxi driver - a portly Lebanese with a well-trimmed mustache and curious, darting eyes - took Michael, Shiafa, Mahler and Mozart from the stadium parking lot to the Waltiri house in record time. The streets were almost deserted. "I'm the only one out this time of day. Everybody else, they stay home," he said. "I'm not afraid of these spooks. It's fear hurts people." He glanced nervously in his mirror at Shiafa. "Don't you think that's what hurts people?"

  Nobody answered. Mahler and Mozart seemed to be in dreamy shock. The modem buildings and sprawled clutter of Los Angeles was completely contrary to their experience. "Ugly," Mahler said under his breath again and again, but he did not turn away. Mozart, sitting between Shiafa and Mahler in the back seat, was frozen, his hands folded and clamped between his knees, only his eyes moving away from the cab's center line.

  Michael was too tired to do more than broadcast a light circle of awareness tuned to Tarax or Clarkham. His more experienced eye - helped by the driver's occasional observations - was already picking out the city's new incongruities.

  The late morning sky over the city was cut through with wildly tangled clouds on several levels. Michael had never seen their like before. The air smelled electric, and his palms tingled constantly, telling him that the song of Earth had been disturbed by the Realm's death. Some of the Realm's qualities had been passed on to the Earth, perhaps by Tarax's design. Michael wearily realized that magic would not be so difficult on Earth now.

  "No people at all up and down Wilshire. On a Wednesday!"' the taxi driv
er said, waving his free hand out the window. "And you're my first fare today. God knows why I work, but 1 got no wife, no kids, this cab's my life."

  "We appreciate your working," Michael said.

  "Take my advice. You all look very tired. You belong to some rock band, some group? I notice your dress. That's a fine wig. You look all rumpled, like you've been playing a concert all night… Funny." He shook his head.

  "We're musicians," Michael said. He found his head nodding as if to some inner beat and had to stop it with an effort of will. "Hard couple of days."

  Mozart laughed abruptly and without explanation, then grabbed the front seat and leaned forward. "Is it all this bad?" he asked plaintively. "Is there no place the eye can rest?"

  "Sorry," Michael said. "We'll be home soon." He glanced at Mahler. "Arno Waltiri's house."

  Mahler's eyelids assumed that languid expression Michael had seen before. "Waltiri. Brilliant youth. He must be very old by now."

  "He's dead," Michael said. Time enough to explain the details later.

  John and Ruth were sitting on the front steps of the Waltiri house as the cab drove up and deposited the four of them on the sidewalk. John paid the fare, and Ruth hugged Michael as the others stood on the concrete and grass, squinting and blinking in the bright sun.

  "Everyone has their own tiny estate here," Mozart said, gazing at the neighborhood.

  Michael and John embraced peremptorily. "Welcome back," John said. "You've been gone during the worst of it. Ruth and I thought you'd choose this morning to come back. It just… seemed appropriate."

  "After the earthquake," Ruth said. "After the false dawn."

  Michael introduced them as they walked to the house. He reached into his pocket and produced the key, still there after all he had been through, and opened the door.

  A warm wind blew out of the house, redolent with jasmine, honeysuckle and tea roses. The interior of Waltiri's house was overgrown with flowering plants and vines. They ascended the walls to the ceiling, forming an arch, and covered all the furniture, leaving only the floor and a narrow passageway clear. On every branch and twig, peering from every tiny hollow, birds blinked at him through the foliage. Pigeons and sparrows rustled and backed away on the floor as the door opened wider; others regarded the intruders with sleepy black eyes, unperturbed.

  "All right," Michael said slowly, stopping in the hallway and spreading his hands.

  "I feel a power," Shiafa said. Ruth regarded her with frank worry, obviously thinking of the hill wife her great-grandfather had taken.

  Mozart sat on the front step and leaned his head on one hand, staring out at the street, too jaded by marvels to care much about a houseful of forest and birds. "Where do we sleep? In there?" he asked, gesturing behind him.

  Michael, Shiafa and Mahler walked down the flowered passage until they came to the stairway to the second floor. The birds made way for them and did not seem unduly disturbed. "Surely this is magic," Mahler commented. "All these birds, yet the place is so clean."

  "Do you feel anything?" Michael asked Shiafa.

  "Yes. It feels powerful. Someone important is here."

  A large black crow with red breast-feathers and white-rimmed eyes hopped down the stairs, ignoring them, intent on its descent, until it reached the bottom. Then it turned its attention to Michael, beak open and thin black tongue protruding, angling its head this way and that.

  "Arno?" Michael inquired softly.

  The crow lifted its head. "Arno is dead," it squawked. "Now is the time of marvels. Boy become man. Death of worlds. Gods die too."

  Michael kneeled to be closer to the bird's level. "Were you Arno?"

  "Helped be him. Arno was man. Gone where dead men go."

  "Are you…?"

  "Am feathered mage," the crow said, strutting. It spread its wings, revealing iridescent black plumage and, under both wings, the lettering of its bondage.

  Mahler shrunk back. A sparrow landed on his shoulder and chirruped, the first actual bird noise they had heard since entering. Mahler did not attempt to brush it off, but he was clearly enchanted and unhappy at once. "What does this mean?" he asked.

  "It means we'll be sleeping at my parents' house," Michael said. "Doesn't it?" he asked the crow.

  "Come back. Time to confer. The bonds soon will break. We choose you. Come back."

  "All right," Michael said, standing. "I'll be back."

  Outside, as they walked the few blocks to his parents' house, John asked, "Pardon the cliche, Michael, but what does it all mean?"

  "There's magic on Earth again, and.the Sidhe are no longer its only masters," he said.

  "That sounds suitably portentous, son," John commented dryly. "Bring it down to my level."

  "I think I understand," Ruth said. "We're all together again. There's no other place to go. Fairyland is dead. We have to live together."

  "We will share the rent," Mozart said muzzily. "Do we have to walk much farther?"

  They did not.

  Chapter Thirty-One

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  John seemed dazed. He followed Mozart, Mahler and his son up the stairs to the second floor. Mozart peered into the bathroom while Michael pulled towels from the linen closet.

  "There's plenty of room," John said. Mahler squared his slumped shoulders and yawned. John suddenly seemed to focus on the two men, and his eyes grew wider as he stared at them. Michael walked past him with the towels. "They can stay in the guest room; there are two beds in there," John suggested.

  "One can stay in my room," Michael said. "I don't think I'll be sleeping."

  "Right. Michael's room."

  Mozart inquired where that was, and John opened the door for him.

  "Good. Crowded and busy. I'll stay here." He thanked John and shut the door behind him. John stood in the hallway, hands in pockets, blinking owlishly.

  "We are very appreciative of your hospitality," Mahler said. "I do not know why your son brought us here."

  "I don't either," John said. "But we're glad… to have you."

  Michael emerged from the bathroom. "There. All set out. Do you sleep?" he asked Mahler.

  "I haven't slept in many years, but today… yes. I'll sleep." He entered the guest bedroom and swung the door shut, smiling at John briefly through the crack before the latch clicked.

  Michael put his arm around his father's shoulder. "I'm sorry to upset everything on such short notice."

  "Don't mind me," John said. "I just can't accept what's happening. Those two - they're really Mahler, Gustav Mahler, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?"

  "They are," Michael said.

  "They were held by the Sidhe… for all this time?"

  "However long that was for them," Michael said. He paused at the head of the stairs. Ruth was in the living room, busily making up the couch, apparently intending it as a bed for Shiafa, who stood near the front door watching her. "I don't think Shiafa sleeps, either," Michael said.

  "Who is she?" John asked softly.

  "Where are you from?" Ruth asked her in a high-pitched, nervous voice clearly audible on the stairs.

  "She's the daughter of a Sidhe named Tarax," Michael told John, too low for his mother to hear.

  "I was born in the Realm," Shiafa said to Ruth.

  John glanced at Michael. They had stopped halfway down the stairs, eavesdropping by silent and mutual consent.

  "Oh? That's what we called Faerie, until now, isn't it?"

  "I do not know."

  "Yes. I think it is. You know, you remind me of… Well, never mind that. Have you known my son long?"

  "Not long," Shiafa said.

  "Is he important to you?"


  "Oh," Ruth said breathlessly, fitting the top sheet and blanket over the couch cushions. She kept a constant watch on Shiafa from the corner of her eye. "Will you be staying with us for some time? I'm sorry. That's not polite." She stood, smoothing her hands down her legs, and tossed a strand of hair back.
"This is not easy for me to accept. Are you and Michael, my son… lovers?"

  "Jesus," Michael breathed, immediately resuming his descent.

  "No," Shiafa said. "He is my teacher."

  "Mother, no time for this now," Michael interrupted. "Shiafa probably won't be sleeping. She may want to clean up-"

  "Good… GOD," Ruth said, staring at Michael with a fierce expression. "John, is any of this happening?"

  "You know it is," John said.

  "She looks just like my great-grandmother. She could be my great-grandmother!"

  "No, she couldn't," Michael said.

  "They're all over the world now, aren't they? Just like her?"

  "And like us, Mother," Michael said. He gripped her shoulders tightly with both hands. "Listen. You're better prepared to accept what's happening than most people. Shiafa is a pure Sidhe. I'm training her, or at least going through the motions. The men upstairs-"

  Her expression changed from anger to pain. "Michael," she interrupted, "what can we say to those men? John, what can we say to them? To Mo/art!"

  John shrugged.

  "What can we say to people centuries old, to ghosts? Dead people? Famous dead people?"

  Michael grinned despite himself. "I'm sorry," he said. "I should have called ahead."

  "DAMN you," Ruth said, but she was beginning to laugh and cry at once. "God damn everything." She turned to Shiafa. "I'm sorry. We don't know how to react to all this."

  Michael could feel tension radiating from Shiafa. If he didn't isolate her soon, he wasn't sure what would happen.

  "We have to leave now. I'll be back in a few hours. There are people I have to call - but the phones are restricted. So I may have to talk to them in person. Mahler and Mozart are just the beginning. I came back with many others - about five thousand of them."

  Ruth's face went white. "Here?"

  "They're in Dodger Stadium. That's where I called you from. I have to make arrangements for them. They've been in the Realm for a long time, some of them thousands of years."

  "All right," Ruth said. She pointed with a nod of her chin at Shiafa. "Will she go with you?"

  "Yes," Michael said. "This is difficult for her. She can't go home."