Tuesday, May 29, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 28
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Bach decides he doesn't really want to accept Buxtehude's offer as his successor in Lübeck which also meant marrying his shrew of a daughter, thereby foiling Klangfarben's plan. Fortunately, she had been forced to leave before he changed his mind but Dr. Kerr and Cameron had to leave themselves before the battery on their time-device might run out and leave them stranded in 1705. Then, Rogers Kent-Clarke arrives at the empty field where New Coalton once stood, wondering how he would find how to cross over to whatever it was he was looking for. Satisfying a certain necessary physical need, he finds it...
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There was a sharp burst of bluish light and there we were, back in the 18th Century Room of Harmonia-IV's Central Library with Sebastian (Crevecoeur, not Bach), Zoe and Xaq standing right where we'd left them.
Xaq jumped back. "Whoa! Where'd you guys go for a second? You just disappeared and bang, you're back in a flash!"
"A flash – really?" I looked as surprised as they were. "But we must have spent at least a few hours in Lübeck."
"Yes, we talked to Bach and met Buxtehude and... wow, that daughter of his... Damn, my phone – I should've tried taking some pics: never occurred to me!"
"Oh, I don't think that would work, son. Things like that get erased in the time-shift. Besides, didn't you find your phone wasn't working here?"
"Right... Wait, what's this?" Cameron pulled a lace-trimmed napkin from his pocket. "I remember this – I must have taken it from Buxtehude's dinner!"
"Speaking of which," I said, changing the subject, "did you see a woman with platinum blond hair in a black leotard and a man with a goatee wearing a stiff-collared shirt and black cravat and vest go through here recently?"
Zoe looked surprised. "No, there was no one else here."
"Your return time-coordinates," Sebastian explained, "automatically set to the second just after your departure, so it's not like you're gone for the equivalent amount of real-time, you see. So since Klangfarben and her companion left before we got here, they no doubt returned before that, too."
"Which means we'll always be playing tag?" I said. "They left Lübeck several minutes before we did, but if they've come back, couldn't they be off to their next destination before we returned?"
Sebastian shook his head. "They need to recharge the unit, first, and that takes at least an hour."
"So that means,' Cameron whispered, "she could be out in the main Device Room right now?"
"Except, if we haven't arrived yet when she returned, wouldn't our time-unit still be out there?"
Cameron took the device out of his pocket, which flashed “Successful Return.”
"It's good she didn't take the other device with her," Xaq pointed out.
"But we had it."
"Not before you got here, you didn't: if she got back, knowing you'd been there, she could have taken the second unit which means you would be left in limbo without a way to return home. Maybe she hadn’t thought about that.
"More importantly, did you accomplish what you set out to do?" Sebastian wanted a full report.
Cameron and I stumbled over each other, filling in the details, how Bach just walked up to us on the street to how I'd told him about Kuhnau, the new organist in Leipzig, not sure how long he'd stay there – that seemed to give him hope for the future.
"I hope he's not mad when he finds out it'll take seventeen years for that position to become vacant..."
"At least he won't be spending it married to Ms. Buxtehude..."
Giving us the thumbs-up sign, Sebastian stood listening at the door. Was there any sound coming from the main device room? Were Klangfarben and her companion waiting out there? Did they suspect we were here? Did she have any idea how we ended up in Lübeck or that we succeeded in scuttling her plans to derail Bach's historical career?
There were many other questions I had which Sebastian tried to explain. Because we're essentially transported back in time as holographic images of ourselves, the people there would not perceive us as we saw ourselves, explaining the easy acceptance of our dress-code. We'd think everybody's speaking English but with the common-language auto-translation filter activated, they heard us speaking German.
"But why didn't you come with us? It was a total surprise when Cameron and I ended up there by ourselves."
"Too many people could make it more difficult for the transport beam to function accurately."
Sebastian proceeded to tell us that, though the technology is extremely advanced compared to what we're used to back home, these devices have a slight bug in them that they haven't bothered to work out.
"You mean like a manufacturer's re-call?"
If we're delayed leaving the past, a weakened battery could mean the automatic return-locater could get a little wonky and we wouldn't end up exactly at the same place.
"The timing should be okay," Sebastian warned, "but you might find yourselves in another part of the building or even a different part of town."
"But we don't know our way around town. How would we find our way back here in time?"
"That's one reason it's good to have someone remain here. If you're not back in a few seconds, as it would seem to us, then we know you've landed somewhere else."
"Then you can come get us?"
"Not exactly," he sighed.
Sebastian showed me two small discs the size of half-dollars.
"Keep this one in your pocket – don’t lose it," he emphasized. "It could be just as important as the time-traveling device."
"Okay, what does this one do?"
"It's a geographic positioning device: just press it and you'll find your way back to me." He pocketed the other one himself.
There was one problem we had to keep in mind. If the time-device’s battery ran out completely before we'd leave, it could mean we'd get stuck forever in the past.
Then he carefully opened the door.
The room was silent but also dark. Someone had been here and turned off the light.
"Maybe it's on a timer."
"No, no, I'm sure Klangfarben turned it off. She's been here," Sebastian whispered, "or at least somebody was."
"Maybe the cleaning crew came in..."
The question, of course, was not so much who but where were they now?
The door-frame was outlined in a faint glow – a small amount of photonmium mixed into the paint – and the light switch, a small panel, glowed visibly beside it. Getting there was going to be another issue.
Would we knock over the counter housing the devices or stumble into the waiting arms of Klavdia Klangfarben and her princely companion? Where they hiding behind the sign-out counter ready to pounce?
Sebastian gave the all-clear.
"We can't wait any longer. You need to start re-charging the unit. I'll go for the light switch."
With that, he was off.
Sebastian hit the switch and the lights slowly glowed into a presence, even slower than those compact fluorescent bulbs did back home. In a few minutes, they reached full brightness.
Fortunately, there was no one else in the room. Cameron checked behind the desk and Zoe, holding Xaq by the shoulders close to her, positioned herself close to the door.
"Look," Xaq said, "that one case is closed."
“And locked.” She'd returned her unit and it was currently recharging. Sebastian took the one Cameron gave him, carefully placing it safely back in the unit's holder.
The question now was, do we wait for her to come back and wrestle her into submission in true spy-thriller fashion, thereby foiling her plan, or do we wait to see where she goes next, chasing her through the past to foil that segment of her plan?
Neither way was how I'd originally planned on spending my Saturday night.
I casually checked the sign-out book after peering behind the desk, but Sebastian figured she wouldn't have bothered signing it out yet. The act of signing the book was what unlocked the case and then the other pad to be signed – the location-destination – released the unit and activated the dimensional-transport processor. Therefore, it was impossible to simply steal it.
"No," he assumed, "she probably went somewhere, maybe to get some coffee and a donut, then come back here in an hour to start the process all over again. I wonder where she's planning on going, next?"
"So we're not going to wrestle her into submission and capture her?" Cameron sounded disappointed, but I wasn't even interested in arm-wrestling anybody into submission, convinced she, a verified femme fatale, would win hands down, regardless.
"I'm thinking it's best to let her go on her escapades, think she's succeeding and then," Sebastian gloated, "find out later she's failed."
“Wouldn’t it,” I argued, “just be easier to take her and her accomplice out, keep them from doing anything like, possibly, succeeding?”
“Not necessarily,” he said. “We wait till Klangfarben does something – then, it’s our turn.”
But that name… "Klangfarben" referred to an early-20th Century orchestrational technique where pitch-units were scored pointillistically rather than linearly, a melody played not by a single instrumental tone-color, but by a kaleidescope of them: hence, "sound-colors."
But something kept gnawing faintly in a remote corner of my brain: it wasn't a name or sound-color, though – it was a face.
"Another thing I don't really understand," Cameron mentioned to Sebastian after the device's case had locked and started making gentle whirring and buzzing sounds. "What's to keep this Klangfarben person from going back to re-do what we've undone? Couldn't this just keep going 'round and 'round, if not at this point in time, to some other time and place?"
He admitted there was always that chance: short of destroying her or the time-traveling device, it was possible (and not reassuring) we could be caught in this great cosmic loop, repeating it every day for eternity.
But these were not heavy-duty dimensional transporters which is probably why the security system was so lax. People here rarely bothered using them – there was no great need for them – since the devices were fairly limiting. Unlike the gateways to the Other Side, these devices weren’t really that serious a problem even though they’re still too easy to mis-use.
"So, now what?" Xaq was impatient with the idea of just standing there, waiting for the device to recharge. And clearly, he wanted to go on this next one, a plan immediately quashed by his mother.
"If we wait here," she said, "they'll be back before we're ready to leave." She was not keen on the idea of confrontation.
"But if we're waiting for them," Cameron wondered, "would they be afraid to come in knowing we're here, ready to confront them?"
"Dear God," I blurted out, "now I remember: she was a student of mine!"
It was difficult for me to recognize Klavdia Klangfarben in all this. She had been a graduate student during my last couple of years at Klaxon College, not someone I'd worked with beyond one of my graduate courses. She distinguished herself, as I recall, more for her acerbic curiosity than for any academic accomplishments. One protracted argument in particular involved the possibility of "Quantum Music Theory," applying the rules of quantum mechanics to the laws of musical harmony and what possible outcome this might have on our perception of the great masterworks of the past.
After all these years, my memory of her would naturally be a little hazy, considering the number and variety of students I'd had. Wasn't she working on a degree in Forensic Musicology? That was one of those fringe areas, as far as many colleagues were concerned, pseudo-music with a catchy title hoping to bag some fancier, better-paying teaching position.
I recalled she worked primarily with the great Danish scholar, Frøkken Bohr, part-legend, part-eccentric in his own right. Beyond that, I have no recollection of her thesis or even how she'd fared with it since I had not been, mercifully, invited to serve on her committee. It would surprise me if she even remembered me, much less recognized me.
"Yeah, well, I think I'd remember a student like that in one of my classes," Cameron joked, poking my ribs as he shook his hand in front of him, a time-honored gesture with any number of connotations.
"Geez, it's not like she dressed that way when she took my graduate theory course or anything," I protested. "In those days, she had been a very prim and totally proper student, looking more like the stereotypical librarian." Seeing her in this fantastical get-up, whether it was a disguise or not, no wonder my memory was thrown off track.
"Well, you were already an Absent-Minded Professor when you were in your 20s, T.R.," Sebastian said, patting me on the shoulder.
It was good we were able to laugh but soon it was back to business.
"It's a small world, but here I am in the After-Life and I run into someone I knew years ago – two, actually," I said, correcting myself.
"Yes," Sebastian smiled, "but one of them is still alive."
And, as Cameron pointed out, apparently the live one's going to be an adversary.
"Anything you remember about her might come in handy."
That was the problem – there was nothing else I could remember. We didn't have personal contact outside the classroom where I'd know what her favorite color was or if there were childhood traumas fueling her fly-in-the-ointment persona.
"But do you remember what she wore, what kind of styles she liked, what color her wardrobe was?"
"And this is important, how?"
Sebastian interrupted, asking about this otherwise unmentioned companion of hers. I had no idea who he was and, I would bet large amounts of money on it, the name he introduced himself by was totally fictitious.
Describing him, I guessed he was late-19th Century from his looks, if that was his normal mode of dress, but who knew what either of them were really wearing versus what our brains had processed.
"What I can't get out of my mind was that voice, like something I'd heard in an old horror movie from years ago."
"You mean evil-sounding while being suave with an exotic accent," Zoe suggested, "yet capable of inducing fear? Like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff?"
"Or like Frankenstein or Godzilla?" Xaq imitated a stiff-legged monster-walk, growling and roaring.
"I was thinking more like Peter Lorre, a comic foil insinuating innocence and evil, but it didn't fit the guy's appearance."
"However, we can't stay here, waiting for them, as much fun as we're having. Let's go someplace else to hang out, first, then we'll come back after they've left so we don't have to confront them."
Zoe, suddenly aware of something, started waving her hands frantically to get our attention. Xaq covered his mouth in fear.
I heard it, too, the sound of several people moving stealthily toward us, like hunters closing in on their prey. We were, I was pretty certain, going to find ourselves being the prey.
Was there no place to hide?
Cameron asked Sebastian if any of these rooms led anywhere else, someplace we could escape to, but the one we'd been in had no other doors, so I assumed the Device Room was its own cul-de-sac.
I pointed at the time-devices – what a perfect solution! – but unfortunately they hadn't recharged enough to facilitate our disappearance: could we all go back just ten minutes and then run down the hall into the vaults?
There wasn't enough time to sign them out and activate them, either.
This, apparently, was what fish in a barrel must feel like.
The noise stopped in mid-air. They were waiting, but why, who could say?
Our breathing suspended, we took each others hands and followed Cameron into the closest side-room just as Zoe flipped off the light switch.
What were they going to do, shoot us? Or drag us off and lock us up while they continued on their nefarious plot?
But there were too many people in the hallway: this was probably not Klangfarben and her travel companion unless they'd gone for reinforcements.
Whoever it would be, it wasn't going to be long until we'd find out.
No sooner had Zoe closed the side-room's door behind us than we heard a yell, somebody kicking down the outside door, then the rush of several heavy-booted men pouring into the room. Someone tripped and fell.
Even in the dimness, Sebastian looked as white as a ghost. I didn't think this was the sort of thing he'd experienced before. We'd somehow gotten caught up in one of those reality TV police dramas: you could tell this wasn't going to be pretty. I had no doubt they'd be coming through that door in (three... two... one...)...
There was some faintly distant cursing but was that coming from them or from me in some far-away state-of-mind.
The door was kicked open – BANG! – and the room filled with gun-toting policemen glaring like storm-troopers.
Ordering his officers to handcuff us, Detective Milo Smighley announced he was placing us under arrest for the murder of John Doe, Trespasser.
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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.