Authors: Charles Sheffield
Tags: #Science Fiction
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright (c) 1982 by Charles Sheffield
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Book
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Gary Ruddell
First Baen printing, June 2000
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Produced by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH
Printed in the United States of America
Sir Westcott read from a folder in a flat, toneless voice. It was my list of injuries. If I had been feeling sick when the surgeon began his catalog, I grew sicker as he went on with it.
Then he coughed and read, "
I remembered the punch line of an old tall story
: "So what happened to you then, Bill?" "What happened to me? Why, I died, of course."
I gave a sort of hysterical titter. "What are you telling me? That I died and now I'm in Hell?"
"Nothing so sensational. Let me finish." Westcott pulled another sheet of paper from his folder. "Your brother. It tells the same story.
. For ten different reasons."
"It's been a month since the accident, and I'm still alive."
"Alive, and doing very well. But your brother Leo was in worse shape even than you were. He was sinking before we could even get him into the theater. I had to make a decision."
You killed Leo!
"No." He glowered down at me. "Your brother was a hopeless case, absolutely hopeless. And you were terribly injured. I had to make a decision. Save one, or save none. You died as much as Leo did."
"I'm here, and he isn't."
"Don't be too sure of that. You lost partial segments from three main brain lobes, but you had the brain stem and the midbrain completely intact. I took parts of Leo's brain, and used them to replace the lobe segments you lost."
"But Leo's dead. I don't feel half like Leo, and half like myself. I'm Lionel Salkind."
"All that proves is that you have the verbal part of the brain under control. That's all in your left hemisphere. If you want my honest opinion, yes, I think that Leo is still alive, in some sense, and he's inhabiting part of your skull."
He closed the folder. "And at some time—don't ask me when and where, or even how—I expect the two halves of the brain to integrate again. You'll become a single individual. And beyond that, I can't go."
My Brother's Keeper
Between the Strokes of Night
The Compleat McAndrew
The Mind Pool
Proteus in the Underworld
Borderlands of Science
I was sitting on a bench in St. James Park when Leo started work on me again. This time he was a lot more insistent.
He began with my left hand. My arm was stretched out loosely along the bench top. As I watched the fingers lifted and started to tap out a regular rhythm against the wood. I had been quite relaxed, enjoying the sunshine and watching ducks in the lake and young couples on the bank as they went through their elaborate courting rituals. So it took me a few seconds to realize that the finger-tapping was not my idea. Leo. It had to be Leo.
Over and over. My head was aching again, like a resonance to the tapped signal. The rhythm was inside me, and a harmony built to go with it.
Tom, Tom, the piper's son.
Why in God's name would Leo be hitting me with that, an old children's song? He wouldn't. I had to be imagining it, mistaking a random thought of my own for Leo.
I sat quite still for another two or three minutes, trying to push the rhythm out of my mind. When it wouldn't go away I stood up and began to limp slowly west along Birdcage Walk and on past the palace. The stiffness in my right leg was less and less, but I didn't hurry. I had been told not to overdo things, even though the bone graft looked perfect on the X-rays. If only I were doing as well mentally as I was physically . . .
Leo was becoming more persistent every day. Last week there had been uncontrolled movements in my hand, and a couple of days ago it was double vision. If I could find out what was disturbing him, maybe we could get back to normal. No one at the hospital could offer any sort of explanation—relax, wait and see, was all they would say.
By the time I reached Brill's my fingers were under control. Even so, the sales assistant in the store looked at me oddly when I went in. No doubt the limp and the facial scars didn't help—that, and the fact that I suspected my left eye was roaming independently of my right one. I braced myself against the counter and did my best to look relaxed and casual.
"I'd like a book of nursery rhymes."
"Yes, sir." He looked surprised. "Er, what age group is this for?"
What age group indeed, sir? Only Leo could answer that one.
"Do you have a complete collection? I'd like a book that gives the alternative versions, if there is such a thing."
"I'll see what I can find."
When he brought it over and I had paid for it, I ignored the inquisitive look and leafed through on the spot to the right place.
Tom, Tom, the piper's son, Stole a pig and away he run. The pig was eat and Tom was beat, And Tom went howling down the street.
I muttered the words aloud. Nothing. No surge of emotion, no sign that Leo was tuned in and getting the message. Second verse:
Tom, Tom, the piper's son, Learned to play when he was young, But the only tune that he could play, Was "Over the hills and far away."
Now there was something. Something faint and vague, a prickling in the nape of my neck, as though a hairy-legged insect was crawling there. And that was all.
So what now?
I went back outside the shop and leaned on the wall. Even though I hadn't been able to pick up anything definite, the long scar across the back of my skull was still tingling with feeling, as though the stubbly regrowing hair there was trying to stand on end. I tilted my head back and looked up at the clouds, drifting along at the lazy pace of early autumn. The tune was right, I had no doubt about that—but could it be that I was tying in to the wrong set of words? Who else had taken that tune and used it?
Inside the shop again to where the assistant looked at me reproachfully.
"I wondered when you'd be back. You forgot to take your book."
"Never mind that. I don't really want that one. Do you happen to know where I could find a copy of the libretto to
The Beggar's Opera
? If you have the collected works of John Gay, it would be in that."
He was looking at me as though his worst fears were confirmed. He picked up the book of nursery rhymes.
"I'll take this back and give you credit for it. If you'll wait here for a moment I'll check in the other room and see if we have the other book."
He left—to look for my book, or maybe to summon reinforcements. I'm over six-two, and the accident has left signs of considerable wear and tear on my face. While he was gone I hobbled up and down in the store, trying again to control my arms and legs. Not so successful this time. Leo was excited, no doubt about it. But if I'd known where the events of the next five minutes would be taking me I'd have been excited too (and run out of the shop, assuming Leo would have permitted it).
Here he came again.
"This should do it, sir. Allowing for the credit on the other book, you owe us seventy pence." The man hesitated a little before he handed over the volume of John Gay. "We'll be closing in just a minute or two. If you would be kind enough to examine this outside, rather than in here . . ."
He didn't lie well, but I didn't mind. If this led nowhere, I'd shot my bolt anyway. Now, at what point in
The Beggar's Opera
had he used that tune? Some scene between Polly and Macheath, if I remembered it right. Here we are. I leaned against the wall again, feeling that strong itching in my scalp.
Were I laid on Greenland's coast, And in my arms embraced my lass, Warm amid eternal frost, Too soon the half-year's night would pass.
And I would love you all the day, Every night would kiss and play. If with me you'd fondly stray, Over the hills and far away.
The prickling was stronger, and I was panting to myself as I read the words.
Something was coming, coming closer.
Were I sold on Indian soil, Soon as the burning day was closed, I could mock the sultry toil, When on my charmer's breast reposed.
Contact. As I read the words, a torrent of sensory inputs hit me and left me shuddering. The London street was gone. I was bathed in a bright, dusty sunlight, surrounded by a babble of familiar/unfamiliar language. There were strong, tantalizing odors, of spices, burning charcoal, flowers and musky oils. I felt a stab of lust, surprising and mindless, and my fingertips tingled as they moved over soft, cool skin.
On Indian soil, soon as the burning day was closed . . .
I swayed against the wall of the shop, struggling to catch a breath. Leo had found a new way to get through to me. He was sure as hell making the most of it.
My reunion with Leo, like many incidents of my life connected with airports, had begun badly. I was held up in rush-hour traffic in central London, arrived late at Heathrow, and by the time I reached the right part of the terminal the passengers from his flight had all cleared Customs and left. It took me a few minutes to find that out, then I headed over to El Al to look for messages and have Leo paged.
"What's 'is name?" asked the young girl behind the desk. No Israeli she, but a genuine English rose, blue-eyed and pink-cheeked.
"Leo Foss. He was supposed to be coming in on Flight 221."
"That's in already. I'll page 'im, though. And what's your name?"
"Righto. An' I'll keep an eye open for 'im, as well." She smiled at me—dimples, too. "Can you tell me a bit about what 'e looks like, so I'll know what to be watching for?"
"No problem there. He looks—"
"Lionel!" The familiar voice came from behind me.
"—just like me," I finished, as I turned.
I knew what the girl's expression behind me must be. I'd seen it often enough. The fact that Leo and I had different last names only made it more confusing. I looked back at the girl and shrugged apologetically as Leo and I approached to within a foot of each other to perform our usual reunion inspection and survey.
Most people would say we are identical, but of course we're not. We both are very aware that Leo is half an inch taller and usually five pounds heavier (Not this time, though. He was either a little thinner, or tired and worried). He was wearing his hair an inch shorter than the last time we had met, ten months earlier, but that was no surprise. So was I. We had become used to the built-in tendencies to favor the same actions at the same time. Now behavioral differences impressed us more than similarities. Today, for instance, we both wore dark sports jackets and red ties; but Leo was sporting a strange tie clip, rather like a little golden beetle. That was new, and rather surprising—neither of us liked to see men wearing jewelry, and we both shunned rings.
"Now then, about dinner plans," I said, after we had sized each other up and were walking side by side through the terminal to the usual accompaniment of turning heads. "Are you ready for a Chinese meal experiment?"
"Sorry, I can't do it this trip." Leo shook his head, and I noticed what looked like a love bite on his neck, low down near the collar. "I tried to call you from Zurich, but I couldn't reach you. There's been a change of plans, and now I'll have to fly on to Washington tomorrow morning."
"But that still leaves tonight. I'm not playing."
"I know—I found that much out from your manager. I'm relying on that. I have to talk to you, privately."
There was an odd expression in his voice. It confirmed my first impression. He was tired, and under some unusual kind of strain. Others might not have noticed it, but I could feel it under my skin.
"Do you still keep the apartment up north?" he went on. "The one you don't need."
It was a luxury, but when you travel as much as I do you really crave for a place where you can practice quietly and add to your repertoire. I've never been one of the Rubinstein types, who seem to be able to stay on top form without much daily practice. Maybe that's one reason I'll never be the world's number one. But if you want to get into even the top hundred concert pianists, you have to work at it—and don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise. It's hard work, too.