MoboReader> Literature > Captives of the Flame

   Chapter 4 No.4

Captives of the Flame By Samuel R. Delany Characters: 31226

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


She made a note on her pad, put down her slide rule, and picked up a pearl snap with which she fastened together the shoulder panels of her white dress. The maid said, "Ma'am, shall I do your hair now?"

"One second," Clea said. She turned to page 328 of her integral tables, checked the increment of sub-cosine A plus B over the nth root of A to the nth plus B to the nth, and transferred it to her notebook.

"Ma'am?" asked the maid. She was a thin woman, about thirty. The little finger of her left hand was gone.

"You can start now." Clea leaned back in the beauty-hammock and lifted the dark mass of her hair from her neck. The maid caught the ebony wealth with one hand and reached for the end of the four yards of silver chain strung with alternate pearls and diamonds each inch and a half.

"Ma'am?" asked the maid again. "What are you figuring on?"

"I'm trying to determine the inverse sub-trigonometric functions. Dalen Golga, he was my mathematics professor at the university, discovered the regular ones, but nobody's come up with the inverses yet."

"Oh," said the maid. She ceased weaving the jeweled chain a moment, took a comb, and whipped it through a cascade of hair that fell back on Clea's shoulder. "Eh ... what are you going to do with them, once you find them?"

"Actually," said Clea. "Ouch ..."

"Oh, pardon me, I'm sorry, please ..."

"Actually," went on Clea, "they'll be perfectly useless. At least as far as anyone knows now. They exist, so to speak, in a world that has little to do with ours. Like the world of imaginary numbers, the square root of minus one. Eventually we may find use for them, perhaps in the same way we use imaginary numbers to find the roots of equations of a higher order than two, because cosine theta plus I sine theta equals e to the I sine theta, which lets us ..."

"Ma'am?"

"Well, that is to say they haven't been able to do anything like that with the sub-trigonometric functions yet. But they're fun."

"Bend your head a little to the left, ma'am," was the maid's comment.

Clea bent.

"You're going to look beautiful." Four and five fingers wove deftly in her hair. "Just beautiful."

"I hope that Tomar can get here. It's not going to be any fun without him."

"But isn't the King coming?" asked the maid. "I saw his acceptance note myself. You know it was on very simple paper. Very elegant."

"My father will enjoy that a good deal more than I will. My brother went to school with the King before ... before his Majesty's coronation."

"That's amazing," said the maid. "Were they friends? Just think of it? Do you know whether they were friends or not?"

Clea shrugged.

"And, oh," said the maid, continuing, "have you seen the ballroom? All the hors d'oeuvres are real, imported fish. You can tell, because they're smaller than the ones your father grows."

"I know," smiled Clea. "I don't think I've ever eaten any of Dad's fish in my life, which is sort of terrible, actually. They're supposed to be very good."

"Oh, they are, ma'am. They are. Your father is a fine man to grow such great, good fishes. But you must admit, there's something special about the ones that come from the coast. I tasted one on my way up through the pantry. So I know."

"What exactly is it?" Clea asked, turning around.

The maid frowned, and then smiled and nodded wisely. "Oh, I know. I know. You can tell the difference."

* * *

At that moment, Jon Koshar was saying, "Well, so far you've been right." He appeared to be more or less standing (the room was dim, so his head and hands were invisible), more or less alone ("Yeah, I trust you. I don't have much choice," he added.) in the pantry of his father's mansion.

Suddenly his voice took a different tone. "Look, I will trust you; with part of me, anyway. I've been caged up for nearly five years, for something stupid I did, and for something that no matter how hard I try, I can't convince myself was all my fault. I don't mean that Uske should be blamed. But chance, and all the rest ... well, all I mean is it makes me want out that much more. I want to be free. I nearly got myself killed trying to escape from the mines. And a couple of people did get killed helping me. All right, you got me out of that stainless steel graveyard I wandered into back at the radiation barrier, and for that, thanks. I mean it. But I'm not free yet. And I still want out, more than anything in the world.

"Sure, I know that you want me to do something, but I don't understand it yet. You say you'll tell me soon. Okay. But you're riding around in my head like this, so I'm not free yet. If that's what I have to do to get free, than I'll do it. But I'm warning you. If I see another crack in the wall, another spot of light getting in, I'll claw my hands off trying to break through and to hell with what you want. Because while you're there, I can't be free."

Suddenly the light in the pantry flipped on. His sudden face went from the tautness of his last speech to fear. He had been standing by the side of a seven-foot porcelain storage cabinet. He jumped back to the wall. Whoever had come in, a butler or caterer, was out of sight on the other side. A hand came around the edge of the cabinet, reaching for the handle. The hand was broad, wiry with black hair, and sported a cheap, wide, brass ring set with an irregular shape of blue glass. As the door opened, the hand swung out of sight. There was a clatter of dishes on the shelves, the slide of crockery slipping over plastic racks, and a voice. "All right there. You carry this one." Then a grunt, and the ker-flop of the latch as the door slammed to.

A moment later, the light, and John Koshar's hands and head, went out. When Jon stepped forward again, he looked at the pantry, at the doors, the cabinets. The familiarity hurt. There was a door that opened into the main kitchen. (Once he had snagged a kharba fruit from the cook's table and ran, as behind him a wooden salad bowl crashed to the floor. The sound made him whirl, in time to catch the cook's howl and to see the pale shreds of lettuce strewn across the black tile floor. The bowl was still spinning. He had been nine.)

He started slowly for the door to the hallway that led to the dining room. In the hall was a red wood table on which sat a free form sculpture of aluminum rods and heavy glass spheres. That was unfamiliar. Not the table, the sculpture.

A slight highlight along the curve of crystal brought back to him for a moment the blue ceramic vase that had been there in his memory. It was coated with glaze that was shot through with myriad cracks. It was cylindrical, straight, then suddenly veering to a small mouth, slightly off center. The burnished red wood behind the vivid, turquoise blue was a combination that was almost too rich, too sensual. He had broken the vase. He had broken it in surprise, when his sister had come in on him suddenly, the little girl with hair black as his own, only more of it, saying, "What are you doing, Jon?" and he had jumped, turned, and then the vase was lying in fragments on the floor, like a lot of bright, brittle leaves made out of stone. He remembered his first reaction had been, oddly, surprise at finding that the glaze covered the inside as well as the outside of the vase. He was fourteen.

He walked to the family dining room and stepped inside. With the ballroom in use, no one would come here. Stepping into the room was like stepping into a cricket's den, the subtle tsk-tsk of a thousand clocks repeated and repeated, overlapping and melting, with no clear, discernible rhythm. The wall by the door was lined with shelves and they were filled with his father's collection of chronometers. He looked at the clocks on the shelf level with his eye. The last time he had been in this room, it had been the shelf below. The light from the door made a row of crescents on the curved faces, some the size of his little finger nail, others the diameter of his head. Their hands were invisible, their settings were dim. (In his memory they went from simple gold to ornately carved silver, and one was set in an undersea bower with jeweled shells and coral branches.) There must be many new clocks after five years, he thought. If he turned on the light, how many would he recognize?

(When he was eighteen, he had stood in this room and examined the thin, double prong of a fire-blade. The light in the room was off, and as he flicked the button on the hilt, and the white sparks leaped out and up the length of the blade, the crescents flamed on the edges of the clock faces, all along the wall. Later, at the royal palace, with that same blade, there had been the same, sudden, clumsy fear at discovery, fear clotting into panic, the panic turning to confusion, and the confusion metastasizing into fear again, only fear all through him, dragging him down, so that when he tried to run down the vaulted hall, his feet were too heavy, so that when he tripped against the statue in the alcove, whirled upon the pursuing guard, and swung the white needle of energy down and the guard's flesh hissed and fell away-a moment of blood spurring under pale flame-almost immediately he was exhausted. They took him easily after that.)

Clumsy, he thought. Not with his fingers, (He had fixed many of these clocks when his father had acquired them in various states of disrepair.), but with his mind. His emotions were not fine and drawn, but rather great shafts of anger or fear fell about him without focus or apparent source. Disgust, or even love, when he had felt it was vague, liable to metamorphasize from one to the other. (School was great; his history teacher was very good.... School was noisy; the kids were pushy and didn't care about anything. His blue parakeet was delicate and beautiful; he had taught it to whistle ... there were always crumbs on the bottom of the cage; changing the paper was a nuisance.)

Then there had been five years of prison. And the first sharp feeling pierced his mind, as sharp as the uncoiled hair-spring of a clock, as sharp as jewels in a poison ring. It was a wish, a pain, an agony for freedom. The plans for escape had been intricate, yet sharp as the cracks in blue ceramic glaze. The hunger for escape was a hand against his stomach, and as the three of them had, at last, waited in the rain by the steps, it had tightened unbearably. Then ...

Then with all the sharpness, what had made him lose the others? Why had he wandered in the wrong direction? Clumsy! And he wanted to be free of that! And wonder if that was what he had wanted to be free of all along while he had sputtered at the prison guards, choked on the food, and could not communicate his outrage. Then, at the horizon, was the purple glow of something paler than sunrise, deadlier than the sea, a flickering, luminous purple gauze behind the hills. Near him were the skeletons of broken, century-ancient trees, leafless, nearly petrified. The crumbly dirt looked as if it had been scattered over the land in handfuls, loosely, bearing neither shrubs or footprints. By one boulder a trickle of black water ran beneath a fallen log, catching dim light in the ripples on either side. He looked up.

On the horizon, against the lines of light, as though cut-no, torn-from carbon paper was the silhouette of a city. Tower behind tower rose against the pearly haze. A net of roadways wound among the spires.

Then he made out one minuscule thread of metal that ran from the city, in his general direction but veering to the right. It passed him half a mile away and at last disappeared into the edge of the jungle that he could see, now, behind him. Telphar! The word came to his mind as though on a sign attached with springs to his consciousness. The radiation! That was the second thing he thought of. Once more the name of the city shivered in his brain: Telphar! The certain, very certain death he had wandered into caught the center of his gut like a fist. It was almost as if the name were sounding out loud in his skull. Then he stopped. Because he realized he had heard something. A ... a voice! Very definitely he heard it-

Music had started. He could hear it coming from the ballroom now. The party must be under way. He looked out into the hall. A fellow in a white apron, holding an empty tray on which were crumbs from small cakes, was coming toward him.

"Excuse me, sir," the man in the apron said. "Guests aren't supposed to be in this part of the house."

"I was trying to find the-eh-er ..." Jon coughed.

The man in the apron smiled. "Oh. Of course. Go back into the ballroom and take the hall to your left down three doors."

"Thank you," Jon smiled back and hurried up the hallway. He entered the ballroom by way of a high, arched alcove in which were small white meat, red meat, dark meat of fish ground into patties, cut into stars, strips of fillet wound into imitation sea shells, tiny braised shrimp, and stuffed baby smelts.

A ten-piece orchestra-three bass radiolins, a theremin, and six blown shells of various sizes-was making a slow, windy music from the dais. The scattering of guests seemed lost in the great room. Jon wandered across the floor.

Here and there were stainless steel fountains in which blue or pink liquid fanned over mounds of crushed ice. Each fountain was rimmed with a little shelf on which was a ring of glasses. He picked a glass up, let a spout of pink fill it, and walked on, sipping slowly.

Suddenly, the loudspeaker announced the arrival of Mr. Quelor Da and party. Heads turned, and a moment later a complex of glitter, green silk, blue net, and diamonds at the top of the six wide marble steps across the room resolved into four ladies and their escorts.

Jon glanced up at the balcony than ran around the second story of the room. A short gentleman in a severe, unornamented blue suit was coming toward the head of the steps which expanded down toward the ballroom floor with the grace and approximate shape of a swan's wing. The gentleman hurried down the pale cascade.

Jon sipped his drink. It was sweet with the combined flavors of a dozen fruits, with the whisper of alcohol bitter at the back of his tongue. The gentleman hurried across the floor, passing within yards of him.

Father! The impact was the same as the recognition of Telphar. The hair was thinner than it had been five years ago. He was much heavier. His-father-was at the other side of the room already, checking with the waiters. Jon pulled his shoulders in, and let his breath out. It was the familiarity, not the change, that hurt.

It took some time before the room filled. There was a lot of space. One guest Jon noted was a young man in military uniform. He was powerful, squat in a taurine way usually associated with older men. There was a major's insignia on his shoulder. Jon watched him a while, empathizing with his occasional looks that told how out of place he felt. He took neither food nor drink, but prowled a ten-foot area by the side of the balcony steps. Waiting, Jon thought.

A half an hour later, the floor was respectably populated. Jon had exchanged a few words at last with the soldier. (Jon: "A beautiful party, don't you think?" Soldier, with embarrassment: "Yes, sir." Jon: "I guess the war is worrying all of us." Soldier: "The war? Yes." Then he looked away, not inclined to talk more.) Jon was now near the door. Suddenly the loudspeaker announced: "The Party of His Royal Majesty, the King."

Gowns rustled, the talk rose, people turned, and

fell back from the entrance. The King's party, headed by himself and a tall, electric-looking red-headed woman, his senior by a handful of years, appeared at the top of the six marble steps. As they came down, right and left, people bowed. Jon dropped his head, but not before he realized that the King's escort had given him a very direct look. He glanced up again, but now her emerald train was sweeping down the aisle the people had left open. Her insignia, he remembered, told him she was a duchess.

Coming up the aisle in the other direction now between the bowing crowds was old Koshar. He bowed very low, and the pale blond young man raised him and they shook hands, and Koshar spoke. "Your Majesty," he began warmly.

"Sir," answered the King, smiling.

"I haven't seen you since you were a boy at school."

The King smiled again, this time rather wanly. Koshar hurried on.

"But I would like to introduce my daughter to you, for it's her party. Clea-." The old man turned to the balcony stairs, and the crowd's eyes turned with him.

She was standing on the top step, in a white dress made of panel over silken panel, held with pearl clasps. Her black hair cascaded across one shoulder, webbed and re-webbed with a chain of silver strung with pearls. Her hands at her sides, she came down the stairs. People stepped back; she smiled, and walked forward. Jon watched while at last his sister reached his father's side.

"My daughter Clea," said old Koshar to the King.

"Charmed."

Koshar raised his left hand, and the musicians began the introduction to the changing partners dance. Jon watched the King take Clea in his arms, and also saw the soldier move toward them, and then stop. A woman in a smoky gray dress suddenly blocked his view, smiled at him, and said, "Will you dance?" He smiled back, to avoid another expression, and she was in his arms. Apparently the soldier had had a similar experience, for at the first turn of the music, Jon saw the soldier was dancing too. A few couples away, Clea and the King turned round and round, white and white, brunette and blond. The steps came back to Jon like a poem remembered, the turn, the dip, separate, and join again. When a girl does the strange little outward step, and the boy bows, so that for a moment she is out of sight, her gown always swishes just so. Yes, like that! This whole day had been filled with the sudden remembrances of tiny facts like that, forgotten for five years, at once relearned with startling vividness that shocked him. The music signaled for partners to change. Gowns whirled into momentary flowers, and he was dancing with the brown-haired woman the soldier had been dancing with a moment before. Looking to his left, he saw that the soldier had somehow contrived to get Clea for a partner. Moving closer, he overheard.

"I didn't think you were going to get here at all. I'm so glad," from Clea.

"I could have even come earlier," Tomar said. "But you'd have been busy."

"You could have come up."

"And once I got here, I didn't think we'd get a chance to talk, either."

"Well, you've got one now. Better make it quick. We change partners in a moment. What happened to the scouting planes?"

"All crippled. Didn't sight a thing. They got back to base almost before I did this morning. The report was nothing. What about the picnic, Clea?"

"We can have it on ..."

A burst of music signaled the change. Jon did not hear the day, but expected his sister to whirl into his arms. But instead (he saw her white dress flare and turn by him) an emerald iridescence caught in his eye, then rich mahogany flame. He was dancing with the Duchess. She was nearly his height, and watched him with a smile hung in the subtle area between friendship and knowing cynicism. She moved easily, and he had just remembered that he ought to smile back to be polite when the music sounded the change. The instant before she whirled away, he heard her say, very distinctly, "Good luck, Jon Koshar."

His name brought him to a halt, and he stared after her. When he did turn back to his new partner, surprise still on his face, his eyes were filled with sudden whiteness. It was Clea. He should have been dancing, but he was standing still. When she looked at his face to discover why, she suddenly drew a breath. At first he thought his head had disappeared again. Then, as shock and surprise became suddenly as real as her wide eyes, her open mouth, he whispered, "Clea!" And her hand went to her mouth.

Clumsy! he thought, and the word was a sudden ache in his hands and chest. Reach for her. Dance. As his hands went out, the music stopped, and the languid voice of the King came over the loudspeaker.

"Ladies and gentlemen, citizens of Toromon, I have just received a message from the council that necessitates an announcement to you as my friends and loyal subjects. I have been requested by the council to make their declaration of war official by my consent. An emergency meeting over sudden developments has made it imperative that we begin immediate action against our most hostile enemies on the mainland. Therefore, before you all, I declare the Empire of Toromon to be at war."

In the silence, Jon looked for his sister, but she was gone. Someone near the microphone cried out, "Long live the King." Then the cry echoed again. The musicians started the music once more, partners found one another, and the talking and laughing grew in his ears like waves, like crumbling rock, like the cutter teeth clawing into the rock face of the ore deposits....

Jon shook his head. But he was in his own house, yes. His room was on the second floor and he could go up and lie down. And by his bed would be the copper night table, and the copy of Delcord the Whaler which he had been reading the night before.

He'd left the ballroom and gotten halfway down the hall before he remembered that his room was probably not his room any longer. And that he certainly couldn't go up to it and lie down. He was standing in front of the door of one of the sitting rooms that opened off the hall. The door was ajar, and from it he heard a woman's voice.

"Well, can't you do something about his index of refraction? If he's going to be doing any work at night, you can't have him popping on and off like a cigarette lighter." There was silence. Then: "Well, at least don't you think he should be told more than he knows now? Fine. So do I, especially since the war has been officially declared."

Jon took a breath and stepped in.

Her emerald train whirled across the duller green of the carpet as she turned. The bright hair, untonsured save by two coral combs, fell behind her shoulders. Her smile showed faint surprise. Very faint. "Who were you talking to?" Jon Koshar asked.

"Mutual friends," the Duchess said. They were alone in the room.

After a moment, Jon said, "What do they want us to do? It's treason, isn't it?"

The Duchess' eyes went thin. "Are you serious?" she asked. "You call that treason, keeping these idiots from destroying themselves, eating themselves up in a war with a nameless enemy, something so powerful that if there were any consideration of real fighting, we could be destroyed with a thought. Do you remember who the enemy is? You've heard his name. There are only three people in Toromon who have, Jon Koshar. Everyone else is ignorant. So we're the only ones who can say we're fully responsible. That responsibility is to Toromon. Have you any idea what state the economy is in? Your own father is responsible for a good bit of it; but if he closed down his aquariums now, the panic he would cause would equal the destruction their being open already causes. The empire is snowballing toward its own destruction, and it's going to take it out in the war. You call trying to prevent it treason?"

"Whatever we call it, we don't have much choice, do we?"

"With people like you around, I'm not sure it isn't a bad idea."

"Look," said Jon. "I was cooped up in a prison mine way out beyond nowhere for five years. All I wanted was out, see. All I wanted was to get free. Well, I'm back in Toron and I'm still not free."

"First of all," said the Duchess, "if it wasn't for them, you wouldn't be as free as you are now. After a day of clean clothes and walking in fresh air, if you're not well on the road to what you want, then I'd better change some ideas of my own. I want something too, Jon Koshar. When I was seventeen, I worked for a summer in your father's aquarium. My nine hours a day were spent with a metal spoon about the size of your head scraping the bottoms of the used tank tube of the stuff that even the glass filters were too touchy to take out. Afterwards I was too tired to do much more than read. So I read. Most of it was about Toromon's history. I read a lot about the mainland expeditions. Then, in my first winter out of school, I lived in a fishing village at the edge of the forest, studying what I could of the customs of the forest people. I made sketches of their temples, tried to map their nomadic movements. I even wrote an article on the architecture of their temporary shelters that was published in the university journal.

"Well, what I want is for Toromon to be free, free of its own ridiculous self-entanglements. Perhaps coming from the royal family, I had a easier path toward a sense of Toromon's history. At its best, that's all an aristocracy is good for anyway. But I wanted more than a sense, I wanted to know what it was worth. So I went out and looked, and I found out it was worth a whole lot. Somehow Toromon is going to have to pick itself up by the back of the neck and give itself a shaking. If I have to be the part that does the shaking, then I will. That's what I want, Jon Koshar, and I want it as badly as you want to be free."

Jon was quiet a moment. Then he said, "Anyway, to get what we want, I guess we more or less have to do the same thing. All right, I'll go along. But you're going to have to explain some things to me. There's a lot I still don't understand."

"A lot we both don't," the Duchess said. "But we know this: they're not from Earth, they're not human, and they come from very far away. Inconceivably far."

"What about the rest?"

"They'll help us help Toromon if we help them. How, I still don't understand for sure. Already I've arranged to have Price Let kidnaped."

"Kidnaped? But why?"

"Because if we get through this, Toromon is going to need a strong king. And I think you'll agree that Uske will never quite make that. Also, he's ill, and under any great strain, might die in a moment, not to mention the underground groups that are bound to spring up to undermine whatever the government decides to do, once the war gets going. Let is going where he can become a strong man, with the proper training, so that if anything happens to Uske, he can return and there'll be someone to guide the government through its crises. After that, how we're to help them, I'm not sure."

"I see," said Jon. "How did they get hold of you, anyway? For that matter, how did they get me?"

"You? They contacted you just outside of Telphar, didn't they? They had to rearrange the molecular structure of some of your more delicate proteins and do a general overhaul on your sub-crystalline structure so the radiation wouldn't kill you. That, unfortunately had the unpleasant side effect of booting down your index of refraction a couple of points, which is why you keep fading in dim light. In fact, I got a blow-by-blow description of your entire escape from them. It kept me on the edge of my seat all night. How was I contacted? The same way you were, suddenly, and with those words: Lord of the Flames. Now, your first direct assignment will be ..."

* * *

In another room, Clea was sitting on a blue velvet hassock with her hands tight in her lap. Then suddenly they flew apart like springs, shook beside her head, and then clasped again. "Tomar," she said. "Please, excuse me, but I'm upset. It was so strange. When I was dancing with the King, he told me how he had dreamed of my brother this morning. I didn't think anything of it. I thought it was just small talk. Then, just after I changed partners for the third time, there I was, staring into a face that I could have sworn was Jon's. And the man wasn't dancing, either. He was just looking at me, very funny, and then he said my name. Tomar, it was the same voice Jon used to use when I'd hurt myself and he wanted to help. Oh, it couldn't have been him, because he was too tall, and too gaunt, and the voice was just a little too deep. But it was so much like what he might have been. That was when the King made his announcement. I just turned and ran. The whole thing seemed supernatural. Oh, don't worry, I'm not superstitious, but it unnerved me. And that plus what you said this morning."

"What I said?" asked Tomar. He stood beside the hassock in the blue-draped sitting room, his hands in his pockets, listening with animal patience.

"About their drafting all the degree students into the war effort. Maybe the war is good, but Tomar, I'm working on another project, and all at once, the thing I want most in the world is to be left alone to work on it. And I want you, and I want to have a picnic. I'm nearly at the solution now, and to have to stop and work on bomb sightings and missile trajectories ... Tomar, there's a beauty in abstract mathematics that shouldn't have to be dulled with that sort of thing. Also, maybe you'll go away, or I'll go away. That doesn't seem fair either. Tomar, have you ever had things you wanted, had them in your hands, and suddenly have a situation come up that made it look like they might fly out of your grip forever?"

Tomar rubbed his hand across his brush-cut red hair and shook his head. "There was a time once, when I wanted things. Like food, work, and a bed where all four legs touched the ground. So I came to Toron. And I got them. And I got you, and so I guess there isn't anything else to want, or want that bad." He grinned, and the grin made her smile.

"I guess," she started, "... I guess it was just that he looked so much like my brother."

"Clea," Tomar said. "About your brother. I wasn't going to tell you this until later. Maybe I shouldn't say it now. But you were asking whether or not they were going to draft prisoners into the army; and whether at the end of their service, they'd be freed. Well, I did some checking. They are going to, and I sent through a recommendation that they take your brother among the first bunch. In three hours I got a memorandum from the penal commissioner. Your brother's dead."

She looked at him hard, trying to hold her eyes open and to prevent the little snarl of sound that was a sob from loosening in the back of her throat.

"In fact it happened last night," Tomar went on. "He and two others attempted an escape. Two of their bodies were found. And there's no chance that the third one could have escaped alive."

The snarl collapsed into a sound she would not make. She sat for a moment. Then she said, "Let's go back to the party." She stood up, and they walked across the white rug to the door. Once she shook her head and opened her mouth. Then she closed it again and went on. "Yes. I'm glad you said it. I don't know. Maybe it was a sign ... a sign that he was dead. Maybe it was a sign ..." She stopped. "No. It wasn't. It wasn't anything, was it? No." They went down the steps to the ballroom once more. The music was very, very happy.

* * *

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