Star of Wonder, page 4
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Carol lurked at the back of the tour group, avoiding the guide’s eyes with all the practice in staying out of the way that living in her aunt and uncle’s hyper-watchful household had given her. She had looked up the crew roster for the ship called the Rover on the planetary net the night before, but as all four listed members had used only their first initials and last names, she was none the wiser as to which of them might be the guide.
Or if all of them are even real. He could have made up names so that everybody thinks he has a crew and nobody knows he’s running the Rover on his own, which would mean nobody knows that he kidnapped the Lurans except the Lurans themselves, and they probably don’t speak Vershal so they wouldn’t have any way to tell us what he did to them…
“Right this way, please, and everybody stay together,” the guide’s voice rang out over the babble of conversations. “The Luran species of anthrofelinoid was discovered about twenty years ago by then-graduate student of cultural science M.K. Xiao. However, for personal reasons, Xiao’s findings were not published for several years after his discovery, meaning that Dr. Anton Kolesar, whose first article on the subject appeared in Cultures of the Galaxy Quarterly some thirteen years back, often receives the credit for…”
If she had been a Luran herself, Carol thought as the group disappeared around the first bend of the corridor, her ears would have pricked up at those sentences. Kolesar and Xiao had been two of the four surnames which appeared on the Rover’s roster, though she didn’t think either of the first names sounded right for the initials she’d seen.
Is he one of them? And if he is, which one? Or did he just pick the names because they’re related to the Lurans and he wants people to think he knows what he’s talking about?
The questions were unanswerable without a lot more information than she currently had.
But I know where I can find out at least a little bit.
Placing her feet carefully so that her shoes wouldn’t thump against the decking, Carol rounded the corner and stepped through the hatch into the safety-shielded walkthrough of the Lurans’ habitat.
Then she stopped and stared.
Gone were the green hills, the trickling brooks, the endless blue sky above. The guide’s fancy today appeared to lean towards the words of another ancient song Carol’s mother had once sung to her.
Because back on the mother world, in the part of it the song came from, there was only one right color for Christmas to be…
Some of the younger Lurans, males, Carol thought, from the breadth of their shoulders and the lack of curvature under their furs, were wrestling in the white stuff which covered the ground. For one astonished second she thought they were breathing smoke, like the dragons she had once seen in a picture of her father’s, but then she remembered that the white stuff, the snow, was crystallized water, and as such required a certain temperature to exist.
And that temperature is so much colder than a person’s body that their breath comes out as steam! Fascinated, she leaned towards the shield. What would that be like, to be cold all over? To see your own breath, and maybe have to blow it onto your hands to keep them warm? One of the Lurans did just that as she watched, huffing into his cupped palms, then tucking his hands under his arms, dancing from foot to foot in the snow. There was even another song about how cold it was at Christmastime, and how different that was from the warmth and the happiness that Christmas ought to mean inside our hearts…
Emboldened by her knowledge that the tour group was at least three turns ahead of her, bolstered by her desire to communicate in some way with the Lurans, but most of all because she wanted to, Carol began very softly to sing.
“In the bleak midwinter,
“Frosty wind made moan,
“Earth stood hard as iron,
“Water like a stone…”
The Luran boys had stopped their playful scuffling at her first note and were standing in a row, watching her, all but the smallest, who had bolted off into the shelter of a group of evergreen trees. Carol gulped down her nerves and kept singing, trying her best to remember the tune from those days so long past.
“Snow had fallen snow on snow,
“Snow on snow,
“In the bleak midwinter
“Long time ago…”
The missing boy came trotting back just as she finished the verse, a taller Luran behind him, her arms wrapped around a strangely-shaped object, her ears poking up from either side of a furred cap tied down over her long dark hair, her golden-brown eyes lighting up as they fixed on Carol—
“Sundance,” Carol breathed, and the Luran girl beamed and pressed a hand against her chest, accepting the name. An absent gesture over her shoulder scattered the boys, sending them loping off in search of more interesting things to do. Then one slender, fur-backed, claw-tipped finger (though the claws were sheathed at the moment, Carol noted, and the furless palms meant the hands would be as dexterous as her own) pointed imperiously through the shield at her, a clear demand.
“Carol,” she identified herself, pressing a hand to her chest in imitation of the Luran girl. “My name is Carol.”
Sundance’s ears twitched back and forth, and she made the soft trilling sound Carol had associated the day before with laughter. Sitting down in the snow, she settled the oddly asymmetrical frame of wood between her knees, with the long strings running from edge to edge vertically—
And began, as Carol’s heart leapt into her throat, to pluck music from the innocuous-seeming strings, music that was not at all like the sound of a human voice. Somehow it seemed purer than a sung tone or word, though surely it was more limited, and in any case it was soul-stirringly beautiful. It would have been banned in an instant from Moria as exactly the sort of “arbitrary sound” her elders feared, and it was exactly what Carol had been wanting her entire life.
“What is it?” she whispered, sinking down to the deck before she fell.
Stilling the strings with the flat of one hand, Sundance frowned. Then her face cleared, and she held up a single finger. Follow me, she seemed to be saying, and pay close attention.
“I’m listening.” Carol leaned forward, so as not to miss a note.
The finger, moving swiftly but without haste, began to pluck a single, unornamented line of music from the strings. Carol smiled and picked up the words to her mother’s favorite song, murmuring them in time with the notes, wondering what it would sound like if she were to sing along with this new music of picked strings—
Sundance rapped her hand against the upper wood of her frame, drawing Carol’s eyes back to her. Sternly, she pointed to the strings, picked out a portion of the musical phrase again, then pointed to Carol.
“To touch their harps of gold,” Carol sang back softly. “Is that what you—oh!” She broke off with a little gasp as Sundance, with a smile so bright it seemed to reflect off the artificial clouds above, rippled a chord up the strings of her—
Her harp. That’s what it’s called!
“I always wondered what a harp looked like,” she said, tracing the graceful curve of the upper frame in the air with her finger. “It’s an…an instrument, isn’t it?”
A firm nod, and Sundance began to play again, this time adding ornamentation under and around the simple melody. Carol listened breathlessly, half-raising her own hands to the same position, wondering what the strings would feel like against her fingertips.
They would have to be pulled awfully tight, I think, to make the sound so clear…
“Doesn’t it hurt?” she asked when the song was over. “Plucking the strings, I mean. Aren’t your fingers sore?”
Sundance smiled and shook her head, extending her hand as close to the shield as she dared, palm up. Carol leaned in for a closer look. “Oh, I see it,” she said after a moment, pointing. “Where your skin is a little rougher, a little thicker—is that because you’ve been playing for so long that it just got that way naturally?”
“So if I tried to learn to play, it probably would hurt, at least for a while.” Carol examined her own hands, trying to imagine what it would be like to have had music in her life for so long that her body had actually changed on account of it.
It would be…magical, she decided at last. The true kind of magic, the kind my parents were looking for out of life.
Guilt struck her as she looked through the safety shield at the other girl, who had her head bent over her harp once more, tightening one of the pegs which held the strings in place.
Sundance might not ever know that kind of magic, not even with music. Not if this is all she ever has, being locked inside a ship and taken around the galaxy to show off to people. I at least have a chance for it, once I’m grown up, if I can learn something that would take me away from Moria, something I could do or be that people would want off-world. She doesn’t. She never will.
Not unless I try to help her. Not unless I tell someone…
She glanced back at Sundance, who was watching her curiously, hands flat against the harpstrings.
But tell them what? That I know the Lurans are human because only humans make music? They’d want to know how I knew what music was like, and then…
A shudder ran through her. As unwelcoming as her aunt and uncle’s house was, the Morian reformatories were worse. Everyone knew someone who had been sent away to a reformatory, but Carol had never met anyone who knew someone who had come back.
It’s where you go when they’ve decided you can’t be bent anymore. That the only option is to break you, and try to rebuild you into something they like better from the pieces.
And high on the list of crimes which could get a child, or even an adult, sent off for a reformatory term on Moria was “recidivist musical activity”.
Which means you do it over and over again, you don’t stop. Carol smiled encouragingly at Sundance, who was looking worriedly at her through the shield. That’s a pretty good definition of me. Now that I’ve heard music, real music, not just little bits and snatches I remember from my mother or catch through Layna’s bedroom door, I don’t ever want to stop. I want to go on, and on, and on.
But the Rover will only be here for one more day.
“Will you play me something else?” she asked quietly, and Sundance beamed and began a new song, somehow sad and happy at the same time. Carol recognized it after a moment and joined her voice to it when the beginning came around again.
“What child is this, who, laid to rest,
“On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
“Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
“While shepherds watch are keeping?”
Sundance added a wordless, crooning harmony under the refrain, her eyes alight with the same joy Carol could feel throbbing through her whole body.
“This, this is Christ the King,
“Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
“Haste, haste to bring him laud,
“The Babe, the Son of Mary!”
The Rover only being here for one more day means that it will be here for one more day, Carol reminded herself. I don’t have to make any big decisions right this very second.
Right this very second is for music.
She glanced around. And maybe for finding somewhere to share it that isn’t quite so exposed. If the tour comes back, I’m sitting right out in the open, I couldn’t exactly claim that I didn’t know what was going on…
“Do you know somewhere they won’t see us?” she asked. “Somewhere we can both be, but no one else can come?”
Sundance nodded smugly, scooped her harp up into her arms, and clambered to her feet, beckoning Carol to follow. They set off together, the shield still between them but somehow less important than it had ever been.