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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 52

Greg Bear

  "Something wrong?" he asked.

  She laughed and shook her head. "My whole world has changed since I met you, and you ask if something's wrong. 1 don't know how I've managed to lead a normal life after… Your friend disappeared. What happened to Tommy. I should be terrified. I really should."

  "Why aren't you?"

  "Because you're with me."

  "Not much assurance there," Michael said softly, turning away.

  "Clarkham called again this evening," she said, "just after I got off the phone with Berthold."

  Michael felt a deep barb of anger and quickly buried it under the rising inner warmth of hyloka. "What did our ghost have to say?"

  "He says if the performance takes place tonight, he'll be seeing you."

  "That's all?"

  "Yes. I'm not afraid of him now, Michael."

  "You should be. We should be."

  "Don't you feel it, though? Tonight is going to be a fine night. Because of us."

  He shook his head. "I just feel nervous."

  "I'm the one who should feel nervous, but I don't. I don't even believe I'm awake now. I think I've been dreaming since I met you." She swung the car into a reserved space, pointing out Moffat's BMW and Crooke's ancient, battered Chevy Nova on either side. "Everybody's here. The cast is assembled. Let the dream reach its climax." She shut off the car motor and twisted in her seat to face him. "This has been difficult for us, especially difficult for you, I think," Kristine said. "You've been .. not 'patient'. That sounds so prosaic. You've been…" She shook her head vigorously. "Tonight, after the performance, we have to go out with everybody to Macho's and celebrate."

  "'Macho's?'" Michael asked, incredulous.

  "It's a Mexican restaurant in Westwood. We have reservations. And afterward - listen carefully, because this is important - we are going to go back to the Waltiri house, together, and make love." She stared at him intently, biting her lower lip. "If you want to."

  "I want to." His need mixed with the warmth of hyloka and made an indescribable echo through his abdomen.

  "That is as important as anything else that happens tonight," Kristine said. "To me, it is. Being involved doesn't come easily for me. I'm cautious, too cautious. You've noticed."

  He didn't answer, simply returned her stare.

  "You are so unreadable," she said, smiling faintly. "Let's break through it all tonight - the music, this world, all the walls and the shams." She opened her door and got out, and they walked side by side across the grass, heading toward Royce Hall.

  UCLA at night was more attractive than by daylight. Floodlights and the lighted windows of buildings produced magical areas of brightness and pitch-dark. A few students were walking quickly between buildings, on breaks from their night classes or hurrying to the library.

  In front of Royce Hall, the crowd standing in line before venerable pillars and brick Romanesque arches was encouragingly large. Michael spotted his parents in the line and introduced them to Kristine. Ruth was very pleased with her but kept glancing at Michael with raised eyebrows. John became debonaire and witty and inquired whether they would all be able to get together after for a celebration. "If we're still here," he added ominously.

  "We have an appointment for a kind of orchestra party," Michael explained. "But maybe tomorrow…"

  Ruth held John's elbow and said that would be fine. "Go on now. This is your night." John raised his eyebrows. "Don't mind him." Michael smiled and hugged them both.

  Kristine then led him around the side of the building and up a flight of concrete steps to a double door, where a male usher in a crewneck sweater and white pants examined her pass, gave them programs and let them in. They took seats in the center, fifth row back.

  Michael cleared his throat and opened the pamphlet. "Do you think we should be sitting this close?" he asked, only half joking.

  "AH the better," Kristine said, "that the perpetrators should face the brunt, don't you think?" She patted his arm and opened her own program.

  "They've got this wrong," Michael said, pointing out a passage on the second page. "Clarkham didn't get sued - he left before the lawsuits began. Arno faced the reaction alone."

  "Hm. Let's hope our audience isn't litigious."

  The curtain rose, and the players whose instruments were not already on the stage carried them to their seats. In Clark-ham's instructions, the orchestra was enjoined to make itself conspicuous and to exhibit the process of the performance as openly as possible. That instruction was reproduced in the program booklet, in Clarkham's original handwriting.

  The crowd grew quiet as the lights dimmed. Mahler's Tenth, the giant of the evening, was to be performed first, followed by an intermission of only five minutes and finally the concerto.

  Berthold Crooke came to the podium, with the orchestra already assembled and waiting. Crooke tapped lightly on the podium and motioned for an oboist to play an A sharp. The orchestra tuned to that note and then went off on its own, instrument by instrument. Again the oboist played an A sharp, and again the orchestra tuned. Finally - on the verge of overkill - the Synclavier keyboard performer produced a perfect A natural, and the orchestra tuned to that. All of this had been ordained by Clarkham's instructions, not Mahler's or Crooke's. When the pleasant cacophony was over, Crooke tapped again, and there was silence.

  He raised his baton.

  The first movement of the Tenth was an elegiac adagio in F sharp major-minor. Michael fell into the music despite its intense anxiety and sadness. The weave of the music was hypnotic, swinging from domestic tranquility to ominous warning. What ensued was almost painful in its intensity - a dissonant clash of the orchestra, topped by a solo trumpet blaring a high A note - death and destruction, shock and dismay. The adagio, now concluded, seemed complete in itself, and it left Michael almost empty of feeling, drained.

  The second movement, a scherzo - the first of two - was a complete contrast, beginning with a heavily satiric taunt in changing rhythms and tempos and then transforming the theme of the first movement into a happy country dance. It concluded joyously in the major key, leaving Michael with an overwhelming sensation of hope.

  That sensation was tempered by the third movement, titled Purgatorio. In B flat minor and 2/4 time, it drew its own conclusions after seesawing between anxiety and hope, sun and cold shadow… and those conclusions were dark, declining.

  '"Oh God, why hast thou forsaken me?'" Kristine whispered.

  "What?" Michael asked.

  "That's what Mahler wrote on the original score."

  The beginning of the second scherzo nearly lifted him from his seat - a shrill blast from horns and strings and then back to the dance with life and hope, decline and death.

  "The poor, sad German."

  "I was not responsible for Mahler. Or for his child. That was not my work at all."

  The scherzo brought to mind that long-past snippet of conversation between Mora and Clarkham under the Pleasure Dome.

  "Did Mahler lose one of his children?" Michael asked Kristine.

  "A daughter," she said. "His other daughter was incarcerated in a concentration camp during World War II," Kristine added softly, leaning to speak into his ear.

  "He was dead then," Michael said.

  "Maybe he could tell what was coming. Seeing what the old world would bring."

  Michael felt a thrill run up his spine. Yes… Old world passing into new.

  More anxiety after a rich, romantic interlude. Horns, xylophone accents, clarinets and French horns - that hideous solo trumpet again, intruding into the anxiety, presaging a delicious, horrible revelation.

  Michael was frozen in his seat. He could hardly think about what was occurring within him. Old world into new.

  Yet all this was accidental - the matching of the Tenth -

  Unfinished. Interrupted by death.

  - with The Infinity Concerto.

  Uplift, again the anxious strains, and back to domestic normality, the world and social life and childre
n -

  Mixed with a foreboding of disaster to come -

  Of change and trauma and anticipation, foresight -

  Harbinger of a new age, of fear and even disaster -

  Then quiet, skeletal strings, thinning out the fabric of reality, extending the cold from his stomach to his head. Drums pounded unobtrusively, ominously.

  On the stage, the largest drum - an eight-foot-wide monster - was assaulted by the drummer with one shattering beat.

  The coldness vanished, leaving him suspended in the auditorium, hardly aware of seats, orchestra, walls, ceiling. He could feel the sky beyond. In his left palm lay a pearly sphere. He closed his hand to conceal it.

  Camouflage. Everything had been camouflaged to mislead, misdirect. The Infinity Concerto was not by itself a Song of Power. The similarities had seemed merely coincidental.

  Mahler's Tenth was leading the way, closing out the old world, describing the end of a long age (sixty million years! or just the end of European peace - or merely the tranquility of one man's life, blighted by the death pf a daughter… perhaps feeling what the second daughter would have to suffer in a new world gone twice mad) and expressing hope for a time beyond. Rich, anxious, neurotic, jumping with each tic and twitch of things going awry, trying to maintain decorum and probity in the midst of coming chaos.

  The beats of the huge drum accented a funeral dirge. Again the skeletal tones, this time from muted trumpets . . and then heralding horns, a light and lovely flute song of hope developed by the strings… becoming strained again, overblown, life lived too hard, tics and twitches -

  Drum beat. A tragic triad of notes on the trumpet.

  Drum beat. Low bassoons vibrating apart the seconds of his life. Michael still could not move.

  (Deception. Camouflage. Misdirection.)

  The tempo increasing into a new dance, new hope - recovery and healing - and yet another decline. Michael was growing weary of the seesaw, but only because it was too close to the everyday pace of his life. Life in this world, world passing.

  Rise to triad and…

  A disaster. The entire orchestra seemed to join in a dissonant clash, trumpet holding on the high A again, matched by more horns, another clash that made his head ache, reprise of the theme of everyday life… And then the trumpet, released somewhat from its harsh warning role, was allowed a small solo. The triad reoccurred on other instruments, in a major key and hopeful, not shattering, and then domesticity.

  a segue, connective tissue old to new

  How much like what had happened recently, the weirdness mixed unpredictably with Earth's solid reality and inner silence of mind. There seemed to be a rise in intensity to some anticipated triumph, thoughtful, loving and accepting… but not acceding. Quiet contemplation.

  Michael could move again. He glanced nervously at Kris-tine to see if she had noticed. The symphony was coming to a conclusion, and he felt his inner strength surge.

  Triumph. Quiet, strong and sure - overcoming all tragedy.


  The last notes of the Tenth faded, and Crooke seemed to reappear on the podium, and the orchestra seemed to become real again.

  The audience was silent for an uncomfortably long time.

  "You're sweating," Kristine said, handing him a handkerchief from her purse.

  "Thanks." Michael wiped his forehead. Sweat had dripped into his eyes, stinging. The hall seemed very warm, even stifling. He glanced at his hand. The pearl was gone.

  Finally the audience reacted with strong but not overwhelming applause. They had heard, appreciated, but they had not felt, or if they had, they had ignored what they felt. A few stood and applauded vigorously, as if to make up for the rest. Michael glanced back but could not see his parents.

  Crooke appeared exhausted but happy. He bowed and then continued with the structure of the program by taking a microphone handed to him and announcing that the interval between pieces would be very short. Some in the audience grumbled.

  "Stand, stretch our legs?" Kristine suggested.

  Michael stood beside her and discreetly windmilled his arms, tensing and untensing his legs. His lungs felt as they once had when he had accidentally breathed dilute fumes from a spill of nitric acid in a chemistry class - tight, but not constricted.

  "That was wonderful," he said, sounding doubtful even to himself.

  "I'm very proud," Kristine said softly. "Everything's turning out fine. Even the audience."

  The air suddenly seemed much improved. He was calm again, prepared.

  Mahler's Tenth, properly orchestrated, was itself a Song of Power. It codified the old world, harsh and demanding, lovely and lyrical, unyielding and fickle.

  An old rose, fading and growing thorny. How had it avoided being pruned by the Sidhe? Then again, it had not - Mahler had died before finishing it. Other attempts to fulfill the promise had not succeeded…

  Edgar Moffat came to the podium. Michael, on impulse, kissed Kristine lightly on the cheek, then caressed her bare shoulder with one hand. She smiled uncertainly at him, then sat and focused her attention on the podium.

  The baton went up and lowered slowly…

  The first movement began rapidly, the unmutilated piano jumping in almost immediately. As it played, a deep, resounding tone came from the double basses, ascending in pitch through the strings, almost harsh, moving from cello to viola to violin to be drowned by drums, low and rumbling. A sharp rise of French horns glared and did battle, fast, fast, dancing, dissonant and yet perfect, a rousing gallop of ghost horses that faded into whispering strings.

  Sea-grass propelled by moonlight.

  Horns sketched out a vast unease, brooding. They lost all musical tone and whooshed like the wind, a soft winter storm coming.

  A passage of unfilled graves, herald of change and nightmares from unlived childhoods, from an infinity of lives never occupied by the moving strands of an infinity of souls.

  Michael blinked back tears and held Kristine's hand. She, too, was responding, and her cheeks were wet.

  Lives lived and lost. Tommy. The others.


  If they let go, he seemed to understand, they would lose each other. She moved against his shoulder and shivered.

  "Is this what they heard?" she asked.

  Michael swallowed. "No. Everything was different then. It's the same music, but it's in its proper time now."

  "How do you know that?" she asked.

  He shook his head. "It resonates."

  "Will people vanish tonight, or later?"

  "Not from hearing this," he said.

  The music increased tempo and surged forward on horns, harp and strings, the second rank of violins plucking furiously. The musicians seemed obsessed, and Moffat directed them with a minimum of motion, baton describing the beat and left hand barely indicating emphasis; he was giving them their lead and letting their concentration carry them through.

  At no point did the music let up. When the piano rejoined the flow, the beat, the pulse, was in a fractured and disjointed waltz time. The pulse became even more ragged, jazzed, with unpredictable and violent bursts from the drums and horns. Then it smoothed and mellowed.

  Gentle, heart-beat sounds, lulling, pierces of ragged dance fading, recurring but polished, and then slowing.

  As gently as could be imagined, the prelude ended. Without a moment's pause, the second, mutilated piano began a quiet and persistent solo, staying in the middle register, its tone odd and almost harsh, not disturbing, simply biding its time. And the music did something Michael had never heard before.

  It described waiting. While not long in itself, the piano solo was covering thousands, perhaps millions of years.

  He glanced at Kristine. Her eyes were wide. She was enchanted, uncritical, absorbing all. Waltiri's magic - evident in his movie scores - was here unbridled.

  The orchestra leaped in behind the piano. Time was still at issue - and growth. Michael no longer paid attention to the mechanics, the key or the st
ructure or the way the sounds were created.

  He had caught on to the underlying beauty of the piece. He saw it in relation to Kubla Khan, to the pleasure dome even in its incomplete, unsuccessful form; he saw it in relation to the symphony just played. They were all similar songs played in different worlds, to accomplish similar purposes. Subtle variations in the underlying patterns could lead to widely disparate results.

  Mahler had once written a song-cycle/symphony called - the Song of the Earth. The name had been applied, perhaps, to the wrong piece. His Tenth was a Song of the Earth, of Earth as it had been.

  The Infinity Concerto was heralding the Earth to come.

  And Michael felt himself in it. He was described there - not personally, but in his role. Growing, mutating, uncontrolled, all potential and little achievement. It frightened him. The music was not gentle now. It was complex, demanding, full of discord.



  Start again.


  Unite. (How?)

  Create. Create what?

  The audience was becoming noisy, even above the now-loud music. There was something unresolved, and they sensed it almost in mass.

  Decline to quiet, persistent but soft, demanding but muted…

  Strings played on their bridges - skeletal - horns muted - breaking time down. The celeste tinkling behind all. Apprehension…

  What happened next, Michael could not describe, nor could members of the orchestra. The'music suddenly den-pended on the fourth movement, adagio, which had not yet been played, and that fore-reference worked because he - they - understood what would happen in the fourth movement.

  Kristine was smiling ecstatically. The audience fell silent. The tension had been impossibly resolved.

  The second movement ended. The third began without more than a few seconds' pause. The Synclavier and the mutilated piano involved each other in a philosophical discussion. The third movement passed, and Michael did not remember its passing, or even what it was. It was played, but it added a nonmemorable subtext to everything around it. It was a movement and a bridge in itself, effective only as a commentary.