Alex listened to the symphony one more time through from beginning to end. He liked it. There were a few things that he might have to adjust for once he had it in front of a group of live musicians in an actual auditorium, but overall, he liked the way it had turned out.
It had taken him about a week to finish it, partly because he'd done a great deal of work on it before he'd left for New Orleans, partly because it seemed to flow from his imagination to his hands, virtually writing itself, and partly because he hadn't really been paying much attention to the clock.
While it was a great benefit in the creative process, he was now beginning to regret it. He couldn't remember when he had eaten last, his eyelids felt like sandpaper, and his reflection in the mirror gave mute testimony to the fact that he had not bathed or changed his clothes in three days.
He saved the final version of the file and then, checking to be certain that there was enough paper in the printer, had the computer print it out. While he was waiting, he ordered a pizza then headed to the bathroom for a shower. Forty-five minutes later, he was clean, had shaven and was sorting the pages of music that his printer had produced. The bell on his door sounded and he buzzed the delivery person in. Ten minutes later he was devouring his food, barely taking care to avoid splattering the sauce on his shirt.
After the events of the last few weeks, he was glad things were getting back to some semblance of normality. Alex finished the last slice of pizza, Alex put the box in the trash, sat down in the chair by the fireplace and, despite his wish to look over the hardcopy one more time, dozed off.
Katsuyari Onuki, better known as Brainchild, was beginning to get impatient. Autocrat had stated in no uncertain terms that Weaver was to take precedence over working on Alex's "change of heart" but Weaver had not appeared once in the two weeks since he had come to New York.
Although it was unlikely, if not impossible, that Weaver had found out about his presence, Brainchild was beginning to wonder. Weaver was an unknown quantity and ignorance was something that Brainchild could not stand. It would have taken a great deal of skill as well as power to have eluded all of the surveillance that Andrews had in place. To have slipped past the frequent mind scans that Brainchild had conducted would make him a powerful psion as well.
So far, all that Brainchild had at his disposal were the three microphones that Alex had missed in his sweep of his dwelling. Brainchild had passed on that information in his last report -- someone had given the device to Alex and they would have to be made to regret their generosity.
Still the problem remained -- how to flush out Weaver. From the information that he'd extracted from Andrews' mind before leaving, Weaver didn't seem to have a set pattern for his 'visits'. They weren't tied to any specific time of day or location. Alex didn't do anything to "summon" Weaver. In fact, he often seemed to be annoyed when Weaver showed up. It was as if Weaver really didn't have anything better to do than to mysteriously show up speak to Alex about this problem or that and then depart just as mysteriously.
Brainchild pondered this a little, turning the information over in his mind and then it struck him.
He shows up, acts as a sounding board, then leaves. It's like he's a roving therapist or something
Brainchild started to smile as he formulated his plan to flush Weaver out into the open
That had been Alex's response when he'd found out about the requirement.
"But you only said you wanted me to develop my composition into a symphony. I've done that. I even have a DAT recording of it that I put together. You never mentioned a single word about performing it!"
Professor Tom Greene, Alex's advisor, sat calmly and let Alex finish his rant before saying, "I'm sure that I did mention it to you, Alex. However, regardless of whether I did or not, the fact remains that the piece must be performed in order to get a passing grade. If there were documented extenuating circumstances, we could mark it incomplete and you could finish it up at a later date. Unfortunately, being 'called away on urgent business' doesn't really qualify."
That is how Alex had explained his absence the week before Christmas, when he had helped Jacob battle the Vampire infestation in New Orleans. He hadn't thought he'd need a note from the civil authorities there.
"Just where am I supposed to get a symphony at this late date? It normally takes months of advance notice to put together something like this. You've barely given me four weeks."
The professor jotted down a few numbers for Alex and handed it to him.
"Those are the numbers for a few friends of mine. Each one is heavily involved with one orchestra or another. I'm sure they'll be able to help you out. I really am sorry about this, Alex. If it were up to me, I'd accept the work on the basis of the recording and the written work alone. Unfortunately," he said, spreading his hands, "I also have to answer to the Powers That Be"
Alex took the slip of paper and exhaled slowly. He'd heard of performances that had been put together at the last moment but had never expected to be in such a situation.
"Thank you, professor. I'll get started right away," he said. Alex retrieved the stack of papers and the DAT recording from the table and headed toward his flat
No one noticed the intentionally nondescript, young man that was waiting outside the door of Professor Greene's office. This is likely due to the fact that he had been broadcasting an "ignore me and do not disturb the professor" signal to the mind of everyone who passed by the office.
Brainchild had to suppress a chuckle as Alex left the office with a stormy expression on his face.
There was, of course no "performance requirement" as the professor had informed Alex. It was a raw fabrication that Alex swallowed whole with a little nudging. All Brainchild had to do was make it sound semi-plausible and have it come from someone that Alex trusted. Someone like Professor Greene.
As Alex headed out of the building, Brainchild followed at a discreet distance.
The first part of Brainchild's plan had been to "make contact" with each of the names on the list that the Professor Greene had given Alex. Brainchild made certain that they would in no way, shape of form be of any help to poor Alex when he tried to contact them. Now it was just a matter of sitting back and letting Alex stew for a while until Weaver showed up to help him solve his problem
Alex only avoided slamming the phone down on the table by the narrowest margin of self-control. Of the five names on the list, only three were even willing to speak to him. Of those three, one had politely refused to even consider his problem, one had claimed to be busy that week -- even before he had stated the date, and the last had refused to bring the work of an amateur before any serious orchestra -- perhaps, once he'd "established" himself in the world of classical composing, he would be given consideration
Alex felt an intense need to hit something. Instead, he decided to get some exercise, hoping a little exertion might help to clear his head enough to decide what to do next.
He quickly changed into some loose-fitting sweats and headed toward Central Park at a quick jog. When he reached Central Park, he headed over to the Reservoir and began to run, full out. Fortunately, the weather kept all but the hard core fitness fanatics inside so he didn't have to worry too much about running anyone down. The trail around the Reservoir was just shy of 2.5 kilometers, about a mile and a half long.
After about 30 minutes, he noticed that the people he had been passing on the trail were now sitting or standing in an area on the west side of the Reservoir. Some were cheering him on, a few were shouting some obscenities. Most were just watching him pass. An hour after he began, he decided to stop, not so much from exhaustion, although he was slightly winded, but mostly because he was just tired of running in circles.
He stopped at a water fountain and, when he stood up, turned around to a small round of applause.
"Oh. Uh, thank you," he said at something of a loss. "What's this all about?"
"You're kiddin', right?" asked one of the men on the right.
"You just ran a marathon," said another, older man, checking his watch, "in just over an hour is all, and you aren't even breathing hard. I know about three dozen people who would kill just to be able to finish one, let alone run it that fast."
"Are you sure?" asked Alex. He really hadn't been paying attention while he was running.
The man nodded. "I'm sure. You passed me three times in under ten minutes. After that I just stopped and watched -- that was another fourteen laps."
Alex wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't really surprised but didn't want to shrug it off as an everyday occurrence. Finally he said, "I wish I'd been paying more attention. I was a little preoccupied."
The other man smiled and said, "I wish I could attain that level of 'preoccupation.'"
The rest of the group began to disperse, but the older man who'd spoke stayed.
"Mind if I ask you a question?"
Alex smiled and replied, "You mean in addition to that one? No, go ahead."
"Where have I seen you before? You look a little familiar but I can't quite place the name. Have you ever competed professionally?"
"Oh no, not at all. I'm a musician. I've been studying over at Juilliard for a few months. Prior to that, I lived in England."
"That's it! You're that teenage aristocrat that turned out to be a metahuman. Oliver -- no. Allan--"
"Alex," he corrected. "Alexander St. John-Smythe."
"Yeah, sorry about that. It's been a while since I was in London, as you can imagine," said the man. "I remember that it was all over the tabloids at the time. Oh, I'm sorry, my name is Harold Vargas. Most folk just call me Harry."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Harry," replied Alex.
Harry cleared his throat and asked, "Mind if I ask another question?"
Alex arched an eyebrow and replied, "Only if you stop prefacing your questions with other questions"
Harry smiled and said, "Fair enough. What could distract you so much that you wouldn't notice breaking a marathon record in half? I mean, that can't be something you do every day, can it?"
Alex grimaced and said, "Well, it's not something I do every day. Normally, I'd be studying or working on a song or something. I just needed to get out for a while I suppose. You wouldn't happen to have an open line on an available symphony orchestra would you? I need to get one to play my composition in about three and a half weeks."
Harry chuckled, saying, "Well, I don't have one with me but give me a few moments, I'll see what I can whip up." Alex smiled, despite the situation he was in.
"Why don't you put up a notice on a bulletin board or two?" Harry asked. "There are bound to be other musicians out there who aren't actually part of an orchestra. I hear the competition for open chairs in established symphonies is pretty fierce. I'd imagine an open call for musicians would yield something, especially if you could sweeten the pot a bit. Do you have a budget to work with?"
"I haven't really considered the possibility. I'm sure I could scrape something up"
Alex and Harry found a coffee shop and sat down and discussed a few options while they were getting the chill out of their bones. It turned out that Harry had been a theatrical producer before he had retired. An hour later, Alex had given Harry enough info for the older man to work with. Harry had said he'd place a couple of ads in the trade papers. He assured Alex that he'd be able to start rehearsing for his performance by the end of the week. He gave Alex his card and got Alex's number in return.
"I really appreciate the advice and the help. I was at the end of the proverbial rope this morning."
"No problem. You've actually made my wife a very happy lady -- she's been trying to get me out of the house for months." Harry winked at Alex, adding, "I think she's got something going with the Doorman"
Brainchild had watched the whole thing transpire with a sort of fascinated disbelief. He had concealed himself with the appearance of a young woman, absorbed in a book. While he was sitting there, sipping at his tea, he watched the man called Harry Vargas virtually undo the damage he had so carefully planned.
His disbelief stemmed from the sheer coincidence of the event. The odds that Alex would have met the one individual who could have solved the problem that Brainchild had created for him were astronomical. It took some effort to keep from causing a brain hemorrhage in the old man right then and there.
When the two parted, Brainchild followed Vargas rather than Alex. True to his word, the old man went home and phoned in a couple of ads in both a daily and a weekly trade paper. The ad placed was an open call for orchestral musicians and included the number of musicians that would be hired for the final performance, where the initial auditions were to be held and the date of the final performance. Brainchild almost killed the man as he hung up the phone, just on general principals. Then he another idea occurred to him.
He searched the old man's mind for the information he required, the names and locations of the publications in which he had just placed ads. Brainchild then mentally located the places in question and found the people responsible for the layout of the ads. When he located them, he appended the information they were to include in the open call. He had them add in large print: "NO PRIOR ORCHESTRAL EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. BEGINNERS WELCOME."
Brainchild felt that this would ensure that anyone that responded to the ad would be wholly unsuited to Alex's needs. He was certain that, by this time tomorrow, he would have eliminated Weaver and could then take Alex to Autocrat at his leisure.
Try and luck your way out of this one, Alex.
Brainchild was so pleased with himself, he decided to take the rest of the evening off. He'd spotted a rather attractive brunette a little earlier and knew that she wouldn't mind abandoning her husband for the remainder of the evening
Alex was stunned. After speaking to Harry, he had gone home and arranged to rent the hall for the try-outs. Afterwards, he posted a few notices at Juilliard, thinking he might be able to recruit a few of the students there who were finished with their projects or just needed the money. He'd even gone as far as to call home and arrange to have the additional funds transferred to his account here so that he'd be able to pay the musicians that passed the auditions.
Now, three days later and the beginning of the auditions only an hour away, Alex sat alone in the auditorium and re-read the ad in the paper that Harry had called him about. All of the details were correct as he'd discussed them with Harry -- except the last part.
....NO PRIOR ORCHESTRAL EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. BEGINNERS WELCOME...
It was bad enough that they had been included. The fact that they were all in capital letters merely added insult to injury. When Harry had seen the ad, he'd seemed genuinely surprised and had offered to call the papers to find out who was responsible and "rip them a new orifice."
Alex declined the offer but now, sitting alone in the auditorium, he was at a loss for what to do. In all likelihood, any experienced musicians would have seen the ad and ignored it, not wanting to work with amateurs. This meant that the bulk, if not all, of the auditions would be by people who would be totally unsuited to play a major symphonic piece. Alex was torn between wanting to punch a hole in the wall and wanting to weep.
Fortunately, he didn't get the chance to do either.
"Quite a problem."
Alex looked up at Weaver, wondering once again at how the man seemed to be able to appear out of thin air without warning or preamble.
"You have a wonderfully developed gift for understatement," replied Alex, clearly not in the mood to banter with the old man.
"I'll make this brief," said the old vagabond. "I'm due for a game of 'Cat and Mouse' and my adversary will be here shortly."
"Well then, I shouldn't keep you from anything so important. Don't feel like you should have to--"
"Please don't interrupt. I have little time."
Surprised, Alex stopped, not sure how to react. Weaver had never been so abrupt. Cryptic, mysterious and often nonsensical but never abrupt.
"Sorry, it's just that it's an important game," replied Weaver with an apologetic grin. "There is the potential for something amazing to happen here and I just wanted to be certain you didn't let your head get in the way of your better judgment.
"What I'm about to do," answered Alex, "is send a lot of people away who thought they had a legitimate chance to play in a symphony."
"No you're not. You're going to accept every one of them and teach them to Listen. It will likely be one of the top five Most Amazing Things you'll experience in your life and if you don't do it, you'll likely regret it until the end of your days."
"The way things have been going recently, that may not be all that long."
"That's not funny, Alex And it's Untrue as well. Trust me on this one. Once you begin, you'll understand."
Weaver stood suddenly, and looked past Alex.
"My opponent's here!" he giggled. "Time to play"
Alex turned around and glanced in the direction that Weaver had been looking. He didn't see anyone and when he turned back to ask Weaver what was going on, the old man was nowhere to be seen.
Alex gave a disgusted sigh and said to no one in particular, "I don't need this shit"
Brainchild had been sitting in the back of the auditorium, willing others not to notice him. He had been savoring Alex's response to the predicament he'd placed the musician in. While not as satisfying as complete and slavish obedience, the onset of despair did have it's merits. Brainchild was toying with the idea of nudging Alex a little closer to the edge when he heard a voice he couldn't account for.
"Quite a problem..."
Brainchild peered around the auditorium, trying to catch any kind of movement.
"...I'm due for a game of 'Cat and Mouse' and my adversary will be here shortly..."
Alex had chosen the auditorium well -- the acoustics were very good. Although he could clearly hear Weaver, he could not see him.
"...There is the potential for something amazing to happen here and I just wanted to be certain you didn't let your head get in the way of your better judgment..."
Since Alex could clearly see who he was speaking to, Brainchild decided to use him to get a better glimpse of his quarry. Making contact with his mind, Brainchild quietly tapped into Alex's perceptions. It wouldn't do to scare Weaver off after having to wait so long to catch him.
"You're going to accept every one of them and teach them to Listen. It will likely be one of the top five Most Amazing Things you'll experience in your life and if you don't do it, you'll likely regret it until the end of your days"
What Brainchild saw did not match anything he might have expected. Through Alex's eyes, he saw an old man, anywhere between fifty and one hundred years old, dressed in rags. Well, not rags really. His clothing seemed to have been patched so many times it was no longer possible to tell what the original color or material had been. In addition to that he seemed to be wearing a blanket or cloak that looked like it had gone through a shredder. The torn, open-fingered gloves seemed to accent the rest of the outfit. Despite the outfit, he seemed as if he bathed on a regular basis and ate fairly well. It was funny, but it seemed to Brainchild that Weaver looked a little like the late Danny Kaye.
Brainchild almost laughed and had to remind himself that this vagrant had managed to elude the most intense and high-tech surveillance setup available to modern science.
Well, he thought, It's about time to bring this all to an end. Weaver, I'm about to introduce you to a very large headache
Just then, something happened that Brainchild had not expected. Weaver suddenly stood up and looked directly at him, as though the vagrant had known he was there all along!
"My opponent's here!" Weaver giggled. "Time to play"
Alex looked in Brainchild's direction and, when he turned back toward where the old man sat, found that Weaver vanished, as if he'd never been. Brainchild scanned all around him for Weaver's mind. He thought he'd caught the wisps of a stray thought but could not sense the old man.
Where the hell have you gotten to old man?
As if in response, Brainchild heard Weaver's voice clearly as the old
man sang some snippet of a child's poem.
You may seek him in the basement,
you may look up in the air --
But I tell you once and once again,
Macavity's not there!
Glancing at Alex, Brainchild noted that the young Brit apparently hadn't heard Weaver's voice.
He's playing games with me! thought Brainchild, his fury growing. Do you know who I am, Old Man? You're going to regret this a long time before I let you die. Who do you think you are?!
The reply seemed to come from a distance, as if Weaver were heading
down a hallway.
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have three different names
Brainchild quickly stood up, unnoticed by Alex or the people who were beginning to filter in for the auditions. Looking around, he determined the direction of the voice and moved
Alex, humming something from the Broadway musical, Cats, stood up to greet the first few people as they entered the auditorium. He wasn't sure what Weaver had intended but then he never did.
"...You're going to accept every one of them and teach them to Listen..."
What in the world did he mean by that? He had emphasized the word "listen" as if it had some kind of profound significance
Then it occurred to Alex that it did, in a way. In order to play a piece of music, Alex first had to 'hear' it in his mind. Reading notes off of a page was all well and good, but if you couldn't imagine what it sounded like, then, regardless of who played it or how, it would always sound mechanical.
Maybe Alex could figure out how to teach someone to Listen, but, even if he could, it would still take years to develop the skills necessary to be able to play an instrument well. Alex sighed and waited, hoping for some kind of divine inspiration. While he did so, a few of the musicians took out their instruments and started warming up. A few of them seemed to have had at least a little training - or at least they weren't too far off key.
As the musicians came in, Alex was surprised that he was able to pick out a few faces that he recognized. A couple were from Juilliard. The ones that surprised him were a couple of the students that he had taught, if only for a day, as a favor to Professor Greene. One was Juan Ortiz, the other was Alice Clark.
The parents of each child were at least partially responsible for Alex being 'relieved" of his teaching burden. He hadn't blamed them of course, especially in light of the fact that he had been attacked by Rook and Proctor, members of the Royal Elite, right on campus. The fact that Alex was a metahuman made situations like that a possibility even if they weren't likely to be repeated. The parents had naturally been concerned for the safety of their children.
Juan was not that much of a surprise. He had shown up to class the next day even when none of the other kids had. He didn't seem to let rules get in his way too often. Alice, on the other hand, was definitely a shock. She had not seemed to be very enthusiastic about learning to play. In fact, she hadn't seemed to thrilled with having Alex for an instructor. Yet here she was.
Eventually, the last of the stragglers arrived. He had each of them take a seat on stage, arranging them so that the were in the correct section, if not in the correct chair. There were a few empty chairs when it was all said and done, but the critical chairs in each section were filled.
Alex stood up and walked to the podium. Normally, there would have been a riser or a box to stand on, but Alex's height mad it unnecessary. The general commotion died down as the assembly looked up at him. Alex cleared his throat and spoke.
"Welcome. First, I want to thank all of you for coming. I see some familiar faces in the crowd here, some," he said looking at both Juan and Alice specifically, "are rather unexpected but no less welcome."
"Second, I want to explain a little about what is happening. A few days ago, through a recent acquaintance, I placed a couple of ads as well as posting a notice on some bulletin boards on the Juilliard campus. I presume that all of you are responding to those ads or notices. The purpose of these ads was to assemble a symphonic orchestra that would be able to play the symphony that I have composed as part of a project for this term."
"Somewhere along the line, a small error, but one with profound consequences, crept into the ad. The ad said, in effect, that musicians of any skill level, from beginners on up, would be suitable applicants. This," said Alex taking a deep breath, "is not the case."
The resulting commotion was actually a bit less than Alex had expected but the group as a whole was clearly not pleased. One gentleman in the percussion section was a little more vocal than the rest.
"You mean to tell us that you got us all here for nothin'? Like we ain't got better things to do with our time, man? Tell me why we shouldn't just beat the hell outta ya and go celebrate with a cup o' coffee?"
Before Alex could speak, Juan jumped into the 'discussion'.
"Why don't you lighten up, man? 'Sides, from the way you smell it prob'ly ain't coffee you were gonna go an' celebrate with!
The man looked like he was going to make a beeline for Juan and use him for a drum. Alex decided he had to put an end to it quickly before someone got hurt.
"That's enough!" he shouted. While it was a little louder than he'd intended, it certainly had the desired effect. Everyone was now looking at him.
"Juan," he said to the young man, "Please sit down. I'll handle it." Turning to the other man, he said, "Sir, if there is something that you need to attend to, I won't keep you from it. If not, I'd appreciate it if you would do me the courtesy of listening to everything I have to say before you decide if a physical response is warranted"
The man looked a little puzzled until someone else whispered, "Joe -- he said 'go if yer gonna, or shut up an' listen. If ya don't like what he says, then rip 'im a new one'"
Hearing the "translation," Alex managed to refrained from smiling. Now was not the time for levity. He looked at each of the gathered musicians, talented and otherwise, waiting to have their attention. When the assembly had quieted, he continued.
"As I was saying, the symphony I've written is not for beginners. As much as I dislike the thought, I'm afraid that this endeavor has ended before it's even begun. I appreciate the fact that you have all come and to show my appreciation, I'll pay you for the day. If you'll make sure to leave your name and contact information on the sign-up sheet, I'll--"
"That's it?!" Juan shouted, looking at Alex as though hurling an accusation. "You're just gonna give it up? I sort of understand about the class at Juilliard, but now you're just quitting."
"I'm sorry Juan, but I honestly don't see another way," said Alex. "While I don't doubt the enthusiasm of anyone here, or their desire to play, it would be an exercise in futility to go through with it.
"What do you mean by 'exercise in futility'?" asked a woman to his right.
"What I mean," answered Alex, "is that I cannot rewrite the symphony to accommodate, if you'll pardon the term, a lower level of skill. I do not believe that I'll be able to find enough fully trained musicians in time to perform the piece. And finally, I don't think it's at all realistic to try to train all of you to bring your respective levels of ability up to professional standards."
There was a moment of subdued silence. Then, surprisingly, Alice stood up slowly and said, "So what?"
Alex, not quite sure he'd heard the girl correctly, said, "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that"
"I said, 'so what?'", she replied with a little more volume. "I mean we may not be all that great now, but that doesn't mean we can't learn. At that Juilliard workshop, you taught eight of us to do more in one day than anyone else had taught us in a whole month."
"Yeah," added Juan. "My mother doesn't yell at me as much about my playin' since then, neither."
"That may be," answered Alex, "but the situation is a bit different now. There are a good deal more people to teach-"
"Yeah, but you've got a whole lot more time to do it. Besides, you're a Big Bad Metahuman, right? What's the problem?"
Alex was about to respond when he noticed that the rest of the assembled musicians were watching the exchange with interest, some with amusement, some with genuine interest in the outcome.
He turned back to Juan and Alice, intending to end the discussion and send everyone home. But when he saw the expressions of hope and expectation on their faces, he found that he didn't have the heart to do it. His shoulders sagged a little and he said, "All right."
"However," he added before they began basking in their so-called victory, "At the end of three weeks, if I don't think we're ready to perform this piece perfectly, we will not do so. I will embarrass neither myself nor you by holding you up for ridicule. Are we clear?"
Juan and Alice, as well as a few of the adults in the group, nodded in assent.
"Then please make sure I have a way to contact you. You can also pick up one of my cards on the back table. For any of you who are under 18, there are also permission forms for your parents to fill out. If they are not here waiting with you already, then they will have to accompany you here when you return tomorrow. I want everyone here, in their seats, ready to play by 9:00 a.m. sharp. Are there any questions?"
No one said a word.
"All right then. We'll get started tomorrow."
Those who had not done so, filled out the sign-in sheets on the way out. As the last one filed out of the auditorium, Alex rubbed his temples.
"How am I going to pull this off?" he asked of no one in particular.
Teach them to Listen
For a moment, he thought Weaver would be standing just behind him again. Alex looked around but couldn't see the old man anywhere. Shaking his head, he stood up and gathered his things. He would need to stop by the music Library to pick up a few pieces for the orchestra to practice on. He also had a lot of planning to do if this was to have any hope of working.
Humming another tune from Cats, Alex headed for the door
Brainchild had exited the building, expecting to see Weaver standing
on the corner waiting, as though for a game of tag. Why he expected this
he wasn't certain. However, when he reached the street, Weaver was nowhere
to be seen. Then he 'heard' him sing once more.
Jellicle Cats come out tonight,
Jellicle Cats come one come all:
The Jellicle Moon is shining bright--
Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.
Brainchild could almost sense the old man, but the vagrant's seemed transparent somehow, almost like a faded photographic slide. You could make out the details with some difficulty but you could see through it.
The rhymes seemed to be taken from the Broadway show, Cats, which, in turn, was based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S.Elliot. Brainchild had seen it performed a few years ago. He hadn't liked it then, either. Regardless, it was a curious choice. Perhaps intended to be some sort of play off of Brainchild's given name -- Katsuyari.
Brainchild listened to Weaver's tone in disbelief. He had never encountered someone like this. There were few people who had ever dared to taunt him, at least more than once. But Weaver acted as though this were all a big game. Sort of like a cross between "Tag" and "Hide and seek" -- and Brainchild seemed to be "it."
He continued to scan for Weaver's mind, but was at a loss to find it. Every few minutes, Weaver would mentally "show" himself to Brainchild, always a little farther away than would seem possible and always in an unexpected direction. And each time he would sing another snippet from that infernal musical.
He is quiet and small, he is blackBrainchild was getting more frustrated by the moment. So much so that, when he thought he'd gotten a glimpse of Weaver's mind, turning a corner into an alley, he lashed out reflexively. When Brainchild looked into the alley, he received yet another surprise -- a startled woman. She was clutching her handbag and staring at the unconscious form of a would-be mugger. The man's ears were bleeding.
From his ears to the tip of his tail;
He can creep through the tiniest crack,
He can walk on the narrowest rail.
Then came more singing.
He can pick any card from a pack,
He is equally cunning with dice;
He is always deceiving you into believing
That he's only hunting for mice.
Brainchild was beginning to wonder just who or what he was dealing with. Not only was he unable to locate Weaver, the vagabond was now using Brainchild's abilities for his own purposes. The young Oriental briefly wondered if he would have to summon additional help but then discarded the thought. Harbinger was obnoxious enough as it was. He was not keen to give him more ammunition than necessary.
What are you, old man?! Do you think you can escape me indefinitely?
He broadcast. In reply, Weaver spoke again, this time seemingly from far
away. Brainchild hurled a mental assault that should have fried the mind
of everything with a pulse in a wide area. It had no apparent effect on
the old man.
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse--
But all may be described in verse.
You've seen them both at work and games,
And learnt about their proper names,
Their habits and their habitat:
But how would you address a Cat?
The song was followed by the "sound" of giggling that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once then faded altogether. The limited awareness that Brainchild had of Weaver vanished entirely, as if the whole occurrence had been nothing more than a dream or hallucination.
Brainchild reached the area where he had targeted his attack and found nothing but a few newly deceased rats an a dog going through it's death spasms. He pulled his coat closer around himself to ward off the chill and headed off toward his hotel to think. And to plan
Alex spent the rest of the day at the Juilliard music library, frantically trying to locate several pieces of music for the newly formed orchestra to practice on. Ultimately, he gave up, deciding there was no time to spend on other music. He decided to start them with a few simple exercises and then pass out the sheet music after a few days.
He spent the evening trying to decide if he was completely and irrevocably out of his mind or just temporarily insane. Ultimately, he gave up on that endeavor having decided that he didn't really want to know. He ate a quick meal and tried to get some sleep. It took a great deal of time, but he finally drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, everyone had arrived at or before 9:00 am. As he had in the classroom at Juilliard, he had everyone introduce themselves and state how long they'd been playing. Finally, after the last person had spoken, he started them on a few exercises to warm up on, playing scales and arpeggios. They were awful. So much so that Alex almost quit then and there.
Teach them to Listen
Again, he heard Weaver's voice but the old man was nowhere to be seen.
Alex cut everyone off and put down the baton. His head bowed, he took a deep breath and carefully chose his words.
"It would seem that we have our work cut out for us."
"Duh -- we suck!"
Alex had half expected a comment like that but he wasn't prepared to address it at the moment. Instead he looked at each of the gathered musicians, young and old alike. When he had looked at each face and made certain he had their complete attention, he spoke.
"There is something about playing music that most people don't know. In fact, there are probably a good number of people who have been playing for years who don't know it either. It's the thing that separates a Musician from someone who knows how to play an instrument. It separates a Vocalist from someone who can carry a tune. It may even mean the difference between a Dancer and someone who can move well on a dance floor."
As he spoke, he continued to look over their faces. They all stared at him as if drinking in what he said. It made him feel a little weird, but he continued.
"This thing, this Quality, to which I'm referring," he said, almost reverently, "is the ability to Listen. It sounds simple, doesn't it? The Ability to Listen. But in that simplicity, is something so profound that words are barely able to convey its full meaning."
"We can hear jus' fine -- we still suck," replied Juan.
"There's a difference between hearing and Listening. Anyone with functioning ears can hear something. What I mean by Listening, is the ability to sense the sound, not with your ears, but with your heart. It's entirely internal. Beethoven, at the age of thirty, was almost totally deaf. He had stopped performing publicly. Yet, even with that handicap, he was able to compose his 9th symphony. Though he was unable to hear, he could still Listen. The music he heard," said Alex while tapping on his chest, "was in a place even deafness could not stop."
No one made a sound as Alex spoke. Looking around the stage, he was beginning to think that no one was blinking either.
"If you can Listen, you will know what the music sounds like before you even play the first note. Nearly every great composer you've ever heard of, and likely a great many more you haven't, have possessed this Quality."
"This is the ability that you need to develop. To be able to Listen to what is happening in the core of your being. To Listen," he emphasized. "And the odd thing about it is that you probably already know how to do it. Every one of you. No exceptions."
Alex had no idea where this was coming from, hadn't even rehearsed what he was saying, but even so he felt it to be True. Beyond all doubt or question.
"But I think most of you may have forgotten. Maybe because you thought it was stupid and ignored it. Maybe someone else told you that it was foolishness and wouldn't do you any good in Life. Or maybe you once could Listen without effort but time and circumstances slowly made you forget."
Alex looked around the auditorium once more. Some people were looking at the floor. Others were concentrating on Alex, staring so hard that they seemed to be looking through him. A few even seemed to be holding back tears. Alex suddenly found it difficult to speak.
"It's time," he said after a few moments, "that you remembered."
He picked up the baton again. He looked at the musicians and when he thought they were ready he spoke again.
"We'll start with a simple concert B flat. Think about the note before you play it. Hold the note as long as you can. Listen to the note in your head and match it to those around you.
Alex brought up his hands and, on the down stroke, they played the note as Alex had instructed.
The tone was almost perfect
And so it began.
Over the next few days, Alex concentrated almost exclusively on basics. First, getting everyone to concentrate, to hear the notes before the sounds even left the instruments. Then teaching them to hear the other musicians, to match tones they produced to those of the others.
As the first week came to a close, Alex handed out the sheet music. He had taken it back home and annotated the copies for the different musicians, writing brief explanations of the terms and symbols that he'd originally used in the composition. For the beginners he'd explained some of the simpler terms, such as the difference between "andante" and "allegro." For the more advanced, he made notes explaining the mood he was trying to convey, the themes the music was intended to express.
As the days passed, the orchestra's skills grew and Alex saw their confidence rise. Even Juan and Alice, the ones who'd had the least experience, were beginning to sound like musicians with years of experience. Near the end of the second week, they played the piece through from beginning to end for the first time. While not a perfect rendition, it was far from a poor showing.
Through it all, Alex ate little and slept even less. When the others went home, Alex remained, working and planning what they'd do next, like a man possessed. However, instead of feeling drained when he finally did go home, he felt invigorated. It was as though the very process of working with the orchestra were sustaining him somehow. Instead of the near depression he'd felt when they first started, he began to feel as if they now had a chance -- a very good chance -- of succeeding.
The fact that Alex had not seen Weaver since the first day of the auditions had not even registered in his thoughts.
Brainchild had an altogether different experience with Weaver.
It was nearly the end of January and he was no closer to dispatching Weaver than he had been when he started.
Katsuyari Onuki. Brainchild. One of the most powerful ESPers in the world, if not the most powerful. Yet one ancient vagrant with a taste for children's rhymes had managed not only to elude the telepath, but, on several occasions, had also managed to trick him into attacking other targets. That galled Brainchild more than anything else.
The loss of common criminals was of no concern to the young Oriental. That he could be tricked, -- manipulated -- into doing something he hadn't intended was what Brainchild couldn't stomach. The vagrant and his rhymes needed to be expunged. He would gladly do so now even if it weren't because Autocrat had commanded it. And he would do it.
The barbs from Harbinger were starting to grate more than usual and Autocrat voiced his "concern" that the "Weaver Problem" had not yet been solved. The first, he could dismiss as jealousy from a less talented telepath. However, Autocrat's comment indicated that a solution had best be forthcoming. And soon.
But as the end of the third week approached, the question still remained. "How?"
He had not been able to focus all of his attention on the problem, often being called away by Autocrat to perform other tasks as were required for the Conquest. Avatar was more difficult to keep under control than they had initially believed and frequent "reinforcement" of his conditioning was necessary. When he'd return to New York, the first thing he'd do was re-establish his link to Alex, something that was getting increasingly, and unexplainably, more difficult to do. Then he would wait.
While waiting, sometimes he would listen to the orchestra as they rehearsed and practiced. Despite the fact that classical music didn't appeal to him, he marveled at their progress. Again, he wondered why Autocrat had such interest in him.
More often, while waiting for Weaver to show, Brainchild would start sifting through Alex's memories, looking for those things that he would be able to use to ultimately gain control over him. By some coincidence, It always seemed as if Weaver would appear before he could delve into Alex's memories too deeply.
Tonight was the performance of Alex's symphony. In addition to other students and people genuinely interested in classical music, the small crowd also consisted of members of the Juilliard staff -- professors and administrative personnel -- as curious about the reasons for the performance as they were to see how it would turn out. There were also several members of the press, no doubt having caught wind of the performance and curious to see how the young English aristocrat would do.
As the telepath waited for Weaver to appear again, he began to see a pattern emerge from that "coincidence." Brainchild was beginning to believe this was the key, both to Weaver's sudden appearances and to gaining control of the young Englishman. From what Brainchild had garnered from Andrews thoughts, as well as his own experiences, he felt that Weaver was doing more than just occasionally advising Alex. It seemed that, in an almost passive way, Weaver was somehow protecting him. Initially, Weaver had not appeared until Alex needed help or advice. Now he began to appear, whenever Brainchild got too close to something in Alex's mind.
Another thing occurred to Brainchild at that moment. Not once, in all of the mental "pursuits" over the past three weeks, had Weaver actually taken direct action against him. He had eluded, misdirected, teased and taunted, even manipulated - a thought that still rankled -- but he had never actually attacked.
Why? he asked himself.
Perhaps he can't, he thought. And always, the vagrant led Brainchild away from Alex. Again, why? Perhaps Alex had some information regarding Weaver that would prove the vagabond's undoing. It was evident that Alex was the key.
Brainchild looked again toward the tall Brit. He was in the midst of speaking to the orchestra, perhaps a few last words of encouragement before the performance. Another time, Brainchild might have taken the time to listen to it all the way through.
But not now.
Taking care to make certain he would remain unnoticed to anyone who passed by, Brainchild insinuated himself once more into Alex's mind, taking extra care so that Alex could not possibly be aware of the intrusion. This time, the effort required to do so was incredible, almost like trying to run through chest high seawater, only it seemed that this was an ocean of sound.
After a few moments, the resistance disappeared and Brainchild was in. He waded through Alex's more recent memories first and Brainchild smiled as he examined them. Brainchild saw the events of everything that had transpired since the young Englishman had arrived in New York. His encounter with the Matrons of Mayhem and meeting Knock-out, his arrival at his new home, his encounters with several metahumans, including the Yeomen, and his memories of the events that transpired in New Orleans -- Brainchild took some pleasure on the expression on Vamp's face when he confronted her. He took special notice of the pain and grief he experienced as a result of having to "kill" so many "victims" -- information likely to come in useful later. Brainchild then turned to his acquaintances.
Alex was evidently quite smitten with Knock-out, judging by the incredibly detailed, almost solid images in his mind. Brainchild made a mental note to come back and examine those more closely after he found what he needed.
One by one, the young telepath examined the thoughts of those closest in his life: his mother, his friends, Gerry and Jessica -- two people that Brainchild had already had the pleasure of "encountering." He wondered briefly, if the "suggestions" he had planted regarding their sexual behavior had kicked in yet. Something to check into another time, he thought. In passing, he also noted the guilt Alex felt at having injured Gerry during a soccer match several years ago.
Continuing on, he examined Alex's memories of the butler -- Maurice, and his Father. The memories of his father were as intense as those of Knock-out, if not more so. A very bad case of "hero worship." He had childhood memories spanning nearly eight years, ranging from perhaps as young as three years old on up to his eleventh birthday. Then they seemed to skip about a year or so, His memories from that point were filled with seeing his father in a hospital bed, being kept alive on life support equipment. The intervening block of time was concealed behind a very tangled, almost cocoon-like "barrier."
Amazing, thought the telepath, these are barriers that it should take decades of self-deception to create. What did you do, Alex?
Before he could delve into the memory more, he heard a familiar "voice."
Jellicle Cats come out tonight,
Jellicle Cats come one come all:
The Jellicle Moon is shining bright--
Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.
Almost as if on cue, thought Brainchild. But I'm not taking the bait this time, old man.
He continued, carefully pushing his way past the barrier that Alex had subconsciously erected, peeling it back like the layers of an onion. He could feel something new from Weaver, an emotional response. Anxiety? Fear? -- yet still, there was no attack. Brainchild allowed himself a mental grin and continued.
Ignoring the increasingly frantic attempts to distract him, Brainchild pushed his way past the last of the barriers and was amazed.
He viewed the scene from Alex's perspective. Eleven years old. Driving in a two-seated convertible, his father at the wheel. Against his father's wishes, he was sneaking a new soccer ball out of the box in which it had been packaged. The ball seemed to jump out of his hands and insinuated itself under the pedals on the driver's side floor. The car began to roll
He was in an ambulance, riding to the hospital and watching in fear as the EMTs worked to keep his father alive
There was yet another barrier, hiding yet another portion of this memory. This barrier was impressive. It was as if another telepath, a very powerful one, had constructed it. At first, he could not find a "seam" to work with. He examined it more closely, mentally magnifying his view of the barrier as he searched. After the second pass over the surface, he found the faintest of lines. He concentrated and established the "purchase he needed to pry it open. Brainchild heard the sudden swell of music, a kind with which he was totally unfamiliar.
Weaver's attempts to draw Brainchild away suddenly ceased.
The next thing Alex knew he was floating, rising gently over the scene. The car continued to roll, seemingly forever and finally came to a stop. The music changed and Alex's ascent slowed then stopped. Hovering for a moment, he began to descend, the music changing in the process.
Although he had never done anything like this, Alex had perfect control over what he was doing. As he landed, the realization of what had just happened came over the child and Alex cried out in despair. Despair borne of the knowledge that he could have saved his father as well, if he had just changed the music ever so slightly...
It was then that he did something that Brainchild would not have thought possible. Alex rejected his power!
...Feeling unworthy and ashamed, he relinquished the control that he had over it. He pushed it off onto someone who would be able to do more good with such power. "Take it away, Weaver! I don't want it! Please take it away..."
The boy had given it to someone who literally did not exist! Weaver. An imaginary, childhood friend. A playmate he had made up years before to help him while away the lonely hours when he was half a world away from his "real" friends
Brainchild almost laughed. It all made sense now. He couldn't catch Weaver because the vagrant had never really been there. He had been a projection of Alex's subconscious mind all along! It's no wonder that idiot, Andrews, couldn't find any physical evidence of him. There wasn't any!
As it was in Alex's childhood, Weaver "appeared" when Alex needed someone to talk to. His subconscious manifested itself so that Alex could "speak" to him. Since Alex had locked away the memory of a childhood friend, he didn't recognize Weaver when they met. But that didn't explain how they had been able to record Weaver's "voice."
Brainchild carefully sifted through more of Alex's more recent memories, specifically those that involved "conversations" with Weaver and found the answer. Alex had been providing it. Using his ability to mimic sounds and using his talents for ventriloquism, he had "thrown" the vagrant's voice so that it always seemed to come from another point, even providing the sounds of rustling clothing and opening and closing doors.
In any other case, brainchild would have been impressed, even awed at such an elaborate deception. As it was, he could only manage bemused astonishment.
"So now you know. What's next?" He heard Weaver say.
Chuckling, Brainchild turned and got his first "real" look at the old man.
"Well, I think you've come to the end of your brief existence, 'Old Man.' We can't very well have you giving Alex the wrong advice and fouling up the plans of the Royal Elite now, can we? I'm going to enjoy your demise. Would you care for Painful or Extra Painful?"
To the telepath's surprise, Weaver smiled slightly and said, "I'll take Option #3."
Brainchild's sense of humor evaporated. "No other options for you. You're just too annoying."
"Do you think that's wise? After all, Alex put me in charge of his power," he said, then paused and added, "well -- more or less. He's been using it a fair amount lately, even if he isn't aware of it. If I'm gone, who's to say what'll happen? Maybe nothing will, in which case you're fine; maybe, the power will go away, in which case Autocrat won't be happy -- or forgiving; or maybe with no 'control mechanism,' Alex's power will literally run wild, in which case you'll probably get a very, very nasty surprise"
Brainchild hesitated, partly because of the absurdity of conversing with a mental "construct" and partly because what Weaver was saying might be true. If true, then the consequences of "killing" Weaver would definitely be -- unpleasant. So Brainchild did the next best thing. He made certain that Weaver would not be making any more "appearances" in the foreseeable future.
As Weaver stood there, smiling, Brainchild gestured. A narrow cage emerged from the "ground," enclosing Weaver. Gesturing again, the old man was painfully bound by chains at the feet, then the neck, followed by his hands and his waist.
Instead of crying out, Weaver began to sing another snippet from Cats:
His coat's very shabby, he's thin as a rake,
And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake.
Yet he was, in his youth, quite the smartest of Cats --
But no longer a terror to mice and to rats...
Brainchild's last gesture resulted in a metallic plate slapping itself across Weaver's mouth, riveting itself in place. Satisfied that the "restraints" were firmly in place, Brainchild withdrew from Alex's mind, with the intent of bringing Alex under his control and returning to Ireland.
As he left, Brainchild failed to notice that, despite being bound and imprisoned within Alex's mind, Weaver looked as though he were smiling behind the plate that covered his mouth...
The curtains to the stage were closed. Alex stood before the orchestra that he had worked so hard to train. He couldn't help but feel a sense of pride, not only having been able to do this but also in the accomplishments of those who sat in before him.
He looked at the gathered Musicians. Each was wearing a tux that had been provided by Harry Vargas. He was still mystified at the mix-up that started the whole thing and the formal wear was his way of apologizing, as unnecessary as it was. Much as he had that first day, he looked at each member of the orchestra and spoke.
"You have all done exceptionally well," he began. "The distance you have traveled in regards to your skills has been remarkable. Your development as Musicians has gone light-years beyond. I am proud," he said, pausing to let the word sink in, "to have had the chance to work with each one of you and I look forward to the chance of doing so again in the future that is, if you're available. I imagine after tonight, you will all be flooded with offers to join other orchestras."
The last statement was met with some nervous laughter. Alex offered a little more last-minute advice and then exited the stage to make his entrance once the curtain rose. While he stood off-stage, he was thankful that the music from Cats was no longer running through his head. It had done so with unusual regularity in the last few weeks and he'd worried that it might try for an encore during the performance.
The curtain rose to polite applause. The crowd, while not massive, was much larger than he had anticipated. From off stage, Alex could recognize several columnists who regularly reviewed performances for publication in several of the larger papers. After the applause subsided, Alex was introduced and he walked out on stage to another round of polite applause. He gave a small bow and turned to the orchestra. He mouthed the words, "from the heart" then raised the baton. Indicating the tempo with the motion of his baton, they started playing.
The reviews that would appear in the papers the next day would try, within the limits of the English language, to describe the performance. Words such as "Awe" and "Majesty" were often used in the varying descriptions. They would try to describe how the grand sweeping themes leading from one movement to the next were accentuated by the smaller, almost hidden melodies that danced within the larger body of music. Often they remarked on the skill that was demonstrated by the musicians, who obviously had been studying for years despite the running joke that each of them had only been playing for a few months.
But what no two reviews could agree upon were the images that the music conjured up in their minds. One likened it to the life of a man, filled with "innumerable triumphs and tragedies, yet never defeated in Spirit." Another compared it to the Cycle of Life as reflected in the "glory and beauty of Nature." A third went as far as comparing it to the grandeur of the Universe, with its "boundless majesty and endless mystery."
Alex was a little unsure how to respond to all of the praise but tried to accept it a graciously and direct as much of it as possible to the orchestra. The one down-side, if you could call it that, was the reported collapse of one of the members of the audience. It seemed that a young, oriental man had lost consciousness sometime near the end of the performance. Paramedics were called and, after determining that the young man was in no immediate danger, transported him to the hospital
Brainchild pulled out of Alex's mind near the end of the performance.
Looking at the Englishman, he determined the best way to proceed. Perhaps an "untimely collapse" during the performance. Easily believable, I think, given his recent poor eating habits and lack of sleep. Once the ambulance has taken him away, it will then be a simple matter to re-direct them to a new destination.
Brainchild prepared his mental assault, something to render him unconscious and keep him mentally "bound" until they would have more time to effect his "conversion" to the cause. He reached out to Alex's mind
And woke up in a hospital bed in an emergency room.
"What the Hell happened?! Where am I?! How did I get here?!" he shouted as he bolted upright.
"Relax, son. You just passed out at a concert," answered a female voice. Noting his formal attire, she added "A rather high class one by the look of it. You're in the emergency room at St. Mary's Metropolitan Hospital. I'm Dr. Virginia Mason."
"I will be going now."
"Just lie back and relax, you're in good hands. We're just waiting on some test results to come back so we can figure out what happened."
"You look tired yourself, Dr. Perhaps you should sit down and get a little sleep," said Brainchild, as he mentally commanded her to comply. The doctor took the seat next to the bed and, within seconds, was snoring softly.
Brainchild got out of the bed, a little wobbly at first. He headed out of the hospital and into the night.
The next week was something of a blur for Alex. He was deluged by phone calls and requests for appearances. It got to the point where he was actually considering disconnecting the phone but he ultimately decided that would be a bad idea. Truth be told, he was secretly enjoying the attention he was receiving, although he'd never admit it.
The one thing that had bothered him was the absence of Professor Greene. After everything had been said and done, Alex discovered that there was, in fact, no requirement to perform the symphony after all. When Alex and the Juilliard School administrators tried to set up a meeting with the Professor, he was nowhere to be found. There was a hastily scribbled note at his office indicating that he would be away for an extended period of time but could not say for how long. Alex had not been sure how to react to the news.
On the one hand, he wanted to hold someone accountable for all of the grief and anxiety he'd felt going into the project. On the other, Alex couldn't honestly say he hadn't enjoyed the experience once it had gotten underway. The end result had certainly been astonishing. In the end, he let the matter slide and arranged with the administrators to continue his studies under another advisor.
Autocrat listened to Brainchild's report.
"An interesting account," he said when the telepath finished. "You're certain that 'Weaver' will not be making any more appearances?"
"Yes, my liege. I felt that imprisoning the construct in a corner of Alex's mind was the best course of action considering the -- unique -- circumstances. It's now neutralized. At your convenience, I'm ready to bring Alex back for indoctrination."
"The time for that has not yet come," said Autocrat. "There are other tasks I require you to complete before Alexander is recruited. "
Brainchild rose and turned toward the door of the audience chamber.
"One more thing, Brainchild. You left out the reason you were taken to the hospital."
Damn. He knew, thought the telepath.
"After I had neutralized Weaver, it was my intention to bring Alex back to you. Evidently, his ability to draw power from music had greatly enhanced his natural defenses. I was not quite prepared for the intensity of that defense. The next time, I will be."
"Very well. Harbinger is working with Avatar again. Go see what aid you can render."
Brainchild withdrew from Avatar's presence. He had not given voice to it, but there was a tiny doubt sitting in the back of his mind. When he had touched Alex's mind at the concert, he had been surprised and overwhelmed by a sense of vastness. The effort of trying to comprehend the magnitude of what he'd encountered caused him to lose consciousness.
The next time, Alex, you won't have any music to fall back on
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