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6.

And from that darkness, after many hours, a thought rose, a hand rose and touched a spot on his vac suit and turned on his sound system, only his sound system. Music returned like a sad meaningless semblance of the twilight of dawn, but a stubborn twilight, determined to grow into something that would have meaning.

The clang of the rhythm guitar, turning and turning, the lead guitar sighing, crying, the wind song of the backing vocals: then what’s-his-name, the man with no diction, talking almost threateningly of his need for “shelter.” The woman singer behind or above him: possibly the lead singer was unaware of her, pleading his case to the Gods, or pleading her own.

To Clay, this old music was the sound of the fighter battle. Ever since the skirmishes among friends on the Moon, where he had first learned to do as Rachel commanded, this had been the song in his heart when he was hunter and hunted. It was just a shot away, just a kiss away.

But where was all that now? The instant of the battle, the all things at once, all time in a single second, that was past and gone forever. Love was just a kiss away, but the distance could not possibly have been greater if the nearest pair of lips had been in the next universe. Still, he sat there and listened to the whole thing. He had the time.

The rest of his favorite playlist spooled out around him as he drifted along at 18,000 km/sec. Vivaldi, the 22nd Century romantics, the imitators of the ancient folk traditions, Pentangle, Clapton, Isha Machale. He started skipping, liking, mostly disliking: he had tens of thousands of songs, maybe he would have to hear them all eventually but why force him to do so in sequence? Wouldn’t it be better to have “Ashes are Burning” ten times in a row than to have to wait through the entire production of Franz Liszt, the worthless sons of J. S. Bach, and the four hundred love songs of Abel Tatum, not to mention Nickelback and Matchbox Twenty, before he heard it again? So he heard “Ashes are Burning” a few times and cried a little. His suit sucked up the tears and sent them for recycling in the handy, if limited, little life support system it had.

Circles sway, and for yesterday, ashes burning, ashes burning. Yep. Past is past. Future is imagination. He would feel better about it if his future weren’t quite so limited. But he let that amazing singer sing.

And then: In this farewell, there’s no pain, there’s no alibi. Now that was more like it. He played that five times, twice in Marie Digby’s voice, the final time in the sweeping a capella version someone named Sara Lantigo had done in 2312. He sang along. He cried.

He had well and truly crossed out what he’d become. Humanity. It hadn’t erased itself—it had missed a few spots, but the Ngugma had come in to clean up.

Start again. Not so much. Whatever pain may come, today this ends. Sob.

He flew along feeling sorry for himself. Beethoven interposed. He skipped the second and third movements of the Ninth and sang along to the fourth: Freude! Joy! Freude, schone Gotterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium. Drunk with fire, we entreat you! Something like that. It was all bull, but he sang along with gusto. Why not feel joy? What the hell.

“Pull Me Under.” Now that was more like it. Lost in the sky. Oh yes. Every step brings me closer to my last.

Meaninglessness loomed so large now over everything he had done and been given, his teachers, his family, his culture, his training, his fights, his loves, all the things he had seen, that it almost formed a tapestry of heroic meaning. Pull me under, I’m not afraid. Living my life too much in the sun… Now that needed a replay, with a little air guitar. He found himself belting out the choruses, swinging his imaginary axe inside his little tin can.

He had to laugh even as he found himself singing along to “On the Border.” What a joke.

And then a guitar start—what was that? And then it was that voice, that perfect, slightly gravelly voice of the blonde bombshell he only knew as P!nk. He wondered so much about who she really was, but boy, wasn’t she what Janis Joplin wished she could have been?

I was never looking for approval from anyone but you.

That’s right, Rachel. Finally, even Su Park was gone in distance, and you were the only one whose opinion I cared about.

You can do the math a thousand ways, but you can’t escape the fact
That others come and others go but you always come back

Come back. Come back, baby. Because I’m not dead, just floating. I’m not scared, just changing, right behind the cigarette and the devilish smile.

She was there. She had to be. She had to be. I’m not scared at all. Finally, Godless, world-less, almost formless, he knew what faith was.

I will find you.

I will be here. I have nothing better to do. I will be here, and all you have to do is come and get me.

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