79

The gentleman tugged at his collar as he looked out over the floor, then to his friend. “Thank you for dragging me out. Would have been a shame to miss it. So, who is this year’s beneficiary for the Claret Occasion?”

“The Genesee Refugee Fund.”

“Oh, what about Aquari Home Recovery?”

“Well you see, there are still lives to be saved on Genesee. With five new red zones, we have to practically depopulate the planet, which you can imagine takes time. We haven’t depopulated anywhere since Hirylien, which – had pretty much happened already.” He sipped from his wine glass. “And not for generations before that. Geologists have gone from stumped to overwhelmed in their attempts at prediction. So, crisis before recovery.”

“I understand that.” The gentleman inhaled sharply. “Bright Wave’s up to perform, isn’t she? I’m glad she’s well enough to do the occasion this year.”

His friend with the white ruffled collar nodded. “Her performances are a pleasure and a privelege.”

The two wandered from the upper tier where they’d left silent auction bids, nodding to others passing by in red and white. They refilled their cups at a lower tier, and made their way up an aisle to take seats. Below on the floor in the center, dancers were finishing the Mobius Spiral to the sound of a brass ensemble. Applause rose at the end as people filtered up the slopes and steps.

79

An oval of light burst into glow on the now cleared floor, and the plane within elevated, revealing the lifting stage walls and spiral staircase. The double doors in the side were revealed, and parted.

An Aquari man emerged and placed himself atop the stage, facing in. “That’s a Lead Composer.”

“That’s THE Lead Composer. She brought a sendsinger?” They looked at each other.

Fleeting Shade folded his legs to kneel. The amphitheater had gone quiet, but for a deep bass wave washing in like breath. The place turned dim but for a glow remaining at the door. She emerged shrouded in mist, moving by her tentacles and tendrils, carapace trailing behind her. Up the stairs her body rolled, the mist growing as it mingled with the bass in ripples. Bright Wave curled crouching opposite the sendsinger, facing in.

From where she stayed, she moved a figure around in the mist like a shadow. The bass rose to the beat of a resounding wall. Flashes revealed columns like a maze for the figure to weave through as it grew with the sound.

It wove its way to the center, where it rested against something bright. The mist clarified into luminous points. More Aquarii came through the door and up, to crouch around the edge, facing out. There were eight, and their echoing sounds only occasionally overlapped.

In a hollow, windy voice Bright Wave spoke a two-note phrase, and the bright something in the center showed color. She did it again, and so did another of the crouching Aquarii. Again and again the relay echo grew, until the pulse moved continuously.

The central figure gripped the bright something, pulling itself up. All of them rose. The pulse changed, and the points of light expanded to fill the entire amphitheater. The music turned clear and loud.

The gentleman watching from the seats waved his finger to encircle the performers. “Those are all sendsingers.”

“Yes, indeed.”

Then the language began. It was amusing! No one had any idea what they were saying, but it was certainly funny. As people around the amphiteater laughed, that became the central chorus of the music.

Sun rose, shining on the bright something. Its light condensed into a swirling trunk, the glow branching upward and spreading out. One by one, the eight sendsingers visited. It pulsed and sang differently for each; and as they walked away, so did they. All eight returned to sit around it together. The pulse continued as they watched the branching light, their music gathered illustrated above it.

The door glowed again, and eight more sendsingers walked in to fill the places around the stage, facing out.

The gentleman swirled his finger at this in maddening circles. “Are all of them?”

His friend looked agog. “Well, yes. And that must be nearly half of them.” He gripped his armrests and looked behind him as though he could see the sky. “How is traffic running right now?” He noticed other audience members in discreet communication. He sank back into his seat a little.

The cloud above reflected those sitting beneath. A color portal engulfed the trunk and branches, reaching the ground. Bright Wave rose and walked into the center of it, and it became a swirling mirror with sides. The inside eight rose together and stepped through.

In the amphitheater, the atmosphere changed. It seemed any point could lead to any other. These pathways became traveled, by few and then by many. If people touched them, they changed. The eight who stepped through found one of the eight around the edge. They sat back to back and twined their tentacles, one facing in, the other facing out. The pathways extended beyond the amphitheater.

In the center Bright Wave sat, leaning against the tree, which was there. She reached up to touch the billowing sheets of motion, twined and hanging from the branches. Great gusts flowed inward through the sendsingers, to the branches and trunk where Bright Wave could touch them, and she weaved. The air was full of Aquari melodies, clear from eight different kinds of far away.

“Could this be live?” he asked, holding down his white ruffles. At the word live, an unseen group of Aquarii echoed the word in confirmation. Live. He gasped, and his was not the only one.

The sendsingers began switching pairs, counter-rotating. Human voices became a loud addition, and the sound of a dragon.

From a vantage point in the city, Toller watched the amphitheater surrounded in glowing whorls. If he cocked an ear, he could even hear it. His chuckle seemed to fit right in with the music.

Then something broke. It was wrong immediately. People could no longer hear their voices correctly, and when they grabbed for the threads, they weren’t there. It was the frantic feeling of something important missing. The bright branches fell apart and floated away. The sendsinger’s channels fluttered. The trunk disappeared, down to the ground until there was only a heap in which Bright Wave sat. The weaving in her hands threatened to disappear, but she sent ends of it to the Aquarii surrounding her. They held to it as though suspended. The points in the sky reappeared above them.

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