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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 63

Greg Bear

  Michael hardly knew what to say. Mahler had supposedly been dead for eighty years, yet this man matched the pictures Kris tine had shown him, though he appeared some years older. Remembering the extraordinary music in Royce Hall increased Michael's awe.

  With the Ban of Hours, he had stood before a magical presence, an age-old personality enhanced by inhuman power and the mystique of the Sidhe. Mahler was human - not even measurably a Breed, as Michael was - and his accomplishments had been purely human, and mortal.

  "Did it go well? Were you there?" Mahler asked.

  "I'm sorry?"

  "The performance. The new orchestration of my symphony, my Tenth."

  "Yes. It went very well," Michael said.

  Mahler rubbed his bony hands together. "Ah! Good," he said almost as one word. "Ah yes good. The Jungling Berth-old Crooke was skillful. I came to his dreams. I hinted, pushed, and he was kind enough to listen. It was frustrating not to be there incarnatus, but then, I am a ghost, no? A muse.

  "I don't know much about the Earth now. What I was shown in the past… discouraged me. But it still has music. My music is still listened to. More…" He took a deep breath. "More popular than when I was alive, I understand. And all the ways you have to listen to it…!" Abruptly his face, which had assumed a mask of angelic enthusiasm, paled and stiffened. He glared at Michael and gestured for him to sit on a second wicker chair. He then pulled out the desk chair and sat on it, hunched forward with elbows resting on his knees, hands clasping each other. "Can you return us to Earth? Bring us all to life again?"

  "I came here to try," Michael said.

  "Is my… is my daughter still alive? Is Anna still alive?"

  Michael glanced at Ulath. "I don't know."

  "After I was taken, after I died, your… they put her through such hell." Mahler shook his head furiously, face flushing. "I vowed I would never have anything to do with Earth after I was shown, after the Maln… Tarax, the damned son of a whore, after he showed me."

  "I don't understand," Michael said.

  "They convinced me to work for them," Mahler said. "The Maln let me see what was happening on Earth. Alma! She I could understand and forgive, though that Werfel fellow…" He shook his head sadly. His emotions flashed like shadows of clouds passing over a landscape. "But my last daughter! My only daughter!"

  Michael was still puzzled.

  "You do not know about them, the camps, the guards, the ovens? They made my daughter conduct music for human monstrosities. They made her play music to entertain the ones who could have killed her, who were killing all those around her. I saw this, and I hated. I hated my own countrymen. I swore I would never…"He stood up and leaned on the desk, facing away from Michael. His gestures were stage-dramatic, but his strength of feeling was beyond question.

  Michael gently probed the man and emerged with a confusion of horrifying images: the concentration camps constructed by Germans in Europe before and during the Second World War. "The Maln showed you these things?" Michael asked, incredulous.

  "Yes. Jews. Gypsies. Catholics. Children. Old men and women. My entire world, consumed by wars! I blessed the day I was taken away from the foulness of the Earth."

  Mahler's cheeks were wet with tears. He suddenly straightened, pressing his hands into the small of his back, and stared at Michael with a sad, dreamy expression. "They wanted songs from me. Songs I wrote for them. But nothing like the symphony, my Tenth. I am not of Earth now, and my strength has always been in the Earth. Erde. My mother, mother of skies and fields and woods." He held up his hands and nodded forcefully, thrusting his long chin forward.

  "All right. Here is what they told me. They said my music, my Tenth, was a Song of Power. They said if performed properly, it could let this Realm die gently and pass into the Earth without destroying it. It could harmonize the two worlds. So I worked in the dreams of this young man, this finisher of a symphony I was not allowed to complete because of the Sidhe in the first place!" He smiled ironically, and despite himself, Michael smiled along with him. "They will all tell you. I am a bastard to work with. A perfectionist. Not unreasonable, but demanding of perfection. I could not expect perfection, directing the young man like a puppet master with half the strings cut. But I could expect power, and apparently… that is what

  I have gotten. Without my music…" He threw his hands out, fingers spread. "Without that, the Sidhe would return to our world and find themselves crushed not long after by the death of the Realm."

  "The Maln explained all this to you?" Michael asked. He was piecing together an impression of the Maln very different from the one he had picked up on his first visit.

  "They never lied to me," Mahler said solemnly. "They have treated all of us well… Once we were brought here. Their only torture was to show us what was happening on Earth. Our children and grandchildren killed, cities burned, madness and madmen. 'This is your humanity,' they said."

  Michael felt a sharp tickle of anger. "Did they show you other things? Humans conquering disease, trying to work against plagues and famine? Going to the Moon?"

  Mahler shook his head as if that did not matter. "What they showed was the truth." He gave Michael a hard look. "Going to the Moon?"

  Michael nodded. "Landing on the Moon."

  Ulath spoke. "Your people were shown only what the Maln considered appropriate, and only in special cases."

  Softly, dreamily, Mahler said, "They claimed Sidhe had been to the Moon, and beyond, by magic…" He sat again. "I was shown machines that play music, writing it down - recording it. The Sidhe can do that too. They can conjure an entire orchestra out of thin air…" He snapped his fingers. "They wanted me to understand that everything on Earth, everything done by humans, they could do as well. So confusing."

  Michael pushed back his anger and followed an inner thread of thought, unwinding so rapidly he could hardly keep up. He saw things rather than traced their progression: the Realm's edges meeting the boundaries of the Earth and smoothing out across the landscape - the mental landscape, the physical landscape.

  Even with Mahler's Song of Power in effect, the Realm's death would change the Earth's reality. Everything remaining in the Realm would be destroyed. But there was no way he could open a gate for five thousand people. That might not be the best method, anyway.

  Again Michael felt the cold dagger-twist of uncertainty. He closed his eyes for several seconds and fought back his fear.

  What I am thinking of doing… not thinking, seeing myself do… You are what you dare. Succeed or fail.

  He stood and gripped Mahler's extended hands. "Can you improvise a composition?"

  A large black man entered the cabin, saw Ulath and Michael and deeply bowed toward the Ban's attendant with hands folded before him. "Excuse me," he said, his voice deep as a drum. "Gustav, the committee is meeting in the tower. Bes Amato and Hillel ask that you be there. Again they want to move 'Die Zauberflote.'"

  Michael easily read the man's aura. He was - or had been more than two thousand years ago - a soldier in the army of the Mauretanian king Bocchus. Michael did not know enough about this period to make much sense of the man's memories. He seemed to have been a storyteller, a singer and an archer.

  "This is Uffas," Mahler explained. "He is superintendent of our pageant."

  "What pageant?" Michael said.

  "Music, drama, dancing," Mahler said. "To celebrate our release by death from captivity. Uffas, the committee should know we may not have time to put on the pageant. This man is here to save us."

  Uffas regarded Michael with a mild, almost placid suspicion. "We've planned for many months," he said.

  Mahler placed his arm on the huge black's lower shoulder. "Uffas, how long have you been here?"

  "Centuries. I do not know."

  "And what did you do?"

  "I sang and told stories for the Sidhe."

  "Like my daughter," Mahler said quietly, eyes on Michael. He looked at Ulath, tall and still. "Like Anna, playing for the monsters.
Tell the committee nothing. Let them plan. Perhaps there will be time, and we will celebrate something else. Living."

  Uffas left, and Mahler closed the door behind him. "I am sorry. What were you asking me before Uffas came?"

  "Can you play music on a piano, new music, without a score, without composing ahead of time?"

  Mahler's eyes became languid. "Not well," he said. "But I know one who can."


  "Wolferl," Mahler said. "Mozart. He excels at that sort of display. Why is this talent necessary?"

  "I'll need music to save us," Michael said. "An extemporaneous Song of Power."

  Mahler smiled broadly. "Mozart has been bored, you know. Like me, like most of us, he prefers the drama and pain of Earth to this limbo. I hope the Ban does not think us ungrateful… But that is the way it is. Mozart and I have argued much in the past. But I think he will agree to try."

  Michael told Ulath what would be necessary. "And bring Shiafa here," he added.

  "The Ban does not want her in the Sklassa," Ulath said.

  "Tell the Ban I will need her," Michael said firmly. His hubris led him to defy even the Ban of Hours! He turned again to Mahler. "Where is Mozart now?" he asked, the back of his eyes again warming with an inexpressible wonder. Mozart!

  "Follow me," Mahler said. "If he is not talking or playing music, he will be in his room in the tower."

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

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  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who had allegedly died on Earth at the age of thirty-five of typhus, had left the wooden door and curtain of his chamber open. Mahler knocked lightly on the coral wall and then held his hand to his lips and turned to Michael. "He is napping," he said, almost reverently. "We will not-"

  "We don't have a choice," Michael said. The three of them entered the room. Mozart lay on a wicker couch covered with a single brown blanket. He wore a gray robe embroidered with black leaves. The robe was obviously meant for a Sidhe and fell below his feet. His paunch was clearly outlined by the finely woven cloth. Michael stood over him and bent down to touch his shoulder.

  Mozart opened his eyes and glanced up at Michael, then turned his head to see Mahler standing in the door. "Ah, God, Gustav, not now," he said in German. "I'm sleeping. We'll talk about the pageant later." He returned his gaze to Michael and half-sat in the bed. "You're in my room," he said shortly. "Don't gawk."

  Mozart resembled a very wise, sad child. He might have been thirty, or he might have been forty - his apparent age had settled at some indefinite point, leaving him suspended between middle age and late adulthood. His large eyes protruded slightly but seemed sympathetic even when he was irritated. His thinning brown hair was cut short and carefully combed back.

  No wig, Michael thought. "We need you," he said. "We're going back to Earth."

  Mozart blinked and then smiled. "Mahler, too?" he asked.

  "All of us."

  "If Mahler's going back, 1 don't want anything to do with it."

  "Wolferl, don't be churlish" Mahler chided. "We argue," he said to Michael, "but we are friends."

  "The hell you say." Mozart kept his gaze on Michael, exploring his face like a landscape. "Who are you?"

  "I'm from Earth," Michael said. "Recently."

  "Yes, but who are you?"

  "My name is Michael Perrin," he replied. "If that's any answer."

  "It isn't," Mozart murmured.

  "We must hurry."

  "Is this correct?" Mozart asked Ulath, who nodded once. "All right," he said grudgingly, sitting on the edge of the couch. "Good riddance to this On. Any way out. It's all been a mighty pain in the arse."

  Michael turned to Ulath. "Is there a large hall here, where everyone can be assembled?"

  "Yes. At the top of the tower. The arena of the skies."

  "It's reserved for the pageant," Mozart said. "Is the pageant canceled?"

  "Please tell the Ban that everybody in the Sklassa who wishes to return to Earth - who wishes to live - must be assembled in the arena soon. You have a piano here, don't you?"

  "Yes," Ulath said. "And other human instruments - we brought them with us, with the Maln's permission-"

  "For the pageant. Such singers assembled for my opera! The Ban herself to play the Queen of the Night, and Uffas - did you meet Uffas? To be Monostatos-"

  "Just a piano. Please have it placed in the arena."

  "What is all this?" Mozart asked indignantly.

  "You know that music can send humans to the Realm?" Michael asked.

  "Yes." Mozart smiled, baring uneven teeth. "I wrote quite a bit of that sort of music. So I'm told." He favored Ulath with a wink.

  "We're going to try the reverse. You must play music that will transport us to Earth. You must play the finest and the most enchanting music you've ever played."

  Mozart gaped at Michael. "You put him up to this," he accused Mahler.

  "Can you do it?" Mahler challenged.

  Mozart shrugged. "Let me get dressed. No rehearsals?"

  "There isn't time," Michael said.

  "Of course I can do it," Mozart grumbled. "I'm surprised nobody asked me earlier. 'Wir wandeln durch die Tones Macht, /Froh durch des Todes düstre Nacht.' Do you know that?"

  Michael said he did not,

  '"We walk with music as our might /In cheer through Death's own darkest night!' Pity, if the pageant is canceled, you won't hear that sung. We have the most engelgleich voices here. But despite that, I've spent some very dull decades in the company of nothing but Faeries and arse-head geniuses. Very trying." He swung his legs off the cot, stood, stretched his arms out and spun around. "What shall I wear?"

  "Formal attire, I suggest," Mahler said.

  "Yes. My best. Now please leave, all of you."

  Michael returned to the outer courtyard to check on Bin's condition. He found him as he had left him, still helplessly bound by the shadow. Biri regarded him through the shadow's dark strands with the calmness of a trussed pig, resigned to slaughter.

  "What are we going to do?" Michael asked him. "Do you still oppose me?"

  Biri said nothing.

  "You told me never to trust a Sidhe. But I've been told by the people here that the Sidhe never lied to them. I think…" He knelt to bring his face closer to Biri's. "I think you've been used as much as I have by the Maln and all the others. Mora was used, too. You've been sacrificed. That much should be obvious to you by now. They left you here to die."

  Biri turned his face away and stared at the tiles.

  "Well, you've failed. But you shouldn't have to die. One way or another, if we succeed, you'll be coming back with us. I'll ask the Ban to watch over you. I may keep you wrapped in this shadow. But you're going to Earth."

  "I am disgraced," Biri said. "Better by far to kill me."

  "Nonsense," Michael said. "There's too much work to do. We have to help your people on Earth. I'll certainly need assistance. I think the time for lies is over. Will you help?"

  Biri's face had gone pearly-ashen in color. "You say we are all pawns."

  "And we're moving into the end-game. Most of the powerful pieces are gone. Pawns are very important. We're marching across the board. Do you play chess?"

  "The Sidhe do not play human games. I am aware of its rules."

  "Then you know that a pawn can become a very powerful piece if it crosses the board."

  "Yes, but it cannot become a king."

  Michael shrugged. "Rules change. Would I be stupid to trust you now?"

  Biri looked directly into Michael's eyes.

  The shadow dissipated at Michael's touch. "We're gathering in the arena," he said.

  At the top of the tower, they could see across all that was left of the Realm. Chasms had absorbed huge sections; the territories around the Chebal Malen had been pierced by upthrust needles of ice. All around, the land seemed in constant motion, heaving and quaking in a slow, spastic dance.

  Michael stood at the edge of the arena, beneath the gliste
ning black sky, watching the five thousand humans file through the central doors around the stage. The arena had been designed to hold perhaps four thousand; the performance would be crowded, but all would get to hear.

  Shiafa approached him along the walkway. Her hair had grown unkempt and stringy. Michael thought she had the aspect of an ill-treated human adolescent; he realized, with a pang, that she was as frightened and unhappy as any Sidhe he had ever met. She thought they were all going to die soon, and she no longer trusted her teacher. "Why do you need me here?" she asked. "I am not welcome. They think my father has tainted me."

  "Magic is passed through the female," Michael said. "I don't want your magic for myself, but to help us go to Earth. There's no time to do it subtly, so I'll have to…" He shook his head. "I can't even describe it. When we're done, you'll know your potential, and you'll need much less training."

  "Do you know what you're doing?" she asked.

  "No," Michael said. "Not exactly." It might kill us all.

  She looked out over the mountains. From where they stood, they could see the deserted Stone Field and the empty basin of Nebchat Len. "My father does not know you," she said. "You do not think like a Sidhe. Nor do you think like a human."

  Michael nodded, not really listening. He was absorbed in some inner dialogue which he could only follow in part; a dialogue between the various parts of himself, all his voices coming together. They could not stand apart within him now. When this was done, he would no longer be able to isolate a part of himself and sacrifice it as a shadow; the only shadow he would throw would be the one attendant upon his death. He would lose this neophyte ability. You've already lost Michael P err in. Where is he, among all these voices?