Overture: Tea With Emperor Norton
"Are you a patron of the arts then?" Emperor Norton I of the Americas asked, examining the playbills scattered across the low table.
"A student, Your Majesty," Aion said with a slight smile. "I hope to one day become a composer--I am particularly taken with the works of Bach and Handel." The next hour and a half was taken up in conversations on music. After the tea, Aion saw the emperor to the door.
"That human is a loon, Aion," Genai said bluntly. "Why do you keep talking to him?"
Aion laughed. "Who wouldn't want to talk to the Emperor of the United States?"
Genai made a disgusted noise. "He's insane."
"Of course he is," Aion said. "He was destroyed financially, and became entirely unhinged. Yet the people of this city accept him as their monarch."
"They're humoring him," Genai said.
"Perhaps, but by humoring him, by accepting his dream as a sort of adjacent reality, they have made him their emperor." There were parallels between himself and the good emperor that Aion really didn't want to contemplate. He was the Sinners' king, not because he was the most powerful of them, though that was one of the reasons. He was not their king because he was the one with with a sense of purpose that they shared, though that was another reason. He was their king because they followed him, and because they followed him, he led.
A kingdom of six against against all that Pandaemonium could throw at them.
If that wasn't the very definition of insanity, Aion didn't know what else it could be.
Before there can be a masterpiece, there must be apprentice and journeyman efforts. Before one may practice the art, one must learn it. Before there can be a great working, one must have the tools appropriate to the task. The music of Europe and the Americas had little in common with the music system of Pandaemonium, which relied on a audible range several steps above and below that of human hearing or vocal ranges--and it would be humans who must sing the great working he planned.
San Francisco proved the be the city best suited for his plans, a city that combined the frontier spirit of the American west with the art and culture of the east coast. A city of art and madness, and a perfect place for Aion to begin his studies.
"Are you sure that piano is tuned, Aion?"
"Yes, I'm certain."
"It's tuned in the human range, Genai."
"Humans must be practically deaf."
"So, what do you think?"
"I think it's wonderful."
"There anything Aion does you don't think is wonderful, Rizelle?"
"Let's start over. What do you think of my composition?"
Aria: Hymn to the New World
Aion stared at the empty sheet of paper.
The blank page stared back at Aion.
Atheists have no one to curse when the words won't come, except themselves.
Aion sighed in defeat and dropped the pen onto the desk.
Not counting the music he'd written as a student, he'd written three concertos, seven waltzes, four symphonies and a comic operetta that Rizelle would eventually forgive him for. The Oratorio would be the reason for ten years of study, and ten more of refining his composition skills. He had lived and breathed music for two decades, but now he couldn't even put pen to paper, or organize his thoughts. Every time he tried to reach for that place where the music seemed to live, every time he thought he had the first movement of the overture, it slipped from his grasp.
He sighed again. He could hear the sea, the wind and the screeching of the gulls. The beach had greater allure at the moment than Euterpe, so he left his desk and the obstinate muse behind.
Aion walked barefoot on the beach, his pants rolled up to his knees. The sun was hot, and the wind was brisk, the sand beneath his feet alternated between dry and hot, and wet and cool. The waves beat against the shore, or swirled into tidal pools. The wildlife, disorganized, untended and chaotic went about their business in an orderly fashion. The contrast, the order-that-was-chaos was fascinating, even now after years of experiencing the world outside the orderly beehive of Pandaemonium.
The overture of the oratorio should be a hymn to the new world, to Truth. A call to break free of the System, to anyone who heard it. Aion grinned to himself. It should be a declaration of independence. A gauntlet to be thrown into the faces of the slaves of the System.
While Aion studied human music, Shader studied human musical instruments.
The first time she heard a church organ being played, it had felt as if the ground itself were singing.
She knew from that moment the only musical instrument suitable to the great working would be the organ. Other instruments would of course be able to approximate the harmonics necessary, but wouldn't have the sheer volume, without amplification. In addition, they were only six now, and finding a way to recruit a human orchestra without attracting notice would have been problematic.
"Shader, why is there a crippled human child in the front parlor?"
"Oh, that's Aaron. Polio, poor kid."
"He's the son of Benjamin Mueller."
"Benjamin Mueller is the man who's teaching me how to build organs."
"Why is the child here Shader?"
"I'm going to fix his legs, to pay Benjamin for teaching me."
"Ooh, what's this?"
"Nothing! Give it back!"
"No, let me look--oh, this is gorgeous, Rizelle!"
"I-it's just a sketch, Shader."
"It's perfect! Aion, you have to come see the organ Rizelle drew!"
"Viede, Genai? I need your help."
"I'm testing the acoustics. Genai, stand on that little cross there. Viede, stand on that cross there."
"Did playing that thing melt your brains, Shader? You know I can't sing!"
"Hah, that was perfect! Now move three steps to the left, and say something else."
Shader missed Mary. As much as she loved her fellow Sinners, she never felt the same sense of connection and communication with them that she had once had with her fellow researchers. For all that her family valued her for her mind, they didn't really understand her. They were warriors, and thought like warriors, even Aion and Chrono (though they came closest to understanding).
Mary had fit herself so perfectly into their family that it had felt as if Mary had always been one of them.
It had been as if Chrono's mission had been to retrieve a sibling, not to kidnap a prophetess.
She missed Chrono. She missed his rare smiles and his quiet introspection. She missed his sense of duty and honor. She missed his sarcasm and humor, always a little more gentle than Aion's. She missed a friend and a brother. She missed Mary-with-Chrono as much as she missed Chrono himself, as if one added to the other made some kind of alchemical compound when together.
She missed the ones who hadn't made it. The ones who had been culled.
She missed the ones who had fallen in battle, and the ones who had helped them escape.
She missed the ones who had blown the bay doors open and let the sea come in. The ones who she had never met directly, the ones she had known only in passing, and the ones who were her dearest friends.
The ones who had died, and died and died.
Aion would disapprove, but she considered the great working a requiem, and dedicated the organ she had built to the fallen.
The organ had been completed. The hall where the organ had been installed had been altered to amplify the sound and harmonics. Sound and mechanical tests had been completed.
The Oratorio had been written. The music had been performed, arranged, revised, and revised again. Aion wasn't entirely happy with the finale, but felt confident that all it needed was a little polishing.
Now those who would perform the Oratorio needed to be found. There could be no room for errors, especially with the establishment of a chapter house of the Magdalen Order practically in the Sinners' back yard. Aion gathered together what resources he could, and began the task of finding and acquiring children who matched the necessary criteria.
"He said I'd be strong."
"You will be, just give the medicine a chance to work, kiddo."
"Still can't . . . heal myself. It isn't fair."
"Life isn't always fair, Joshua."
"We're going to have to put them in stasis, before they reach their peak level of power."
"Because once they hit the peak, they usually drop right back down the other side."
"How are they going to learn--"
"On humans? It would fry their brains."
"How do you think I retaught Fiore how to walk, talk, eat? I had to regenerate ninety five percent of her brain, Aion, and reconstruct her speech and motor centers. Sleep-teach can be used safely on humans with only minor adjustments."
Aria: De Mortius Nil Nisi Bonum
There is one confession that Joshua would never make; in some ways, he believed in Aion's quest. Still believed, even though Aion's methods had been monstrous.
Aion's goal had never been personal survival. It had not been a desire to conquer or rule. Aion's ultimate goal had been a world of free will and thought without the constraints of society, class, or race. Joshua had always understood this, even when he had been lost in a world of dream and fancy.
There was another thing he understood; the freedom Aion had sought to achieve with the death of Pandaemonium could not be attained through slavery and murder.
He knew that the others thought his work in the rebuilding of New York an act of atonement. In some ways, it might have been. He wasn't atoning for willingly helping the Sinners, however. Instead, he atoned for what Aion had done to Fiore, to Chrono, to Rosette and Mary and countless others.
And while he did it, he would create the world Aion wanted, and preserve the future Chrono had created.