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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 66

Greg Bear

  "There is no home," Shiafa said distantly.

  "So please, bear with me, with us," Michael said. "If I don't miss my guess, Mahler and Mozart are going to be asleep for hours. I hope to be back before they wake up. I don't have much time."

  "We'll manage," John said, hugging his wife to him with one arm. "Won't we?"

  "We'll have to," Ruth said. "What will they eat?"

  "Go easy on the meat," Michael advised. "They haven't had much of that where they've been." Shiafa's skin grayed noticeably at the mention of meat.

  "You look very tired," Ruth said. "Both of you. I'm sorry about reacting badly…"

  "No time to rest. And no self-recriminations. We'll be back soon."

  "Why was the Waltiri house full of birds?" Ruth asked.

  "Please, Mother."

  "All right. Go."

  Michael reached out to feel for Edgar Moffat and found him sitting in the recording room in the studio where they had first met. His probe seemed to be surrounded by razors, the harsh reality now that the Realm had beached itself on Earth's shoals.

  "Will we take the machine again?" Shiafa asked.

  "It's the easiest way," Michael said. "I think my car is still full of gas."

  They walked back to the Waltiri house under the gray, overcast afternoon. "You're wasting energy," he said, as they walked up the driveway.

  "This place smells horrible," Shiafa said sharply. "It smells like death."

  "Right here?" he asked, glancing at the sidewalk where Tommy had shot himself and turned into dust and rags.

  "Everywhere. The entire city."

  Michael shrugged. "I've gotten used to it. I don't notice."

  "It smells like dead forests," Shiafa said. "Like one of Adonna's abortions."

  He realized that what she was objecting to was not just the smell of smog - very light this day, he thought - but of technology and human habitations in general. The houses around them, including Waltiri's, had been made from unconsecrated wood. The power lines overhead could upset a Sidhe's sensibilities. If other human technologies were still working, the air would be full of beamed energy - radar and television and radio. How were the tens of thousands of other Sidhe reacting to this sudden change in environment?

  Shiafa's mood was upon him now. He brushed it aside with a small shudder and told her to stand away from the driveway. He then went to the Saab and unlocked it. The engine caught quickly and rumbled to life, murmuring with twin-exhaust throatiness.

  As he backed the car down the driveway, he glanced through the opposite window at the wail of the house and the entrance to the crawl space.

  The wine bottles in the basement.

  During the first few minutes of his first visit to the Realm, Michael had crossed a decaying vineyard behind the ruined Clarkham mansion, covered with the twisted, blackened and thick-boled stumps of thousands of dead vines. What was their purpose? Nothing Clarkham did was uncalculated.

  Clarkham brought Waltiri bottles of wines as a gift. Waltiri passed some of them on to his neighbors.

  He almost stopped the car. One thing at a time. Priorities. Reaching over to open the car door for Shiafa, Michael felt a buzz of excitement. Clarkham had failed at creating a personal Song of Power; he had always relied on the genius of others, even at the height of his sorceries. He had interfered with poets, composers, dancers… He had failed at architecture. Had he cultured vines simply to please himself - and perhaps anger the more abstemious Sidhe… or had he an ulterior motive?

  Shiafa sat reluctantly on the seat. "Close your door," Michael instructed her. She stared at him, eyes burning. He sighed and reached across. "Like this," he said, grabbing the handle to pull it shut.

  "There is too much iron," she said quietly. "It kills."

  "You can stand it The Sidhe use iron for their own purposes."

  "Not like this."

  He drove out onto the street. The trees cast long shadows. Time was passing too quickly; the Realm's chronometry was evident on Earth now. What that ultimately meant, there was no way of knowing. Was it a temporary effect - no pun intended, he though wryly - or a permanent distortion?

  He frowned as he guided the Saab through the largely empty streets of the city. Other things were changing. The leaves on the trees seemed darker and the streets and buildings less hard-edged, as if viewed through a fog.

  "Your world is sick," Shiafa said as he turned onto Melrose.

  "How do you mean?"

  "It is suffering."

  "Because of the Realm?"

  She nodded, staring at him with an expression he had never before seen - a mix of barely subdued greed and deep concern. It shook him.

  "How do you know?" he asked, arguing more out of pique than disagreement.

  "Even beyond the dead smell, it is afflicted."

  He pressed his lips together and shrugged. But now he was really worried. Who was working to set things right again - Tarax, who had plowed the Realm onto a reef and perhaps started the disintegration of the reef? Clarkham, hiding somewhere…

  in a bottle of wine

  "Jesus," he whispered. A wine of power. Flavor that seduces, a finish that lasts forever. It seemed quite possible that Clarkham had kept that art as a backup, almost inaccessible to the Sidhe, who - as Clarkham had stated-"love human liquor entirely too much." What they loved, obviously, was not the flavor but the numbing effect. Because of that, the best of the Sidhe - those who might be interested in Songs of Power - would fastidiously avoid alcoholic beverages.

  What was the word for the art of wine-making? The study of wines? Oenology. Having failed at everything else, Clark-ham could have hidden himself, biding his time, waiting for the proper moment. Preparing to spring a surprise.

  In the Realm, Clarkham had served not wine but brandy… hiding his craft for decades in Waltiri's cellar, where not even the mage of the Cledar would suspect chicanery.

  Michael was so excited he had to bank his hyloka to keep from flaming his clothes and the car seat. Shiafa regarded him with that same new hungry, greedy expression… and he felt himself responding. He had used her magic. That had somehow bonded them, and it could draw them together…

  Shocked, he avoided Shiafa's gaze and focused his attention on the road.

  The studio's Gower gate was open. The guard blinked passively at Michael and Shiafa as they walked through the floor, leaning forward to say, "Hey. Nobody's here. Everybody's home."

  Michael smiled at her and nodded. "Edgar Moffat's here."

  "Yeah," the guard said. "Edgar's here. Is he expecting both of you?"

  "No," Michael said.

  "But he knows you."

  Michael nodded again.

  "I remember you, but not her. Where's Kristine Pendeers?"

  "I don't know," Michael said. "I'm looking for her, and I thought Edgar might help." That was a minor fib, but he hoped it would play. It did. The guard shrugged and leaned back in her seat.

  In the hallway of the music building, Michael knocked on the recording studio door. Moffat himself answered this time, wearing gray slacks and a very rumpled white business shirt. His crown of hair looked as if he had been running his hands through it all night long, pushed back stiff and dark with sweat. He hardly reacted when he saw Michael, but his expression changed to nervous anxiety as he stared at Shiafa.

  "We need your help," Michael said.

  "I'm the only one working here. I think Hollywood packed up its bags and went to hide in the hills. Did you feel the earthquake?"

  "Yes. We need you to organize things for us. You and Crooke."

  "I haven't talked to Crooke for days. I don't even know where he is."

  "This is important. Did Kristine ever tell you what she knew?"

  "You mean, about you and the man who disappeared in front of her?"


  "She told me a little. Enough to make the rest of this… into a real nightmare. A little knowledge is worse than none at all."

  "I have some men I want yo
u to meet," Michael said. Edgar opened the door wider and motioned for them to come in.

  "Who's your designer?" he asked Shiafa. "You could be the toast of the garment district."

  "And when you've met these men, I'll need you to organize a rescue operation. All the artists and musicians and writers you know. We'll need houses - hundreds of houses - and we'll need them in just a few days, maybe sooner."


  "Refugees," Michael said.

  "Who am I going to meet?"

  "Gustav Mahler and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart," Michael answered.

  Edgar smiled warily. "Napoleon, too? Maybe Christ?"

  Michael shook his head. Edgar's smile vanished. "Jesus. Crooke said he'd dreamed about Mahler, just as if he was still alive." Edgar swallowed convulsively, and his hands fluttered. "The real McCoys?"

  "And five thousand others."

  "Brought back by the concerto and the symphony?"

  "In a way. Are you up to it?"

  Edgar glanced at the banks of electronic equipment and ran his fingers through his hair again. "I just want one question answered, if you haven't answered it for me already. Is the world coming to an end because of what we did?"

  "No," Michael said.

  "All right. I'm just wasting my time here anyway. Nobody's going to be making movies for some time. Who needs fantasy now? The world's full of the real thing."

  Chapter Thirty-Two

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  One thing at at time. Michael had located Crooke sitting on a bench near the Griffith Park Observatory - simply sitting and staring out over the city. Griffith Park, Michael sensed, was full of hidden Sidhe, and the police and National Guard had unofficially made it off-limits. Michael and Shiafa, working their discipline together, had penetrated makeshift barricades and driven up the winding road to the observatory, where they spoke with Crooke and persuaded him to come with them.

  Moffat waited in his car in front of the Perrin house. Moffat and Crooke followed Michael up the steps and through the front door, held open by his father. Michael then introduced them to Mahler and Mozart. Crooke gaped.

  "You did not do a bad piece of work," Mahler said to him. Mozart hung back, frowning. His frown changed to consternation when Moffat approached with an almost worshipful look on his face.

  "You are Mozart," Moffat said. "Jesus. Everybody said the portraits were bad, but I recognize you. I know you through your music."

  "Well," Mozart said, still edging away. He shook Moffat's hand quickly. "All this. What is it for?"

  "You came back with how many, again?" Crooke asked. Michael had given him a brief explanation in the car.

  "Five thousand, approximately."

  Crooke took Moffat aside, and they conferred for a few minutes. When they returned, Moffat said, "I think this is a job for Mrs. Pierce-Fennady."

  Crooke agreed. "She raises money for the Huntington. She knows lots of people."

  "We'll introduce her to Mahler and Mozart."

  "Mein Gott," Mozart moaned. "Society women!"

  "She's much more than that," Crooke said. "She's a real mover and shaker."

  "Does she keep her rooms warm?" Mozart asked, but he did not explain what he meant.

  One thing at a time.

  "I'm leaving now," Michael said. "Shiafa's going with me. We may or may not be back soon."

  "What are you going to do?" Ruth asked, her face pale. She kept glancing at Shiafa, with anything but approbation.

  "I'm not sure," Michael said.

  You are what you dare.

  Dusk was a wall of fire above the treetops. The air was cool and sharp, faintly electric. As Michael and Shiafa approached the Clarkham house on foot, he saw little streaks of darkness shoot inches above the black grass of the nearby lawns. Roses in a well-tended garden glowed in unnaturally bright pinks and blood-reds.

  The two-story Clarkham house seemed covered by a shadow darker than the evening around it. Michael edged the door open slowly. Behind him, Shiafa kept her eyes on his back, as if willing him to do something. He could feel her attention, but he could not riddle her thoughts. Still, he felt he might need her; his own magic might not be strong enough for what lay ahead.

  And if he resorted to using her buried power one more time… What then? What commitment would he feel, and what would she demand in return?

  She was getting little formal training from him. / must be teaching her very bad habits.

  He ignored the stairs and looked through the service porch and kitchen for the doorway he knew must exist. Shiafa seemed to know the unspoken object of his search; she summoned him to the back of a walk-in pantry and pointed to a small door sealed with an ancient brass padlock. Michael drew a small percentage of his strength from his center and melted the hasp, singing the wood behind it. A small, ghostly curl of smoke rose and spread under the low ceiling. Shiafa breathed deeply. He glanced at her and turned away quickly. Her face was the color of the moon in the dark confines of the pantry.

  The door opened easily and without noise. He descended the narrow steps after asking Shiafa to remain above. The basement was larger than he had had reason to suspect; it spread under the length and breadth of the house, broken only by dark outlines of vats and racks and large square supporting beams.

  In one corner was a large Archimedean screw nestled at the bottom of a metal trough - a grape crusher. Wooden boxes in the opposite corner held the dried and dusty remains of crushed grapes and their stems - looking not unlike Tommy. Michael peered closer at the remains and saw a faint rainbow-hematite-oil sheen hovering about them.

  "Vintage," he murmured. Their smell was sweeter than any grapes he remembered, as sweet as the perfume he had exuded in the Realm whenever he had come in contact with water, or the fragrance of the manuscript of opus 45.

  The racks were empty of bottles. He searched the corners of the cellar meticulously and found no evidence of hidden caches. The cellar had not been used for some time - perhaps fifty years.

  There was no choice but to return to the Waltiri house and disturb the birds - the Cledar - again.

  Shiafa blocked him at the top of the stairs. Her face was a cool, mellow beacon, lovely in the darkness. Her lips were parted expectantly, and the teeth behind them were a beautiful shade of gray mother-of-pearl. Her red hair spread like feathers around her head, loose and fragrant. "Nothing?" she asked.

  He shook his head, regarding her steadily.

  "We can join to search out what you're looking for," she suggested.

  "I don't think that's a good idea."

  "You've taken my power from me once already," she said. "It's not as if we'll be doing anything unfamiliar. Isn't that why you brought me with you?"

  He nodded. "It is. But I don't need help just now."

  "Perhaps I need yours," she said.

  Kristine suddenly seemed far away and not very well-suited to be the partner of a mage. How could he live with a purely human woman, who had no idea of his problems and abilities?

  Michael took another step up, and Shiafa backed out of his way reluctantly. "I know where we - I need to go," he said. She followed him out of the house.

  In the darkness, the leaves of the trees around the neighborhood sparkled like crystals. The stars overhead wobbled almost imperceptibly. The cold had intensified and chilled him even with his hyloka in effect. Reality was becoming most inhospitable - why? Because of the weight of the Realm's demise? Or by plan… Tarax's plan, or Clarkham's?

  Even from a distance of half a block, Waltiri's house radiated an aura of life and energy. It seemed filled with anticipation and joy. Michael's spirits took an abrupt upswing as he approached, and Shiafa seemed less enchanting and menacing. He removed the key from his pocket on the front step and opened the door.

  "Life for you is opening doors," said the mage of the Cle-dar, who stood nestled among pigeons and sparrows in the hallway. His white-rimmed eyes flashed at Michael with an inhuman but not unwelcome (and not unfamiliar
) humor. Michael could feel the connection quite clearly now. This creature had once been part of Arno Waltiri, a buried but considerable part.

  Shiafa chose to remain outside, standing in the razor chill at the end of the front walk. Michael did not think about her now. He walked through the birds, who parted without complaint, to the service porch.

  The birds had not occupied the basement. The armoire had not been disturbed since it had been emptied of its papers, months before. All that remained were a few odds and ends - stone paperweights, an andiron in one corner, and at the bottom of the armoire, the little rack of three wine bottles, each bearing the label, "Doppelsonnenuhr, Feinste Geistenbeeren-auslese, 1921."

  Drink me, Alice.

  He sensed the Cledar mage's presence above him, waiting patiently for his decision, tendering neither judgment nor advice. Full of life, full of joy. They feel something beyond the edge of harsh, sickened reality, beyond the razor cold and the night.

  They feel me.

  They trust me.

  If this wine did indeed take him to Clarkham's hidden experimental reality, his embryonic attempt to replace this world with another, then it was likely Kristine would be there, or accessible once he was there.

  Then his agreement with Tarax would be unnecessary. Michael had never been comfortable with Shiafa; now he felt a kind of dread at the thought of her.

  She could demand so much of him, and he did not know if he could resist. Easy paths to -

  What? Damnation?

  Away from Kristine, at the very least.

  Away from honor and self-trust. Michael could feel the tiny Sidhe part of him struggling to go to Shiafa and unite with her. The compulsion was barely controllable now.

  The easy path, finally offered - similar to the path Clark-ham might have taken. And Clarkham was filled with ever-regenerating evil. There were so many things Michael did not know, so many things he had to puzzle out for himself…

  And still, he had made it this far.

  He removed a bottle of wine from the rack and examined it in the cellar's dim light. The cork had disintegrated beneath the lead cap, and the wine inside had long since dried to black paste. Putting the first bottle aside, he lifted the second; liquid still shimmered within.