Tuesday, May 22, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 22
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, the Harmonian police arrive to investigate a report of a man who keeled over, dead, at Stravinsky's Tavern. But when Stravinsky, the tavern's proprietor, walks in and sees the problem, he helps his friend Sebastian escape with his largely unnoticed guests. Then, Klavdia Klangfarben has arrived at a strange field in the Poconos of Pennsylvania - and, after making a phone call, unexpectedly disappears.
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It had started getting dark rather suddenly, the brief time we were in the tavern. I guess Sebastian was right about it not being the same as a Parallel Earth. The problem, perceptually, was that everything looked so much like Earth and it had only taken us a very brief time to get here. I mean, let's face it – we walked through a ripple of air and fell downwards, so the assumption would be (right?) that we were somewhere underneath New Coalton, in a place that had been created from some of the old mineshafts (right?). But if we were underground, how could there be sunlight and sky? It wasn't so much science class I wish I'd paid attention to when I was in school, it was all those science-fiction movies and comic books from when I was a kid. This only opened up more questions. What else were we likely to run into?
As Sebastian led us down some alleyways and narrow side streets, Zoe, who was handling this much better than I would’ve thought, was concerned about leaving her father's body back at the tavern, but he explained, for the moment, we couldn't hang around there. We’d wait, then circle back to retrieve him, then make a dash for the Time-Gate.
Accepting the fact we'd be considered Trespassers, having shown up uninvited, I asked Sebastian if we were in danger of dying like Victor did, because something in our system would be at odds with the environment here.
He didn't seem to think so, unable to recall hearing about any other trespassers dying on them like that. He still had no idea what would've caused Victor to just keel over: weak heart, maybe? Too much excitement?
"Maybe too much to process – like sensory overload – and he just had a stroke?" Zoe was trying to be analytical. She couldn't recall his being on any specific medications he would have missed since he left home.
"It's pretty safe to say he didn't die because he's a Living Person in a land populated by Dead People."
Turning a corner, he motioned for us to stop: there was a crowd of about twenty people standing around in front of a building across the street. It occurred to me, I could see them, now!
"We don't get many visitors here, you know, and the Zipples tend to regard them with suspicion. They can be very xenophobic, really."
"Is that like 'Muggles,' but instead of magic," Xaq asked, "they don't understand music?"
Sebastian, patting him on the head, said "Not necessarily. You see, while many musicians choose to come here when they die, a lot of the others here never became professional musicians or famous composers.”
The term came from Bach: when he was just starting out, he got in a fight with an arrogant young man he called "ein zippel Faggotist" which is usually translated as "rascal of a bassoonist" but means something far more derogatory which Sebastian was reluctant to translate in front of the boy.
"I'm sure he's heard worse, Grandpa, but thanks. So it's a naughty word for 'amateur'?"
"Not necessarily: some amateurs are very fine musicians. No, these're usually people who either gave up on music..."
"...like Dad," Zoe interrupted.
"Yes, but it could also mean those who never had much talent in the first place."
Sebastian assured us if there were only composers here, Harmonia-IV would be a horrendous place to live. So, with reality in mind, much of the city’s day-to-day life – from police to the baristas in the restaurants – were taken care of by Zipples. Otherwise, nothing else would get done.
"Wow," Cameron said, "I wish I could have my own Zipple."
It must be a rude awakening to think you were an important person, an acclaimed composer, only to find after you die you're going to spend eternity as a trash collector for all the greats composers.
After skirting the main streets to avoid crowds already buzzing with the news about a mysterious trespasser who died at Stravinsky's Tavern, Sebastian led us by circuitous means to the back of a very large and quite grand-looking building.
This, he explained, was the Central Library, the place where, among other things, all those manuscripts were housed.
"It doesn't look like it's that big a building," I said. "What do they do when the collection expands beyond the available space?"
"Like Outer Space, the idea of 'space' here is a relative thing. Is your universe finite or infinite, always expanding, hmmm? While we don't like to build buildings too high, we can, however, go underground, so we can expand by building new vaults underneath the library. That's where we're headed now, to a very specific room deep in the bowels of the library. Maybe later, I can show you the rest of the building."
It wasn't difficult to get into the building. Sebastian pointed us toward a dock. After a lone policeman marched past, we scurried up onto the platform and found a side door by the garage bay that was unlocked. I remember looking around for any security cameras but didn't see anything – of course, here, they're probably so sophisticated, you wouldn't be able to see anything so obvious. Xaq was surprised there was no alarm once we'd opened the door – how loud would it be to us, he wondered, if it was loud enough to wake the dead?
Sebastian didn't know how this Klangfarben was going to do it, whatever all it entailed, since she was obviously being secretive about it, but what they gathered from the chatter their Intelligence guys had been monitoring the past week, she's on an assignment from some music corporation to "kill off" the Great Composers of the Past, which of course, everyone agreed, was just stupid because everyone knows they're already dead. So there must be something more to it than murder.
We listened attentively since, after our recent experiences here, nothing was that far-fetched any more.
One of their top reconnaissance agents had just returned from his latest mission to the Other Side, having discovered that tonight she was on her way and would arrive very soon.
But there was something they knew she would probably use in carrying out her plan. The question was, could they stop her in time before she stole it?
I expected the building to be pitch black, assuming we’d end up alerting security simply by turning on a light. But the hallways were well lit with a warm, soothing bluish glow emanating from the baseboard and the ceiling, like a series of night-lights built right into the walls.
Sebastian explained this was a type of limestone embedded with quartz and an element called photonmium. By itself, the rock wouldn't give off any light but when mixed with photonmium-enhanced quartz crystals, there was a chemical reaction similar to what made a light bulb work, something else I never thought about beyond flipping a switch. The great thing about photonmium was, it never burned out.
Another odd thing was, rather than descending by a series of floors and staircases, we were on a gentle incline leading us down, spiraling deeper into the ground so it was impossible to tell how many floors we had passed.
"What are we looking for, Sebastian? What is it this Klangfarben person is trying to steal?"
"And for that matter," asked Cameron, "what do we do if we meet her?" There were five of us but was she alone? Did she have any superpowers we should know about?
"Near the bottom of this shaft is the 'Device Room.' In it is a device that allows you to travel through time."
"Whoa!" Cameron and Xaq had difficulty containing their excitement.
Just one mind-boggling thing after another, enough to make your comfortable old perceptions explode in your brain.
"You mean you have the technology to travel through time but yet you can't come up with a simple security system to protect the library's manuscript collection?"
"We have technology for those things we thought were important. Until now, we really haven't felt the need for security. You remember," Sebastian explained, "how we never used to lock our doors at night because no one would think of breaking into other peoples’ homes because they were our homes and people respected that? Well, that's the way it's always been, here. There was no need for security."
It wasn't the manuscripts this Klangfarben person was after, he continued. Beside, speaking of technology, they would be invisible to anyone on the Other Side and therefore useless. No, if she can go back in time and somehow alter a composer's life so their music never existed, it would have grave – pardon the pun – consequences for classical music today.
"So you mean she doesn't have to go back and murder them?"
"No," he said, pointing out a side hallway we should take. "She could do that, of course – it would be the easiest way and who would really notice, back then, if a young music student with no claim to fame should be found dead one morning?"
"So you're saying if something happened to Tchaikovsky and he decided to stay as a clerk in his law office rather than study music with Nikolai Rubinstein, the world today would have no idea who Tchaikovsky was."
"Right. Who would remember some mediocre junior partner in a Moscow law office? Can you name one Russian lawyer from the late-19th Century?"
Zoe added, "but that also means anybody influenced by Tchaikovsky would never have had his music to be influenced by. Stravinsky would never have composed The Fairy's Kiss,” a ballet based on some of Tchaikovsky's music.
"Well," Cameron argued, "he might still have written it but based it on somebody else's music – Borodin's, maybe."
"Yes," Zoe countered, "but it wouldn't be the same composition. Maybe he wasn't as inspired by Borodin as he was by Tchaikovsky. Stravinsky did hold his music in very high regard."
"Hey," Xaq said, "we could go back and ask him!"
"Think of all those film scores and popular songs that referenced famous themes from his first piano concerto or Romeo and Juliet."
"However," Sebastian added ominously, "I think Klangfarben's after bigger, more influential composers to fry."
The crowd at Stravinsky's Tavern was steadily growing as the news made the rounds. Some of them had been there earlier when it happened; others were just finding out about it on their post-dinner walks.
For the residents of Harmonia-IV, death wasn't something you lived with every day, at least this kind of death. They were used to everybody being dead from the beginning: that was how you got in, in the first place. But to have someone show up – a trespasser, even – and then have him die on you, now... that, they felt, was a novelty. It was sure to be all over the evening's news transmission.
There was a crowd gathering on the street, mostly the overflow of those who couldn't get in or those who were too repelled by the idea of looking at a dead body – that is, a body that had died in that way. It was very strange.
Meanwhile, Stravinsky had the dead body of this customer of his lying in the middle of the floor of his tavern, and still the police had done nothing to speed things up. They couldn't prop him back up in the booth or hide him back on a table in the kitchen, though at least it would keep him out of sight.
So for lack of anything better, he simply threw one of his red-and-white checkered table cloths over it and hoped the red pylons and yellow tape around it would keep people from tripping over it.
The police didn't know what to do with the body, either. They had no morgues, here. They had no reason to store a body until the funeral because there were no cemeteries in Harmonia-IV to have funerals at. Funerals, quite naturally, were all behind them.
The detective was trying to work on a list of witnesses, with no success: who was in the tavern at the time, who might have seen anything suspicious, especially anyone who might have known who this guy was, since there was no ID on him or any official visitor's papers.
Word was getting out it was a Trespasser and people immediately started complaining they should seal up the Time-Gates to keep them out. It didn't matter these were important for bringing in supplies but even when the detective's own men argued for better security around them, he couldn’t just laugh.
Besides, it had never been an issue until recently.
Every witness the detective talked to said the Trespasser spent most of his time talking to Mozart, while others came and went, joining in or moving on to talk to others. It was a convivial place, the proprietor argued: none of his patrons could have had anything to do with the unknown man's death. He was a stranger, just passing through, ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. It certainly wasn't good for Stravinsky even if his business had picked up tonight with all the gawkers stopping by to check it out.
Then one of the officers recalled seeing five other people in the tavern, hovering around the body when the police first got there. They weren't among any of the people hanging around now. Whispering to the detective, the officer mentioned how Stravinsky had asked the one to go out into the kitchen, something about checking the stove for him.
"But what happened to the other four who were with him, eh? Did it really take five people to check the stove?"
His tone of voice reflected his insinuations and so he followed the detective who barged out into the kitchen to speak to Stravinsky again.
They were told he'd gone back to the house after an exhausting evening.
The officer pointed out these five people hadn't returned, either.
"They're part of a gang?" The detective thought about the intel he'd heard just hours ago and figured a gang of trespassers was not good news.
Even though it was past midnight, Man Kaye was still sitting at his desk. The SHMRG building was dark and empty – even the cleaning people had left – but a loner like Kaye enjoyed working late. It didn't matter to him he had no social life, no friends and that his wife had left him two months earlier. He had to remind himself there was only one letter difference between "loner" and "loser," but he knew he would be rewarded for his diligence and dedication, if not with a promotion, then at least a healthy bonus.
He'd just slipped his phone back in his pocket when he decided to text his boss. Steele was scheduled to attend an award ceremony for one of their country music stars, a major bread-winner for the company, so he’d probably still be awake if he was even home yet. But this was news Kaye felt couldn't wait till morning.
"Just wanted to let you know," he typed, "KK" – their code for Klavdia Klangfarben – "has arrived for her departure. OFKD" – their code for Operation 'Fate Knocks at the Door' – "ready to roll."
He copied Holly Burton, too. Better keep her in the loop, he figured: nothing worse than a personal assistant who thinks you're trying to subvert her.
Kaye was scrolling through his address book looking for the contact information at Corporate Supplies in India, ordering a new batch of paper clips for the company's headquarters, when his phone rang.
It was N. Ron Steele.
"What do you mean, she's 'arrived for her departure'? Don’t bother me with bullcrap – tell me when she’s succeeded.”
Steele wasn't one for formalities.
Kaye answered he didn't really understand how she was doing it, but it all made sense the way she explained it. (No, really, it didn't, but that wasn’t something he wanted to tell his boss.)
"I'm not sure, exactly – somewhere out in the Poconos – that’s west of New Jersey."
"I know where the freakin' Poconos are," Steele answered without hiding his irritation. "Remember, I own a few thousand acres near Tamaqua."
That wasn't something Steele had shared with him before.
"She explained she's going back in time but not to kill the composers, just to change their lives, somehow. I didn't quite catch the scientific facts she..."
"I don't care how she does it. I just want her to get rid of their music." Without anything further, he hung up.
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To be continued…
- Dick Strawser
The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.