Rajiv Banarsidass stared at the object on his bunk with a mixture of revulsion, dread, and an awful, sick longing. He hated the way the thing made him feel yet he could not look away. He wishfully imagined it somehow spontaneously combusting or otherwise vanishing instantly from his life, and yet at the same time longed for it like a thirsting man longs for water. At the moment, however, he mainly hated the thing on his bed because it had ruined the first peace (and a fragile one at that) that hed known in his life.
As much as he loathed the object on his bed, however, he had to reserve a fair portion of loathing for himself. He was the one, after all, who had brought it here, into the dorm towers and into his room. Hed spent 172 credits out of his meager student allowance on it, for Krishnas sake! Hed even, after bringing it into his own room, opened the case like an idiot, so that he could look at it and let the thing work on his imagination, until the compulsion to use it became too powerful to resist.
Why, why had he done this? Hed nearly escaped. Hed been so close to building a new life in Johannesburg, with new friends who knew nothing of his former life and habits. He still could, he supposed, try to continue to keep the secret, but he would only be putting off his inevitable discovery. He should have known he was doomed from the start. Sooner or later his new friends would find out, and then then it would all go back to the way it had been before. He might as well just go ahead and buy that train ticket back to Moscow now.
Rajiv shuddered, thinking of the dismal gray and cold of the northern European city. No, Rajiv silently begged the cruel fates, anywhere but Moscow, please! Still, nothing irrevocable had happened yet, he told himself. No one had seen him enter the dormitory with the mysterious case. He could shove it under his bunk, way in the back, and forget about it. Better still, he could take it back to the shop and return it. Even if he lost a few credits in the deal, hed be well rid of it.
He couldnt do it now, though, as he was due in the mess hall in fifteen minutes to help cook dinner with the rest of his crew. Besides, the market was undoubtedly closed now. Hed just have to close and lock the case and stash it under his bed for now. Hed take it back tomorrow.
As he reached forward to close the case, however, his hands betrayed him. They reached out, with what seemed a will of their own, to stroke the dark, varnished wood surface and Rajiv trembled, all of his resolve crumbling. As though by accident his thumb brushed over the strings, a mere feather touch, but still they rang and the sound sparked in Rajiv an aching, almost sensual longing.
There could be no question of returning the violin now.
... ... ... ... ...
"Will you tell me," the ship asked him, "how a virtuoso violinist came to pursue a career as a space pilot?"
Thinking about it for a moment, Rajiv realized that a complete answer to this question would mean going all the way back to the beginning, but then it did seem that a long story was what was wanted, so that was what he did.
"My father used to tell anyone who would listen," Rajiv said, at last, "in fact, he probably still does, as far as I know- he would tell them that the first time I ever tried to pick up a violin and play it I played a perfect note or at least, a very nice one- and that is true. That this is no small thing, I confess. He never tells them, though, that the violin was not the first instrument in that bazaar that I had wanted to play, on the day he took me to to find an instrument. I remember seeing a lot of instruments I liked on that day, but the violin was the only one that he let me keep and play."
The ship listened raptly to Rajivs tale, as though her life or sanity depended upon it which, to some extent, Rajiv reflected, it did.
"A long time ago," Rajiv went on, "nearly everyone in my country, and especially in the Hindu holy city Varnase where I grew up, used to have astrological charts made for their children at birth, you see. It all seems very silly now, but what is even sillier is that there are still people who pay good money for some old man to come over and tell them who their newborn child should marry, and what career hes going to have, and my parents," Rajiv heaved a sigh, "are some of those people."
"My parents are really quite decent, intelligent people," Rajiv explained, realizing for perhaps the first time that he truly believed this, " but they have always seemed to feel that they needed something to set them apart from their neighbors. Maybe it is because when your family has been nothing but shopkeepers for so many generations you are more tempted to go to ridiculous lengths to escape the tedium, Rajiv thought to himself, as he had many times before.
"At any rate, they had a fellow come in and create a chart for my older sister when she was born," Rajiv continued. "But off course, it showed that she would be just like everyone else in my family a competent and successful shopkeeper. It was an easy prediction to make. When it came to me, though, things were different."
"Were the predictions true for your sister, then?" the ship asked.
"Oh yes, it is just as the Astrologer said." replied Rajiv with a smile. "She assists my father in the business, taking over more duties every year. She will be running the whole thing in a year or two, and then my father will retire. She is very good at it, and enjoys her work a lot. Last year she was married and had a little son. I have always envied her."
"Really?" asked the ship, puzzled. Why?
"No one ever expected her to do anything out of the ordinary, for that is what the astrologer foretold for her, but what did he say about me? The boy will achieve great fame and success with music," Rajiv intoned pompously. "but not the music of his own place or time. His music will be heard by people from many lands, and and he will fulfill a great destiny." He raised his hands into the air as he spoke, waving them about in a parody of excitement. "I have long ago lost count of the number of times I heard him tell that story, and I have heard those words so many times ... Who could live up to that?"
It was one thing to have parents who have confidence in you, Rajiv had thought, many times, but it is quite another thing to be bludgeoned by a prophecy, day after day that is what turns a destiny into a curse.
"I see." said the ship, as Rajiv paused a moment in his narrative. And I think I am beginning to understand what happened at dinner. Rajiv smiled apologetically and sighed again.
"I know that my parents never meant to lay such a curse upon me," Rajiv continued, "But they never knew what they were doing. They simply found the most expensive violin teacher they could afford, did whatever he asked, and believed everything he told them. Rajiv paused, thoughtfully, and shook his head. I do not believe that this man could ever have had children of his own."
"From the very beginning there was no pleasing my teacher or my parents. If I did well it was because of my gift or my astrological destiny, and if I did not do well, then I was denying and dishonoring my gift, and behaving an a manner contrary to the will of the Gods. It was never a pleasure to play in public, and soon it became like a torture to me.
"Sometimes I would meet other young musicians who seemed to truly love to play, and I would lay awake nights, wondering how my life might have been if I could have taken joy in my music. I even wondered if it was a flaw in my personality that performing was such a painful thing, since it seemed not to be for others, but I never found any answers.
The ship remained silent, caught up in Rajivs pensive mood.
I began to become ill before performances, Rajiv went on, and I learned to hide it and go on and play. As my skill at covering up my distress increased, my dread of performances worsened. This state of affairs only continued when I entered into the Moscow conservatory. This was my parents choice of schools, because it was my teachers choice.
There were some changes for me when I went to conservatory, for now I had many teachers, instead of one, who all believed that I was destined for greatness and treated me accordingly, but I had a little more autonomy as well. Now I had to endure hearing my name spoken by students and faculty alike, all over the conservatory, referring to me as a rising talent and other such nonsense. On the other hand, through clever manipulation of my schedule, I managed to find ways delay my first recital for over a year.
Surely that made things a bit easier for you. commented the ship.
Perhaps a little, Rajiv admitted, though I was constantly afraid that I would be found out, as I eventually was, but besides all of that, I was truly miserable living in Moscow.
I must tell you the joke I was told when I first arrived in there. Rajiv stood to walk about a little as he talked. The joke was: Why do you see the sun shine so little in Moscow?
And why is that? asked the ship obligingly.
It is because the local government has found a way to skim the top 20 percent off of Moscows sunshine, Rajiv answered, just the way it does with all of the other necessary commodities in the city.
Is that true? asked the ship.
Well, it is true that the Moscow city government is terribly corrupt. said Rajiv, and it is also true that even when the sun shines brightly, which it does not do very much in Moscow, it does not give much warmth -at least, not like it does in Varnase.
It sounds as if you were homesick. commented the ship, sympathetically .
How could I not be? Rajiv threw up his hands as he spoke. Varnase is a city of warmth and bright colors. People there dress to be comfortable and pleasing to look at, not to keep from freezing to death. Moscow was miserable and cold and wet and gray, all the time. I cannot understand how anyone can bear to live in such conditions.
Well, I cant speak from personal experience, of course, remarked the ship, but I have met more than a few people who speak with great passion of their fondness for Moscow, and other cold northern cities like it. They claim to find the cold invigorating and see much beauty in the snow and ice, just as they see beauty in the summer flowers. In addition, she philosophized, at least one of those cold loving people also told me about how hed suffered during a stay in Rio de Janeiro, and he described the heat and tropical climate as oppressive and stifling. So it may be that humans have an aptitude for one climate or another, as is true for so many things in the human make-up. You, Rajiv would appear to be a man with a worm climate aptitude, but this is not true of everyone.
I am certain you are correct, said Rajiv with a smile, for I do not believe that I could ever be happy living in Moscow, even without my music troubles. By the start of my second year in Moscow, my professors had caught on to my delaying tactics and forced me to set a date for my recital during midyear finals week. It was far enough away, at first, that I managed to convince myself that I would be able to just gather up my nerve and get it over with. I told myself that it would be just like playing for a jury of my teachers -which I had to do at the end of each term, but there were usually only five of them. The conservatory concert hall I was scheduled to play in had seating for fifteen hundred people.
The closer the recital date came, the less bearable the idea was. I began to have panic attacks in the middle of the night; I lost all appetite and began to lose weight. Then, three days before my recital date, I happened to hear that my performance had been completely sold out. Rajiv could almost taste the panic hed felt upon originally discovering this news.
Now, you must understand that student recitals happen every week at the conservatory, he explained. and they are almost never sold out. After I learned this I ceased to be able to keep any food down at all, and the panic attacks began to come far more frequently -at any time of the day or night. I began to be afraid that I would die.
How did you think you would die? asked the ship, curiously.
I had no idea. answered Rajiv, shaking his head. I only knew, as the hours and days passed, that I was feeling more and more certain that I was either dying or liable to die very soon. I became convinced that either the recital or the conservatory or the city was going to kill me and so finally, less than twenty four hours before the concert I ran away.
Rajiv paused to stare out into nothing, caught up in memories for a moment. I remember it felt like I was fleeing for my life. he said. It was the middle of the night when I left. I jammed a few clothes into a travel bag -I remember my hands were shaking I was so frightened- and I looked back into my room as I was leaving and saw my violin lying in its open case on the bed ... I almost could not leave ... Then I heard some voices in the hall and I fell into a terrible panic. I hardly remember how I went after that, but at the end I found myself in the Moscow train station, buying a ticket to Johannesburg.
Why Johannesburg? asked the ship.
Because it was the furthest south that the train would take me. said Rajiv. I wanted to get as far as I could from Moscow, and I wanted to go south -towards the sun, for I desperately needed to feel warm again.
Those were your only reasons?
You must understand I was acting only with survival instinct. I was escaping from the thing I feared the most in all the world with only a few hours to spare. I had almost nothing with me , but as Moscow began to fall further and further behind my terror began to fade away and I felt such freedom and relief as I cannot describe to you.
I had no thought at all of my future, you see, except for to officially notify the Conservatory and my parents that I did not wish to for any of them to contact me or try to find me -which I thought would sever me from my past forever. As long as I was traveling on the train I was not anywhere and I was not obliged to think about the future at all. All I had to do was sit in my compartment and stare out the window as the land went by and all I could think was that I was rushing further and further from the only life I had ever known.
So what did you do when you reached Johannesburg? the ship asked after a long silence into which Rajiv had let himself slip.
Well, of course the Transients Service people found me after I had spent an hour and a half staring at the city map in the Johannesburg stations information kiosk, with no idea of where I should go now, or what I should do. Mostly, he recalled, he had not wished to move because the sun was shining quite warmly in that spot and he had not felt the warm sun on his skin for over a year. In Moscow Winter had just been ending, but in Johannesburg it was Summer that was nearly over, and the days were still warm and pleasant.
The job which the Transients Service found me, Rajiv continued, once he had pulled himself away from his reminiscences, was gleaning work in farm fields around Johannesburg. I worked hard out under the sun ever day, and could not have been happier. Truly, I think it might have been one of the happiest times in my life, which, I imagine, must seem strange to you.
The ship could do nothing but agree.
* * * * *
Certainly, it had seemed to Rajiv upon his arrival in Johannesburg, that hed escaped the curse of his destiny and would be free of it forever. Now, he mused to himself bitterly a year later, the fact that hed gone on to perpetuate that farce for all this time seemed nothing short of miraculous. Had he not discovered (and consequently become enchanted by) the curiously out of place little antique in that shop this morning, the gods, no doubt, would have eventually contrived to have a violin drop out of the sky and strike him on the head.
Still, Rajiv struggled tenaciously to hold onto his delusion of freedom for another thirty hours, leaving the instrument under his bed, shut up in its case and unplayed. In truth, however, this was only because it took him that long to find some place where he could partake in his secret vice in absolute privacy, without fear of discovery. He began his search for that spot on the twentieth floor of the forty story Mbeki dormitory tower of the Johannesburg Spaceflight Academy.
For as long as anyone at the Academy could remember, the utility floor had been openly accessible to anyone willing to enter by climbing or descending the emergency stairs from an adjacent floor (the elevators didnt stop there) and enter by one of the four now unlockable stairwell doors. Too dusty and greasy for trysts, and too often frequented by janitorial staff for any long term illicit operations, it was perfect for Rajivs needs.
The six big air processing units which took up most of the utility floor were each surrounded by tuned noise dampeners, but enough noise leaked past the dampeners that the whole floor resonated with a low frequency white noise. In his explorations, however, Rajiv discovered a bubble where the noise dampeners from three of the air processing units overlapped and formed an utterly silent, acoustically perfect dead space. Better still, the noise dampeners and the leaked sound from the air processing units combined to thoroughly mask any sound generated within the bubble, rendering it inaudible only a few meters away. Best of all it was in the back, in the dark, and far away from any of the four stairwell doors.
Friday nights were often very quiet in the dorm tower, as the majority of its residents chose to party in places where the substance use code wasnt quite so strict. Rajiv often enjoyed the quiet of the dorms on a Friday evening, but his roommate, Jamil, could be depended upon to vacate the dorm on Friday night, not infrequently staying away till late Sunday evening. Thus it was that Friday evening found Rajiv cautiously creeping up the south wing emergency stairwell, violin case in hand. Pushing open the heavy door, he stepped past the undisturbed drifts of lint in the twilit maintenance floor and entered his acoustic sanctuary.
For a long time he merely stood, clutching the violin case in his arms, his heart racing. For the whole of his life, playing the violin had been like breathing -woven into every part of his life- save for the last year. He had thought that he would be leaving every bit his old life behind and beginning a whole new one. In the end, though, hed no more been able to give up music than hed be able to give up breathing.
Though it had been some time since he last held a violin, Rajiv Banarsidass never had a doubt that he could make this instrument sing like a bird in his hands. He knew himself to be one of the most skilled violinists alive in the world today, but to him it was only a means to an end. When Rajiv made music with his violin he passed into a place of secret joy and almost sensual pleasure. While sharing this private pleasure with others was always frightening and had lately become downright terrifying- when he was left to himself his music brought him to a place where he was safe, secure and utterly free.
He had not tasted that freedom in over a year and thinking about it now he hastened to take up the instrument and play. Trembling with excitement, he set the case on the floor, opened it and lifted out violin and bow. The strings and bow-hair were all in good condition, which meant that the instrument had not sat long neglected a good thing. Rajiv plucked the strings to tune them, his heart rejoicing to hear these simple sounds, and to take part in these simple rituals again.
Caught up in the old routines, Rajiv laid the bow to the open strings to tune without even thinking about it, as though he had never given up the violin -never gone a day without practicing. The scales and arpeggios followed likewise, without a thought. He was, in truth, a little rough, but since there was no one at all present to notice, Rajiv was free to work out the rough spots at his leisure.
He lost himself in long memorized etudes and studies for a good long while, but then he came to the point where in his usual routine he would begin with what ever new piece he was working on at the moment which, at the moment, was nothing. What should he play? Rajiv had never before in his life had he ever had the occasion to ask himself what he felt like playing. Considering the matter for only a few moments, however, brought an obvious answer. Rajiv had a whole unplayed recital in him and just because the idea of playing it in front of hundreds of strangers struck him as terrifying didnt mean that he hadnt gotten the pieces up to performance quality. There was nearly an hour and a half of music in that recital and suddenly Rajiv knew he wanted very much to play the whole thing. He tuned again, drew a breath, went over the performance order in his mind, and began.
The first piece was a Bach Partita for solo violin and playing it felt to Rajiv like taking wing and flying. A Sonata by Prokofiev followed, angular and brilliant, which made Rajiv feel brilliant, as though sparks were leaping from his fingers and instrument. Each piece he played took him, by their own unique routes, to that place of perfect freedom he had left behind over a year ago. He knew the joy of the exile, returning home at last.
If he was a returning exile though, Rajiv thought to himself the next day, he was returning to a land ruled by forces bent upon crushing his very soul if they ever caught him. He loved that land (too much to sensibly stay away, evidently) but it meant that he risked being caught every time he crossed the border. Strictly speaking, it meant that every time Rajiv snuck off to play the violin among the air processors he risked being discovered and outed to the other pilot trainees in the dorms.
There were other amateur musicians among the students at the Johannesburg Spaceflight Academy, but it was the trainees who were the most serious about the business of space ship piloting that got the most respect. Rajiv wanted that kind of respect and having it known that he was musical wouldnt help one bit. In addition, Rajiv worried that sooner or later someone would have the wit to observe that he was no amateur at music. The world was all one big network these days, and every bit of anonymity which Rajiv surrendered by expressing some unique quality increased the chances that some of his former associates would discover his whereabouts.
These were the thoughts that plagued Rajiv as he surreptitiously slipped up the stairs to the twentieth floor every couple of nights or so. Hed have gone more often if hed thought it safe. Having let the violin back into his life, he was almost obsessed with it now and could think of nothing else when he returned to his room after classes each day. His roommate was nearly always around during the afternoons, though, so he would try to do his class work until late at night, when his roommate was asleep or gone and there was little traffic in the halls. Then he would creep up to his den of secret solitude and play until long after he ought to have gone to bed. His studies suffered.
Because of this, Rajiv spent even more time than usual holed up in his room and ended up becoming something of a recluse. Had he not been, he might have heard the rumor about the phantom music that residents in some, though not all, of the dorm wings residents claimed to be hearing. Not even when this tale escalated from rumor to building-wide phenomenon did Rajiv become aware of it, but then recent events had left him somewhat distracted.
Any acoustical engineer could have warned Rajiv that acoustical bubbles such as the one Rajiv was using as a private practice room, are seldom as closed as they seem to be. In this particular case, the sound of Rajivs playing was being directed to different air ducts on the 19th and 21st floors of the South and East wings. The musical duct moved from night to night, but some of the music fans among the dorm residents had began organizing, so that when someone noticed music issuing from any duct, they would quickly alert others. Sometimes as many as forty people showed up to stand in the hallway and listen to Rajiv fool around on the violin, utter unaware of his audience.
As much as the identity of the mystery musician became the subject of great speculation among the Academy students, Rajiv remained out of the loop. Eventually, (some very bright minds having wrestled with the mystery) the location of the mysterious performances was deduced. Thus it was that as Rajiv quietly stepped down the east wing stairwell late one evening, a month or two after he had bought the violin, the door to the floor below suddenly burst open and dozens of students poured through, all of them looking up at him as soon as they came through, and shouting.
"There he is!"
"Its Banarsidass! Hey Rajiv!"
"What is that youre playing?"
"Why all the secrecy, Banarsidass?"
Why all of the secrecy, indeed? Rajiv froze with horror halfway down the stairs, fighting the urge to flee back up to the utility floor. That would surely only make things worse. He had been caught, fair and square and must now surrender graciously and with good humor. Rajiv forced a sheepish smile onto his face.
"Has someone been hearing my playing, then?" he asked innocently.
In the end, he had had to take the violin out and play for them all, for ten minutes or more, right there in the stairwell, which eventually came to be crammed with dozens and dozens of students, both above and below him. At last a couple of the wing supervisors had come along to see what all the fuss was and cleared everyone off of the fire stairs so that Rajiv, to his great relief, had finally been able to return to his room. His roommate, however, was there to meet him.
"Why do you hide your music?" he asked Rajiv as he came in and shoved his violin case under the bed. "Why do you keep it secret? Are you ashamed of it?"
Rajiv had always gotten along well enough with Jamil Tembe, but Jamil never seemed comfortable when they were together, as though he didnt trust Rajiv, or thought that Rajiv didnt trust him. He seemed to be seeing this distrust again now but he didnt know what to do about it. On the one hand honesty seemed the best response, but on the other Rajiv didnt very much feel like sharing his secrets with Jamil. Perhaps, he reflected, the distrust did run both ways.
He knew that Jamils family was from the area and that they were not wealthy. Jamil talked about them all of the time and of the unending series of crises they seemed to be heir to. All Jamil knew about Rajiv, however, was that he was from Varnase and didnt see his family any more. Jamil, with his large and involved family could not, Rajiv suspected, fathom any decent person living without one. Rajiv also suspected that Jamil saw him as a foreign dilettante, taking up a space in an institution which had been built with the intention of uplifting the lives and ambitions of the millions of poor and working class citizens of Sowetto. He did not have enough evidence to be certain of any of this, though.
"I do not care to play in public." Rajiv said to his roommate at last, after he had finished putting his violin away.
"I play for private reasons and it is, as you know, very difficult to find any kind of privacy in these dorms."
Jamil gave him the askance look that told Rajiv that Jamil privately thought he was a little unbalanced. He rolled his desk chair forward to address Rajiv where he sat on his bunk removing his shoes.
"Do you know how much extra silver you could make playing at clubs after school in the evening?" he asked without expecting an answer. "Explain to me why you hide what you are so good at." Jamil waved his hand vigorously, so close to Rajivs face that he nearly flinched.
Roommate or no, Rajiv was highly inclined to tell Jamil that none of this was any of his business, but then he thought the better of it.
"Will you be satisfied if I tell you that it has to do with the reason I dont speak with my family any more?" he asked with a sigh.
Jamil leaned forward and looked at him through narrowed eyes the hes crazy look again.
"Thats a big thing you were hiding making music like that." he said at last. "People dont like it when you hide big things like that. They will like it better if you explain, otherwise they may think you could be hiding other things."
Rajiv did not miss the veiled threat. Rajivs only ambition at the Academy had been to blend in to the upper end of the crowd. Students with secret musical skills did not blend in, however. Jamil was right in a way; he would have to come up with some explanation that made his behavior less worthy of comment or speculation.
"Jamil, there was a tragedy and a scandal in my family, many years ago," Rajiv said, embellishing, and to some degree disregarding the truth entirely, "and as a result, I swore that I would never play my music in public again. I would hope that I need not describe the details of these events?" Rajiv almost begged.
Jamil sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. "So, is that what you want me to tell people, when they ask?" he said after a moment of consideration.
Rajiv laid back on the bed with a sigh of relief, propping up his shoulders with his elbows on the bed. "I would be most grateful if you did." he said, eyes closed with fatigue, for it was late.
"People will still be curious of course," said Jamil with a shrug, rolling his chair back to his desk, "but they wont ask any more than that."
This was, in fact, precisely what happened. Rajiv had to put forth this tale himself more than a few times, but having explained as much to most people, no further questions were asked. Since his musical habits were now public knowledge Rajiv was able to go to the building maintenance crew and ask them about an acoustically isolated practice spot and they found him a room in the subbasement once used to house now obsolete telecommunications equipment. He had to walk through the building crews staff lounge on his way there, but after the first week or so they took no notice of him and Rajiv was free to play in happy isolation once again.
During the pleasant months that followed it did seem to Rajiv as though he was managing to somehow have his cake and eat it too. Getting regular music sessions in without having to sneak around allowed him to balance his efforts between his studies and his violin, so his grades improved again. As he became more present in his school activities his social life picked up a bit as well. As the end of the school year drew near Rajiv even got caught up in the excitement of the approaching end-of-the-year internship voyages.
At the conclusion of each of the three years of the J. S. A. pilot licensure program, all of its qualifying students accompany a professional pilot on a regular interplanetary run. First year students are assigned to short, one or two day voyages, and mainly observe, second year students do a bit of assisting on a week-long voyage, and third year students get a chance to do everything the real pilot does, on a journey of a month or more. Besides getting good field experience, the end-of-the-year internship voyages were opportunities to make connections that could make a big difference in the quantity and quality of job offers one might get upon graduation. It was no wonder then, that the whole of Rajivs dorm hardly slept the night before the internship assignments were to be announced.
Like everyone else in the dorm, Rajiv and his roommate were up at six am, when the assignments were due to be posted, and of course the ancient school data-net was slowed down with the high number of simultaneous demands, but at last Rajiv and Jamils assignments appeared on Jamils net monitor. It was awkward, Rajiv thought to himself, that both he and Jamil were trying not to look disappointed to find that theyd been assigned to the same ship. It was a good assignment and it was only the two of them whod be traveling with the Corsica; many first year students found themselves vying for the pilots attention against four or five others students. Still, Rajiv knew he wouldnt have minded in the least having another student or two along to act as a social buffer and he suspected that Jamil felt the same.
It was when Rajiv read the details of the Corsicas mission though, that he knew real dismay. It was a UE subsidized trip for Ed Corps and involved ferrying Ed Corps personnel to Grogans World, a fairly remote extractive colony, and all of that was typical. Rajivs problem was the identity of the personnel they would be ferrying.
Musicians were among the many kinds of cultural presenters that Ed Corps regularly sent to outlying worlds, but surely something more than just plain bad luck had placed Rajiv on a spaceship with not just another musician, but a classical one and another string player, to boot!
Sylvia Markeridze was a cellist and not a violinist, but one of such notoriety that Rajiv recognized her name instantly when he saw it. She was the principal cellist of the OEPF Philharmonic Orchestra, which was not as famous as it had once been, but still fairly widely known. With a rush of sudden horror, Rajiv realized that one or more of the faculty must have come to learn of his musical talents and given him this assignment on purpose. Was there a hidden message in this assignment, that hed be better off with his "own kind"?
Rajiv fumed and fretted silently in his room as Jamil went out to joyfully boast of his assignment with the other students. As much as hed felt certain that the momentary equilibrium that had come to exist between his music and being a student pilot was never going to last, Rajiv still felt furious over how the academy directors had betrayed him in this assignment. He would never have asked for a celebrity assignment like this and was enormously offended that they had appeared to assume hed want it. They were meddling in his life without his permission (just as his parents had always done!) and the idea that it was being done to him again filled Rajiv with a helpless rage.
Asking for another assignment was out of the question as it would only make him look ungrateful and besides, nobody ever got their assignments changed after they were made. The only option Rajiv had was to take the assignment and act as though their passenger was just that another passenger. The Academy staff might be sending him a message, but nobody was forcing him to accept it. He had as much right to be at the Academy as anyone else.
To back that claim up, Rajiv Banarsidass knew he had achieved some pretty high test and simulator scores. On a good day working out with the flight simulator Rajiv almost approached the same inner peace he felt while playing the violin. He was good at this piloting stuff, took joy in the competence he was rapidly gaining and remained entirely pleased at the idea of doing it for a living. He saw no reason why his past life or aptitude should stand in the way of his becoming a pilot and he knew he had every right to pursue the career of his choice.
Rajivs righteous indignation soon faded in the excitement of the impending voyage, though. When he looked forward to the technical aspects of the upcoming journey and didnt think either about the presence of his annoying roommate, or their troubling celebrity passenger, Rajiv found was actually eagerly anticipating the trip. What with end of the year exams and other final projects, the remaining weeks before Rajiv and Jamils appointment with the Corsica flew quickly by.
* * * * *
Looking out the window of the shuttle at the Corsica, Rajiv knew that compared to other ships in her class, even other ships her age, the Corsica wasnt much to look at. She wasnt young and she hadnt been state of the art when she was built, over forty years ago. From what Rajiv had been learning (as he immersed himself in everything he could find about the Corsica and her technical specs) that was not necessarily a bad thing, though. All the Corsicas various systems were tried and true and had pretty much had all of the bugs worked out of them by the time she was built. She was also a tad overbuilt, but both of these qualities were in a large way responsible for her longevity. Most faster-than-light ships dont continue to be commercially space-worthy for forty years and Rajiv wondered if the Corsica was proud of her great age or if, like most humans, she would prefer that it not be discussed.
It was probably not the latter, Rajiv guessed, as the messages she had sent to him and Jamil, welcoming them as new interns, had made a point of mentioning her many years in service. It made sense, too, that a ships EI (Engineered Intelligence) which was still psychologically sound after all this time would have to be comfortable about her age. As much as Rajiv was looking forward to learning to work with the Corsicas time-adapted and retrofitted forty year old systems, he was also very interested in getting to know the Corsica herself.
Humans who didnt work in space seldom got to meet or work with EIs, though there were a couple of hundred such beings who lived and worked only on earth and another hundred or so land-bound EIs on the colonies. There were no human built faster than light ships which operated without them, though. In fact, the first faster than light ship ever built by humans was operated by one of the first fully cognizant EIs ever built. Many stories were told among Rajivs fellow students of the legendary friendships that occasionally formed between pilots, captains, and their ships EIs. Every student pilot ever trained to fly with EIs and faster than light ships wished such a friendship for themselves and Rajiv was no different.
EIs were like people though; they had different temperaments, likes and dislikes and they had their moods. Rajiv imagined that an EI who elected to offer internship positions would be expected to be friendly and enjoy meeting new people, but that wasnt always the case. Horror stories circulated among the pilot trainees, of ships EIs who were short tempered taskmasters, or obsessive and paranoid, making their interns short stays miserable at best, and imperiling their lives at worst.
The shuttle had drawn close enough now that the Corsica filled most of the window Rajiv peered out of. He could see her armaments: two ion cannons and a missile launcher. They were nothing flashy but were, like the Corsica herself, solid and dependable. Her captain, Jean Pierre Ventducor, Rajiv recalled reading, was a Space Service veteran who had flown in both the Phallarian Pirate Insurrection and the Robertsonian Uprising (the only conflicts the Space Service had ever been involved in). He had owned the Corsica for over five years, but flown with her for more than twenty, starting when theyd both served in the Space Service. When the Service had retired the Corsica, Captain Ventducor had taken the option to retire with her so they could go into business on their own. Theyd spent some time operating as an independent enforcer, but did most of their work ferrying various UE personnel to some of the more remote or hazard prone human settlements.
Since most of the other internship assignments, of any year, tended to be on passenger carriers and other unarmed ships, Rajiv was sure that Captain Ventducor would have the best stories to tell of any of the stories that would be told to the many JSA interns and relayed to their fellows next fall. Rajiv found it quite pleasant anticipating this and it added to the general state of excited anticipation which he felt as the shuttle docked, with a mild bump, onto the Corsica. He had hardly been troubled by his roommate, or worries about the Corsicas passenger for days.
the captain said when Jamil nodded and then a sonorously deep, feminine and slightly French accented voice spoke from out of the air, seemingly just to the captains left.
"I, too wish to welcome you aboard." said the Corsica. "Im always pleased to take interns. Captain Ventducor and I both really enjoy showing young pilots they way things used to be done."
"They are still done that way, ma cherie." said the captain. "But they are done now where you cannot see them as long as things are working as they should. It is when things are not working as they should that you will think of us and feel much gratitude!"
"You will be hearing much more on this topic from the captain throughout our time together, gentlemen." put in the Corsica. "But now I think we had better get you settled into your berths. After that youll get the grand tour and a bite to eat. Is that agreeable?"
Rajiv and Jamil would share quarters, of course, but they had the option of taking bunks on opposite sides of the otherwise unoccupied room, which was somewhat larger than their dorm room and designed to berth a dozen troops. They lingered there only long enough for Rajiv and Jamil to fling their duffels onto their chosen bunks and listen to Dam Washingtons run-down of basic ships safety procedures. Then they were off with Captain Ventducor on their tour. Neither Rajiv or Jamil had ever been off planet before, much less gotten a look at the workings of a real intersystem ship and both of them struggled to hide the excitement they each felt. Heading out of the bunk room, Rajiv caught the captain in a knowing smile, as he looked back at his two new interns. They werent fooling anybody.
The first stop on their tour was the bridge. They entered the circular room at its center, having climbed a flight of stairs which curved around the bridge access lift shaft as it ascended. On the wall opposite the lift door were four large screens (fore, aft, port and starboard views) and in front of that was a long console table, with five different workstations on it. Upon entering with them, Dam Washington made her way to one and sat, immediately engrossed in a dizzying array of read-outs.
"This, of course, is the main Operations Control area, where we will be spending most of our time." said the captain as the rest of them assembled before the big console desk.
"Behind us is gunnery control, which I am certain will remain undisturbed during our voyage," he continued, "and the main cognitive systems core. If you are not familiar with the engineered intelligence, you will maybe think that this is where the Corsica lives, no? But this is not so. She is in all of the ship, just as you are in all of your body. Never forget that."
"Im also always listening, unless you specifically ask me not to." the Corsicas voice contributed. "I really dont mind being told that a certain conversation is private and there are plenty of things in peoples personal lives that I would really rather not know about, so please do me a favor when youre about to get personal and count me out."
As she spoke, Rajiv noticed that the star-fields on the front screens had been replaced by an image, in which each of the four screens showed a quarter of a larger image of a woman. She was older, dark haired and dark eyed and looked to be of Mediterranean heritage. She had a face whose beauty Rajiv could tell had grown, rather that faded with age and as he watched her Rajiv realized that she was the Corsica.
"You pay attention what Corsica say, you boys." said another voice, belonging to the older Asian gentleman emerging from gunnery control. "Every bunch of new intern forget every time and then we have to hear all about your nasty lives next day at breakfast, so dont forget."
"Dom Tembe, Dom Banarsidass, may I introduce our weapons technician, Yuan Li Chang." said the Corsica, the woman on the screen speaking as Rajiv heard the voice seeming to emanate from nearby.
Rajiv and Jamil both politely acknowledged Dom Chang, who bowed to each of them in response. "I cant believe that many interns here spend much time talking about their personal lives, or even thinking about them." remarked Jamil, carrying on the previous discussion.
"Its true that I generally get more of that kind of thing from our passengers," replied the Corsica, "but pilot trainees arent immune to gossip either."
"I think that instead of wishing that we would not gossip in your hearing," remarked Rajiv, "you will be wishing that Jamil and I would stop thinking of more questions to ask you, Dam."
"Of that you need have no fear," said the Corsica with a smile, "for I never tire of attentions from young handsome pilots, and I never tire of talking about myself!"
Captain Ventducor rolled his eyes in agreement, while Dom Chang chuckled in response and on the screen before them the Corsica smiled so beguilingly that neither Rajiv nor Jamil could help but smile back. The captain now cleared his throat to bring everyone back to business and proceeded to give them a more detailed overview of the Operations Control area, promising to spend the whole day with them tomorrow on the navigation and helm systems. After that they moved over to the cognitive systems core where Dam Washington gave them a briefing on the Corsicas intelligence and data processing functions.
Her accent told Rajiv that she was from North America, and he knew that she was the youngest member of the Corsicas four person crew. Her demeanor as she spoke seemed a bit humorless, stiff and formal and Rajiv wondered if she got along well with the easygoing Corsica.
Dom Chang gave them a briefing on the Corsicas weapons systems next. His cheerful wisecracking manner stood in sharp contrast to Dam Washingtons, but glancing back at her as the weapons tech joked with them Rajiv caught her in a shy smile. For the first of what would be many times, Rajiv came to marvel at the interesting assemblage of characters who made up the Corsicas crew.
"Sylvia Markeridze," she said, firmly grasping Rajivs hand. I am very much please to make your acquaintance."
"Rajiv Banarsidass," he replied, "and you must call me Rajiv, please." To his surprise, Rajiv found it impossible not to instantly like this woman, in spite of the fact that he was still terrified that she would identify him somehow. Her likability put him at ease, though and probably prevented him from behaving like an idiot in front of her out of sheer nervousness and for that Rajiv was grateful.
Captain Ventducor invited the ladies to join them in their meal but both declared they had just been heading off,
Dam Francisco-Sonoma to the engineering decks, where they would shortly be joining her and Dam Markeridze to practice.
For Rajiv, the rest of the days events were clouded over by a fog of black despair and helpless fury. Even getting to see the Corsica engage her lightspeed drive from the engineering deck did nothing to lift his mood and he took in little of what Engineer Francisco-Sonoma told them about the Corsicas gravitics and drive systems. After all of that, though, the captain gave the two of them a couple of hours of free time to relax and settle in before showing up for dinner with the rest of the ships crew and passengers.
Good as his word, as soon as they had made their way back to the bunk room, Jamil extracted Rajivs violin case from his duffel and handed it over.
She paused a moment to tuck a loose strand of gray hair back into her bun, all the while gazing at him most intently.
"Dom Banarsidass," she said after a moment, "I know that I have said that it is none of my business but, I was, did you know, a student at the Moscow Conservatory myself once and I was wondering if I might ask you what it was that made you dread the place so, and if there was anything I could do to help?"
Rajiv sat back to consider the matter deeply. He had never before met any classical musician who did not either share his teachers and parents ambitions for him, or regard him as a rival, but now here was the mysterious Sylvia Markeridze, a classical musician of great renown and considerable talent, who professed to be neither. Not only that, but she genuinely seemed to want to help him. Could she help him, Rajiv wondered? If he explained to her what a horror performing had become for him, and how it had come to be that way, would she explain it to his parents and teachers?
And why, Rajiv wondered with still greater astonishment, did he feel he could discuss such matters with her at all (someone whom he had met for the first time only yesterday) when he had never felt able to discuss these things with his family or teachers? There was no denying that he had come, in a remarkably short time, to trust this woman completely and he didnt really understand why. Her most recent behavior gave him a solid basis for that trust though, he reflected. He swallowed hard and sat forward to address her.
"Do you think you can really help me with ?" Rajiv gestured vaguely with his hand, unable to find a word for the mess his life had become.
"I dont know," Dam Markeridze said. "but Ill do anything I can."
Rajiv stared the older woman, wanting terribly to believe in her, yet still not quite able to.
"Why?" he asked, wincing inwardly at how rude it sounded, but unable to stop himself. "Why would you help me?"
Dam Markeridze -the Duchess- did not react to Rajivs apparent ingratitude at all, but only responded to the question.
"No one should have to suffer for their gift." she said. "I can see with my own eyes at this very moment that you are suffering and if one tenth of what I have heard about you is true, then you have a remarkable gift. A gift such as that should give you joy, not sorrow and if I can help in any way to restore the joy to your gift, then I will, for to do so is to work to fulfill the will of God."
She was, Rajiv could see, completely serious. He did recall learning at some point that Sylvia Markeridze was an member of a extremely obscure and mystical variant of Christian Orthodoxy and as he considered this Rajiv realized that Sylvia Markeridze had, herself, been a victim of far too little personal privacy. At this very moment, Rajiv realized with shock, he knew far more about Sylvia Markeridzes past and personal life than she could possibly know about his.
What he knew about Sylvia Markeridzes past suggested that her offer of help was genuine and, in the end, what did he have to lose? There was even, he thought to himself, some small hope for a resolution to the conflicts in his life, perhaps even an end to the terrible anxiety that plagued him in his performances. If there was a hope he felt certain that she would help him find it.
He leaned forward in his chair to lay his arms on the table, stretching his left hand across it for her to take, which she did.
"I am placing myself altogether in your hands, Dam Markeridze." he said with a wry smile.
"Why dont you call me Duchess, dear," said Dam Markeridze, "all of my friends do. Then I can call you Rajiv, if thats all right with you?"
Rajiv nodded. "Yes, that will be fine." he said, and then he began. He began at the very beginning and he told her everything. It took some time, naturally, and at some point the Duchess had the presence of mind to ask the Corsica to send a service bot to prepare and deliver a pot of green tea for them. Throughout his lengthy account the Duchess did indeed listen and comment with sympathy and kindness. She touched him as he spoke as well, stroking or gently squeezing his hand, and once even leaning forward to brush a lock of hair out of his eyes.
Rajiv concluded his tale with his arrival on the Corsica and Jamils act of social sabotage when they had first been introduced.
"So you should not feel so bad for revealing me," he explained as he finished, "for Jamil used you, and he did so with intention."
"Oh, I am aware that I was used." said the Duchess, "And I made it very clear to him that I did not appreciate being treated so after you left. But I allowed myself to be used only out of thoughtlessness and for that I am most grievously sorry, Rajiv."
"You have more than earned my forgiveness, Dam Markeridze Duchess." said Rajiv.
The Duchess paused a moment before she spoke next. "I only ask because I do not know if you are aware Rajiv did you know that there are treatments, that a doctor or therapist can prescribe, that can help you with your anxiety when you perform?"
"I had heard of such things," Rajiv said after a moments thought, "But that isnt really the problem for me, I mean, not the whole problem."
She nodded. "No, I think you are probably right." she said. "Do you have any notion of what you think might help with the whole problem?"
That was certainly the question, Rajiv thought to himself. In all of the times hed pondered the possible solution to his quandary, hed been the only reliable resource hed ever had to call upon. Hed never had an ally before, and hed never imagined himself ever having one. Could the Duchess really help? How? These, however, were questions he would have to take up later because just then Rajivs and the Duchess conversation was abruptly interrupted by a very loud bang.
It was followed immediately by an ominous series of smaller bangs, crunches, pops and crashing sounds which lasted for several long seconds, then it went quiet, and all of the lights went out.
"This is not a good thing." said Rajiv in the dark and the Duchess said, "Oh, dear."
Even as they spoke the rooms emergency lights came on, outlining the various paths and highlighting the exits. Rajiv called out for the Corsica, but she did not respond. He tried again a moment later but still, only silence answered him.
"This is very much not a good thing." said Rajiv. "I think something may have struck the ship." When he considered the possible ramifications of this, one in particular struck him right away.
"Duchess," he urgently addressed the cellist, "your instrument, it is sealed in a pressure case, yes?"
"Oh, yes, of course dear." she said with a smile. "I do this far too often not to have made it a routine, and Im certainly glad of it now. But what of your violin, Rajiv?"
He shook his head. "I dont imagine that idiot Jamil even knew pressure cases for musical instruments existed. I have never even owned one. I never imagined that I would ever travel beyond the earth with my violin!" He shrugged. "He is probably in the bunk room with it right now, though, so perhaps he will save it for me again." That, Rajiv thought grimly, or they could both be destroyed.
"I should try to find out what has happened." said Rajiv, standing up from the table. "They may be able to use my help."
The Duchess followed him down from the banquet table and around to the base of the stairs which climbed to the bridge. The emergency telltales outlining the stairway glowed red, however, indicating that the bulkhead above was sealed. That meant that there had indeed been a loss of pressure somewhere nearby and it meant that Rajiv didnt know how he could get to the bridge now. If the bridge was inaccessible, then the next place to try was in engineering, which lay in the opposite direction from where the damage seemed to be.
The lift was inactive, of course, so Rajiv would have to pry the doors open and climb down the emergency ladder that ran down one wall of the shaft. The Duchess watched uneasily as Rajiv propped the doors open and leaned in to inspect the shaft.
"This is probably the safest place for you to be right now." Rajiv said to her before he stepped down into the shaft. "I will tell the others you are here, and if there is a better place for you to be I will come back right away and take you there."
"Thank you, Rajiv." she said and, hearing her voice, Rajiv realized that she was afraid. He was too, but he had something to do and she did not, and might be stuck here waiting alone, in the dark, with no idea what was happening, for some time. He hesitated.
"You go." she said. "Ill be all right."
No red lights shone on the atmosphere indicator at the engineering level (the elevator shaft continued down for two levels more). Rajiv found he couldnt get a grip on the doors to open them, so he kicked the doors as hard as he could to attract the attention of anyone inside. After several rounds of kicks, and several long and anxious moments the doors parted and a strong, wiry pair of hands reached through it to help Rajiv off the ladder and onto the deck.
The engineer seemed surprised to see him, looking him up and down as though trying to remember where shed seen him before. It seemed to come back to her after a moment, but she still couldnt recall his name and made several poor attempts before Rajiv held up his hand and cried "Rajiv!"
* * * * *
When you were doing field work with the Johannesburg Transients Service, the Corsica asked him, some time later. Werent you worried about your hands? I had always heard that musicians were very cautious with their hands?
The work did harden my hands. Rajiv answered. But we seldom did anything that might seriously injure our hands, or anything else. The work was more boring than it was laborious, but for me it was good to have a simple task, where I wasnt required to think about anything. We ate good food, too -many fresh vegetables from the fields we were gleaning. It was like a gift from the Devas, that time was.
How did you wind up a the Spaceflight Academy, then? asked the Corsica, with, Rajiv thought, understandable curiosity.
He paused before he answered. Having listened to himself tell the tale, Rajiv was certain that the Corsica would come to the same conclusion he had, many long hours ago: the Johannesburg Spaceflight Academy was, for him, just another step on his unending flight from the Moscow Conservatory and his musical destiny and not at all the new beginning in his life that he had dreamed of.
It was a whim. he admitted at last, with a sigh. We were gathering corn, one day, on a farm near the Academy landing field where I could see the ships coming and going. I thought that it looked like fun. Rajiv paused a moment, to let the indictment sink in, and then went on.
The Transients Service does whatever it can to help anyone who wants to enter any kind of professional training program, so they helped me get signed up for the Academys Space Pilot Aptitude Tests. My scores tuned out to be quite high, so they found me a place that September. I did not even know how long the waiting lists are ... how hard it is for most people to get a spot. It is no wonder, really, that Jamil thinks so poorly of me.
Is that what your quarrel was about, then? the Corsica asked.
Mostly. Rajiv answered. Jamil sees my talent only as a means to earn a living. To him, I already have one perfectly fine and lucrative occupation, and all I am doing now is taking another one -one I dont really need myself- away from someone else like him.
I wouldnt agree that having one talent obliges you to make a living of it, replied the ship, but I never heard you mention that you had any opposition to making a living as a musician, youve just said that your discomfort makes it difficult for you to do so. Rajiv, if you could make a living as a musician, without having to appear in public, would you?
Rajiv had never considered the issue in that light, and told the Corsica so. No one has ever suggested that I would do anything other that give recitals and concerts. I am not certain of what else I could do.
What about recordings? Isnt there a way for you to make a living doing recorded performances? That seems the most obvious answer to me.
Rajiv stood and circled to stand behind his chair, feeling restless and wishing to move as he spoke. If I had chosen to play modern music, then you would be correct and, to be certain, it was my choice to continue to play this sort of ancient music when I came to the Conservatory. I have no one to blame but myself for that, but this is one choice that came from my soul, and was mine alone. This is without a doubt the music I was meant to play, but so many fine recordings of this type of music still exist from long ago that no one will pay money for new ones to be made.
Isnt there any modern music you would play?
It does not challenge me. Rajiv answered. Modern composers do not understand the old instruments. What they write for the violin could be written for any instrument with the same range. They do not know how touch the soul of the violin as the late Romantic classical composers could.
But there are still a few composers who write in the old styles, I know. Captain Ventducor listens to them all the time.
Here Rajiv had to smile. Have you heard of any works by Griffen or Melovidov for soloist? They write for groups of musicians -for half a dozen players or more, for there are no performers today with the skills to play the great solo parts such as were once written.
Except for you. remarked the Corsica.
Except for me. Rajiv agreed. But what composer would give a new work to a soloist who will not play the premier in public?
The Corsica was spared from having to answer at that moment by a welcome interruption from her captain.
Ma cherie! his voice was jubilant. Are you ready?
For what? asked the Corsica with a little trepidation.
For the rest of you to come back on line! announced the Captain, of course!
Mon Capitan! Vous avez me savoir, encore! the Corsica cried. I am ready.
For Rajiv, the most noticeable effect was that a moment later nearly all of the telltales on the status board in front of him went from red to amber, to green, and that the volume of the ships quiet background noises increased, ever so slightly. The expression on the Corsicas face on the screen before Rajiv showed a far more more profound effect. Just as Rajiv heard the background noise increase he saw the Corsica lift her hands to her heart and her face break into a smile of quiet ecstasy.
Rajiv waited for a few moments before interrupting her rapture, but when he saw her lower her hands and open her eyes, he asked, Everything back where it should be?
Oh yes, Dom Banarsidass! she answered happily. I cannot express how wonderful it feels to be altogether myself again nor, I think, can I adequately express my gratitude to you Rajiv, for staying here with me and distracting me from my difficulties. Most born-folk do not understand how much companionship means to us at such times. It can truly mean the difference between life and death -or sanity and insanity- which for us is the same thing. I only wish I could have found a better answer for you, Rajiv.
You must not feel badly on my account, Corsica. he replied. I do not know if there is an answer for me anywhere.
My passenger, Dam Markeridze, seems quite a nice person, and she plays the same sort of music you do, doesnt she?
Have you asked her, Rajiv? She seems like she could be very helpful.
Once again, Rajiv nodded. You know, I did talk to Dam Markeridze ... the Duchess, only a few hours ago. he said. And you are right, she is a very kind and gracious person. She told me that she would do what ever she could to help, but I still dont know what that could be because, you see, our conversation was interrupted rather abruptly.
Ah. said the Corsica. Well then dont you think you should go and find her and tell her everything is all right now?
Cant you tell her? Rajiv asked, checking to make sure that the Corsica was truly altogether functional again.
Of course, said the Corsica, reassuring him, But I think youd best go and tell her yourself, that way you can test run the lift on the way down.
* * * * *
Duchess Markeridze was standing just outside of the lift, regarding the mechanism with apparent suspicion, as the lift doors opened onto the Commons deck and Rajiv stepped out.
Is that thing safe now? she asked him.
All is well, Duchess. said Rajiv, spreading his hands to encompass the whole ship. All damage has been repaired and we will shortly be back on course to Grogans World. And if you have any other questions, the Corsica is once again available to take all of your inquiries from anywhere in the ship.
Praise be to God. she said, with evident relief. Does that mean I can get into my quarters again?
It should. he answered.
Would you like to come with me, then? she asked. Id like to introduce you.
Alright, Rajiv asked as he followed her, but to whom are you introducing me?
Oh, to my cello, of course. the Duchess replied.
The cello to whom he was introduced was a five hundred and fifty year old Guarnarius Del Jesu which the Duchess cradled like a child as she lifted her out of her case, and caressed like a lover as she clasped her between her knees and essayed a few scales.
What a voice. Rajiv nearly whispered, lifting his hand to his heart as he listened. How long have you had her?
The Duchess continued to play, shifting into a movement from a Bach suite for a few minutes before she answered.
She was a gift. she said. A life-time loan from the city of Tblisi. It was a special gesture of appreciation from the mayor, who was a good friend of mine, and a ... goodbye present.
Rajiv remembered hearing that Sylvia Markeridze had been exiled from her home city at the conclusion of the affair during which she had earned her nickname, around twenty years ago. He listened to her play for several minutes more, until she came to stop and asked him, What about your instrument, Rajiv? Have you checked your quarters yet?
The indicator on the door panel of his quarters glowed green as Rajiv and the Duchess approached it, but he hesitated before opening it. He knew he would be terribly disappointed if anything had happened to his recently acquired instrument, and he did not particularly want to share that sorrow, either with Jamil, who was likely there as well, or even with the kindly Duchess who hovered anxiously behind him. Still, it seemed that there was no avoiding it, so he placed his hand on the panel and bid the door open.
Jamil was the first thing that they saw as the door opened, sheepishly collecting his belongings from where they, along with Rajivs, were scattered about the room. Taking in the chaos in the room, and the heap of plastic which was the empty Emergency Hostile Environment bubble Suit inside which Jamil had clearly passed the crisis, it was clear to Rajiv that there had indeed been a loss of pressure here. Rajiv had a long, awful moment before Jamil noticed him and moved to lift Rajivs violin case from within the folds of the EHE Suit.
I took it with me. he said. I figured that since I was the one who brought it onto the ship, I should probably take responsibility for it.
Rajiv took the case gratefully, thanking Jamil sincerely for his thoughtfulness.
Jamil shrugged. I had a lot to make up for.
Rajiv turned to face Jamil, violin case still in his hand.
I must also be honest with you, Jamil. he said. It is true that I chose to enter the Academy because I was still trying to run away from my past, but I promise you that I had no idea how hard it is for most people to be admitted. If my aptitude test scores had not been so high I would have been left on the waiting list just like everyone else.
Dom Banarsidass, if your scores were that high, then you deserved your spot. Jamil said, in a conciliatory tone. I just never imagined that anyone could have scores so high and not be someone who has wanted to be a space pilot all his life, like me.
Actually, Ive heard that highly skilled musicians often test very high in the skills used by space pilots. interjected the Duchess, Though Im not sure that anyone knows why. But Rajiv, she continued, You have met my Del Jesu. Might I have the pleasure of meeting the instrument which found you all the way down in Johannesburg and bought you back to the fold?
Rajiv looked down at the case in his hands, then over at Jamil, who he knew had heard him play before, then over at the Duchess, and then thought of the Corsica, who he knew was listening, and for whom he had said he would like to play. Could he? Could he go to that special, private place with his violin here, without preparation or practice, in front of these until-recently strangers?
For an answer, Rajiv walked over to one of the less cluttered bunks and sat, placing the violin case on his lap. The moment he opened it and laid his eyes upon the dark varnish he was almost overcome in an unexpected deluge of relief. Carried on that tide of feeling, he found it easy to lose the room around him and the others in it. So easily the violin found its way to the embrace of his head and shoulder, and the bow fit into his right hand. So quickly the bow found the strings that Rajiv found himself playing before he realized it. He hardly had to tune it and so launched almost immediately into a series of scales and etudes, just as the Duchess had done. Feeling a slight smile creep onto his face, Rajiv decided to continue to follow the Duchess lead and begin with another piece by Bach- the Partita from his unplayed conservatory recital.
He let his eyes drift close as he played, not seeing the others in the room, but still aware of their presence. As he played, reveling in the musics brilliant beauty, Rajiv came to an astonishing realization. For the first time in his life he was enjoying the sensation of knowing that others were listening to his music. He was not merely performing for them, but sharing his joy in his music, and they did not judge him or his music as they listened, but they they did share in his joy and so completed the magic circle that exists between a performer and an audience when things work as they should.
When he finished the piece, he lowered his instrument and drew a long breath as though coming out of a trance. He was gently startled into full awareness by the sound of a handful of people clapping and saw that the Duchess had lifted her hand to her face in astonishment. Oh, Rajiv ... she exclaimed softly.
Rajiv smiled at the floor, and then tuned to place his instrument in its case. Well, it seems to have come through everything alright. he said.
The Duchess stepped closer and laid her hand on Rajivs shoulder. Thank you. she said, that was quite lovely, and this is a very fine sounding instrument, too, especially for having been found in a Johannesburg street market. Do you know where it is from or who made it?
Rajiv shook his head. Inside there is a label which says Nasun 2015, but I do not know that name.
The Duchess shook her head. I dont know it either. It sounds American to me, though how it has traveled from there to a street market in South Africa would be a greater mystery still.
Captain Ventducors voice conducted through the ships intercom system intruded into their speculations at that moment, announcing that all crew and passengers were accounted for and unharmed, and requesting that everyone not currently engaged in ships business report to the commons for a long overdue meal. This was indeed welcome news to everyone in the room and all acted in accordance.
There was a definite celebratory mood to the meal, in a pleasant contrast to the interpersonal tension and drama of the last one. By the end of it everyone had recounted their own story of how they had passed through the crisis, and no judgment was passed on those who had been trapped and unable to contribute to the repairs. In incidents such as this, the Captain had made clear, surviving always counted as a real and positive contribution.
It was as they were lingering over after dinner beverages and second helpings of dessert that the Corsica reminded them all that theyd be docking with the Grogans world orbital station, and bidding farewell to their passenger in six hours. To the Corsicas crew this mean that it was time to get off to bed, as theyd all be needed when it came time to dock, but to Rajiv it meant hed soon be saying goodbye to a friend -the first real friend hed made since leaving Varnase.
It seemed that the Duchess was reluctant to part company with him as well, for as the rest of the crew left to retire, and Jamil departed to stand a watch on the bridge with the Corsica, Rajiv and the Duchess remained.
Both of them basked silently in the pleasures of satiation, relief and general tranquility until the Duchess, setting her empty teacup aside, broke the silence at last.
Rajiv, may I ask you to play for me one more time?
Rajiv had been watching her face grow deeply thoughtful over the last minute or so and was fairly curious as to what had sparked this request. But he didnt ask her. Instead he stood and said, Alright. Do you want to come back to the bunk room, or should I bring my violin back here?
Here, I think. she said, or rather, over there, by the table we were talking at last night. If thats all right?
Rajiv assented and went to fetch his violin. Returning to commons deck he found the Duchess sitting at one end of the long banquet table, where he had sat himself, little more than twenty four hours ago, thinking himself friendless and trapped. Now at least, he knew himself to have a friend, though how he came to feel so strongly about it after such a brief time was a mystery to him. That he trusted her enough to agree to play for her so easily was a greater mystery still. He knew better than to think that she would solve his problems for him, but it seemed clear that she had been thinking of him and he was touched to see it.
Have you something you can play which might be a bit later than Bach? the Duchess asked him as he stood at the other end of the long table, rosining up his bow. There was clearly some specific reason she was having him play, but Rajiv consciously put aside his speculations to focus on his music.
How about Prokofiev? he asked.
Perfect! said the Duchess with a smile.
He chose the last movement, knowing somehow that it was an audition of sorts, though for what he had no clue. And even though he knew it was an audition, it felt different from any audition hed ever played. Instead of listening only to his errors, cataloguing in his mind the various critiques he knew he would receive, he heard, possibly for the first time, his own brilliance. He felt a swelling of pride that she was seeing his mastery of a certain technically difficult passage, hearing the depth of feeling he expressed in another. When he finished with a heartfelt flourish he wa struck with a sense of pride in accomplishment he had never before experienced. It occurred to him that, knowing that this was the kind of experience which making music could be for him, he might even be able to endure another three years at the Moscow Conservatory. The Duchess, however, had something entirely else in mind.
Rajiv, she said, another thoughtful moment after he finished, have you ever considered playing in a orchestra?
And the rest, my friends, is history.
COPYRIGHT 2004: Catherine S. Chandler
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