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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 43

Greg Bear

The water-stained walls were covered with markings, graffiti and scrawled names, and random gouges and scratches. A smaller stairway opposite the elevator door led from one side of the landing to the next floor. Michael climbed again; there was no sense inspecting every room.

  On the fifth floor, he walked from end to end in each hall and found a broken, leaning door to one apartment on the east side. He kicked it open and grimaced at the destruction beyond. Anonymous green trash had drifted into the corners of the living room. The carpets had been shredded as if by iceskaters wearing razors for blades. Michael looked down at his feet and saw an ancient pile of feces. Nearby, yellow stains dribbled down one wall.

  All of this, he thought, from the descendants of those who struggled back to humanity - or something like it - across sixty million years. The story was noble - yet as one of its end products, a human being had once defecated on this floor and urinated on this wall.

  With a sudden flush of anger, Michael wondered to what extent human depravity could be blamed on the misguiding of the Sidhe acting in their capacity as gods - Tonn, who became Adonna in the Realm, portraying Baal and Yahweh, and how many other deities?

  There was a puzzle here. He knew instinctively it was useless to blame others entirely for one's own failings - or to blame the Sidhe for the failings of his own kind. But surely there was some culpability. He had little doubt that the Sidhe had mimicked gods to restrain humans, to open a little more space for their own kind on the Earth they had abandoned thousands of millennia before.

  He shook his head and backed away from the feces. Such profound thoughts from such miserable evidence.

  And you, Michael? Withdrawing into cold intellectual splendor, knowing you are superior because of your knowledge, knowing you would never be so unstylish as to crap on the floor of a deserted building… So you're superior to your own kind, more stylish; does that mean you have something of the Sidhe in you, then?

  Suddenly, the crap on the floor and the piss on the wall became profoundly funny. In a way, that kind of fated animal indifference to the past had more style in it than any ordered Sidhe posturing. Michael's thoughts made a complete turnaround with dizzying alacrity.

  The Crane Women, seeing the crap on the floor, would have drawn conclusions quite different from his own. They would have seen human flexibility - not just lack of dignity, but lack of restrictions.

  He backed out of the apartment and returned to the stairs.

  On the eighth floor, he vaguely realized what had drawn him here. There was a sensation in the air, as of a loosening or an opening. It was so faint as to be almost nonexistent, but he could feel it intermittently.

  The higher he went in the Tippett Residential Hotel, the stronger the sensation became. There was nothing out of the ordinary here and now… but there had been, and there would be again. A breach in the mind-silence and the stolid yet ever-changing and infinitely detailed reality of Earth. He was feeling a tickle in an area of his mind once touched only by Death's Radio - the voice of Tonn… and the voice of Arno Waltiri. Yet the tickle came from neither of them.

  It was the spoor of another place, lying nearby, separated by a much thinner wall here in the neighborhood where once The Infinity Concerto had been performed.

  Michael felt a sudden exultation. His need for the bite of adventure… Here, there was hope for more adventure, more tastes of the strange and dangerous and wonderful he had experienced in the Realm. Just a shadow away, across some sheer membrane… punch a hand through and bring back mystery, wonder… horror.

  On the tenth floor, he felt an even stronger presence, quite different from that of the nearness of other worlds. He frowned, trying to analyze what the sensation was, draw it out from the back of his head and understand what it might mean.

  Imprisoned music. Not The Infinity Concerto but something even stronger.

  How was that possible?

  The sensation suddenly confused him. He temporarily forgot who he was and why he was here. He glanced around the tenth floor landing and walked to the window overlooking the Strip. Wind brushed at him through a broken pane of glass. Somewhere in the building, a rush of air mourned for its freedom. Not remembering was exhilarating. Suddenly he could be anybody: murderer, vagrant, good Samaritan, saint.

  Michael Perrin came back to him in a gentle, nonerosive flood. And with the returning memory, he could feel through his skin, rather than hear, the music that was not The Infinity Concerto. His neck hair stood on end. It was sad, fated, vibrant yet losing energy. It was the sound of a world getting old, and of a world young and full of life, whose situation was growing old and rickety and dangerous. Put them together…

  He climbed the stairs to the eleventh and last floor before the penthouse. Here there were no apartments, but meeting rooms, game rooms, broad empty rooms only lightly littered, slightly decayed.

  In one of these rooms, Michael surmised, the bodies of Lamia and Tristesse had been found. He could not tell which room. If the police had laid down paint or chalk around the bodies, it was no longer evident, at least not in the dimming beam of his flashlight.

  He shook the light and felt a small anxiety at its declining batteries.

  The membrane between himself and the otherness was thinning. Michael was certain that at some time in the recent past, Sidhe had been here. What they had been doing, and with what purpose, he could not tell.

  Someone or something had returned through Clarkham's house, a solitary return, not likely to be repeated because the house had felt inert. The eleventh floor of the Tippett Residential Hotel did not feel inert.

  Sidhe were migrating to Earth. He had seen that much in his "dreams".

  Soon, a gate would open here, and many Sidhe would emigrate through this building, perhaps on this very floor.

  Possibly, at the beginning, Lamia and Tristesse had tried to block passage to the hotel. The Sidhe themselves had cursed them to assume the roles of guardian and gatekeeper, but when they were no longer necessary, in fact an impediment, the sisters - Clarkham's former lovers - might have been killed and cast aside by much stronger forces.

  The door to the staircase going to the penthouse had been propped open with a crumbling rubber doorstop. Michael ascended from the eleventh floor to the twelfth, leaving behind the imprisoned music.

  The penthouse apartment had once been surrounded by broad, floor-to-ceiling windows, fitted with heavy drapes. The drapes were gone, leaving only their broken and despondent fittings, and the glass windows had been shattered. Their shards crunched under his shoes. Wind blew through the empty suite of rooms, whistling but not mourning, for only the skeleton of the building restrained it on this level.

  On the open deck, Michael stood with his hair flicking back and forth, looking out across the hills behind the Strip. Most of the lights in the Hyatt had been turned off. He walked around the deck to the opposite side and stared across the bright lights of downtown Hollywood and Los Angeles beyond. Dawn was the faintest suggestion of a lighter midnight blue in the east. The air smelled sweet and pure after the decay in the enclosed spaces below. He breathed deeply of it and stretched his arms out, jaws gaping wide, neck bones cracking with tension.

  "What a night," he said. His voice was flat and vague in the wind-sound.

  Something was very definitely going to happen. Whether he was prepared or not, Michael didn't know, but he was expectant, almost eager.

  "Come and get me," he said, and then felt a chill. But stay away from those I love.

  Even at this hour, the city lights were a wonder and a glory. Ranks of orange streetlights marched off to the horizon. High-rise towers, far off in the clear night air, offered random glowing floors as cleaning crews finished their night's work.


  His kind.

  Shitting on floors.

  Dreaming, growing old or sleeping in cribs with developing minds dreaming feverishly of vague infant things; working late into the morning or tossing restlessly, coming up out of slumber i
nto an awareness of the imminent day; maybe somewhere someone killing a person, an animal, an insect, someone killing himself; someone being born; someone realizing inadequacies, or preparing breakfast for the early-risers; sleeping off a drunk or making early morning love; tossing through insomnia. Mourning a loved one. Waiting for the night to be over.

  Just sleeping.

  Just sleeping.

  Just sleeping.


  Having lived all their lives in the midst of mind-silence, in the midst of stolid and infinitely detailed reality. Never knowing anything of their distant past except perhaps through vague racial memories, bubbling up as fantasy or delusion.

  Hoping for magic and change; hoping desperately for escape; or simply clinging, unable to imagine something beyond. Once in, never out, except through the black hole of death.

  "Jesus," he whispered on the deck above the city and the hills. His mind was racing toward a precipice.

  Every little fractured emotion, every grand exaltation, all bred of Earth and nurtured by Earth and all without the compensation of what Michael had experienced, the true and undeniable awareness of another reality, another history and truth to match the grandest fantasies…

  His neck-hair rose again. Some of the music he had felt through his skin one floor below had insinuated itself through the building and found him again. A high, piercing chord of horns and strings blowing and bowing without relenting, a note of intermingled doom and hope (how was that possible?) conveying an

  emotion unfelt for ages

  Michael began to shake

  the emotion that was the grandfather of all emotions, from which all human feelings had been struck off like shards from a flint core.

  Michael heard a voice in his mind, neither Death's Radio nor Arno Waltiri, a voice he did not recognize, very old, conveying the word Preeda

  that was its name, the emotion that burned inside of him, threatened to burn him hollow; the only true emotion, foreign to the Sidhefor sixty million years and almost lost to humans.

  Michael reveled in the sudden breaking of the mind-silence, and simultaneously a muscle-twitching terror infused him through the burning Preeda.

  Soon we will meet, the ancient voice conveyed.

  Earth's silence had been broken.

  Michael saw mapped across the back of his brain an infinity of shining scales and dark, murky water.

  "Enough!" he screamed out across the city. "Please! Enough!"

  The building became as dead and silent as the rest of the Earth.

  Michael gulped back saliva to soothe his raw throat and wiped the flood of wetness from his cheeks and eyes. He might be hoarse for a week. Certainly he would be hoarse when he met Kristine Pendeers to show her the manuscript…

  Everyday was back. Thoughts, concerns, schedules, plans.

  Preeda was gone, but where it had been, its track was clear. And he had brought it on himself, by concentrating on the city and the people - the humans - living in it, by concentrating on their situation and breaking through to some sort of understanding.

  The dissonant chord of homs and strings had also pushed.

  Hopkins was waiting for him in the lobby, sitting on the top of the counter, heels kicking at the torn upholstery. "See any spooks?' he asked.

  Michael shook his head.

  "Find any more bodies?"


  "Now do you see why no one would live here?"

  He slipped one hand in his coat pocket, then nodded. "Yes."

  "Thought you might. You look the type that might understand." Hopkins's Adam's apple convulsed in his long neck. "Thank you for that, and amen," he said, and led Michael down the stairs to the maintenance door.

  They separated in the dawn with nothing more said.

  Chapter Six

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  He did not sleep. By the time he returned to the house, there was less than an hour before Kristine would arrive. He showered and changed his clothes, then decided now was as good a time as any to do a load of laundry. He did not feel sleepy; the old patterns could be retrieved without effort, apparently.

  He hauled his clothes in a wicker basket to the service porch, across from the closed basement door, and stuffed them into the washer, then poured in soap from a half-empty box of detergent. He hefted the box thoughtfully. Golda had used the first half.

  Michael suddenly felt like an invader. Whether or not he had been invited, this was not his home; he did not have any real place on Earth now, and he had never found a place in the Realm. He had neither the achieved position of an adult nor the allotted circumstances of a child; what he had was a kind of mid-range sinecure.

  But he was hardly so naive as to believe that Waltiri had arranged for the sinecure out of the goodness of his heart. "You'll earn your place," he told himself, dipping his hand into the spray of warm water in the washing machine.

  He entered the library and looked around for things to straighten or put back in place, more out of nerves than necessity. The room was neat and quiet. Opening the safe, he removed the manuscript of Opus 45 and carefully slipped it into a manila envelope. The smell had dissipated, for which he was grateful. He carried the package into the living room and placed it on the polished black lacquer surface of the closed piano lid.

  Letting everything take its course.

  And when would he begin to guide the process?

  At seven-fifteen, the door chimes rang. Michael answered expectantly and found himself face-to-face with a man in a brown suit, arms folded, carrying a zippered black folder tucked beneath one. The surprise on Michael's face must have been evident.

  "Excuse me," the man said. "I'm Lieutenant Brian Harvey, LAPD homicide." He held the case under his elbow and produced a badge in a leather holder, which he suspended before Michael for several seconds, letting him examine it carefully. "This house belongs to - belonged to - Mr. Arno Waltiri?"

  "Yes," Michael said. He suddenly felt guilty. The man's clear, steady blue eyes regarded him without accusation or any sign of emotion, but Michael's thoughts were already racing to find some explanation for the presence of a police detective.

  "I'm sorry to be here so early, but I need to ask you some questions," Harvey continued. "Your name is Michael Perkins?"

  "Perrin," Michael corrected.

  "And you're in charge of Mr. Waltiri's estate."


  "May I come in?"

  Michael stood aside and motioned for the detective to enter. Harvey surveyed the hall and living room with eyebrows lifted. His receding fair hair had been cut to a close bristle on his scalp. His skin was pink and slightly puffy, but he appeared slender and in good shape. Michael did not even think of probing his aura of memory; it did not seem appropriate under the circumstances, and he was wary of what might happen if the lieutenant suspected he was doing something unusual.

  Why so anxious? he asked himself.

  He thought of Alyons, and of the Sidhe who had taken him into the Irall - his last brushes with appointed authority.

  "We've encountered Mr. Waltiri's name under some unusual circumstances," Harvey said, standing before an easy chair. "May I sit?"

  Michael nodded.

  "Are you expecting somebody?" The lieutenant sat with the black folder resting on his crossed knees.

  Yes, actually," Michael said. "But if I can help you…"

  "Maybe you can. I don't know. You made some visits to the Tippett Residential Hotel up on Sunset. Why?"

  Michael's nerves suddenly calmed. Now he knew the direction the conversation was going to take. He immediately probed the lieutenant: a quiet, orderly room with stacks of paper awaiting methodic and concentrated attention. Michael liked the man almost immediately; he was no Alyons. Harvey was smart and cautious and thoroughly professional. Michael had no reason to hide anything from him but no immediate reason to divulge anything, either.

  "I heard about the bodies found there," Michael said. "Maybe it was gh
oulish, but I decided to go have a look."

  "And Mr. Ronald Hopkins gave you access to the building just this morning. About four hours ago."

  "Yes. He said he was the former owner."

  "Did he tell you the place was haunted?"

  Michael nodded. "Something to that effect."

  Harvey smiled pleasantly "Just happenstance, whim, that you went there, then"

  Michael returned the smile.

  "Do you know anything about the bodies found in the Tippett building?"

  "Yes," Michael said. Harvey's eyes widened with interest, and he nodded encouragement to continue. "One was a very large woman, about eight hundred pounds, and the other was a mummy"

  "That's all?"

  "Hopkins said they were named Lamia and Tristesse. Sadness."

  "You found that intriguing?"


  "Did he tell you about the note found with them?"

  "He said there was a carved stone tablet with their names on it."

  "But he didn't see the tablet himself?"

  "I don't think so. I don't know."

  "Did you see the tablet?"

  Michael shook his head.

  "No, and neither did photographers from the papers, or anybody outside my department. I have photographs of the bodies. Could you identify them?"

  Michael shrugged. "It should be easy to tell-"

  "What I'm asking, Mr. Perrin, is whether you know of any connection between Mr. Waltiri and these women?"


  "It's just coincidence that you're interested in the building at this particular time."

  Michael said nothing. Harvey opened the folder. "You were missing for five years, right? Your parents notified the police five-and-a-half years ago, and when you returned, you didn't offer any explanations. Was this in connection with Arno Waltiri?"

  "Yes," Michael said,

  "But he was dead before you… left the scene. Did he give you any instructions, any last-will-and-testament-type requests?"


  "What were they?"

  "I am to care for his estate and prepare his papers for donation to an institution."