The Music LessonBy Sheila Paulson
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|THE MUSIC LESSON
The base was deserted now; after the battle with the Andromedans, the Federation had been forced to regroup, and they had abandoned some of the outer worlds without hesitation. It seemed a good time to look for a base of operations for the crew of the Liberator--Obsidian had not worked out, but then Cally had suggested the possibility of an abandoned Federation base, at least as a temporary measure. The idea had some merit, and Avon had agreed. Now he and Vila were down here on Dolius, checking the place and examining its possibilities.
Vila didn't like it here, which, in itself, wasn't surprising. Planetfalls could mean danger, and Vila had no fondness for danger at all. But it was more than that. Since Obsidian, Avon had been in a cold, dark frame of mind, and he was inclined to be vicious when irritated, far more so than usual. Vila wondered with sudden perception, if maybe Avon was disappointed at not finding Blake. There had been many rumours of Blake's whereabouts since Star One, and while the one on Obsidian had been planted by Servalan, the others had proven empty as well. Avon seemed to have abandoned the search now, and Vila wondered if Avon missed Blake, and that he could ever admit it, even if he did.
Vila shrugged. There wasn't anything he could do about it. If he tried, he'd have to face the brunt of Avon's wrath, and Vila wasn't fool enough to risk that. He abandoned the idea, but a bit reluctantly, and concentrated on the search.
And then he opened a door and discovered a small room that held only one thing--a piano.
Vila stared. Pianos were a rarity in these days of synthetic music, and Vila had only seen three of them before in his entire life. He went over, sat down and rather hesitantly began to pick out a tune. It had been years since he'd tried to play a piano, and he was completely out of practice.
It had been years....
Vila was fifteen, and he was convinced that he could steal anything. On a dare from some of the other boys in the detention center, he snuck out one night and went off to break into an Alpha household. All he had to do was steal one thing in order to prove he had done it and sneak back without being caught. He was nervous, of course, but he was certain he could do it. He picked a place that seemed dark, deserted for the evening, and was delighted when the lock presented no problems to his yet unpolished skills. With growing confidence, he crept forward into he house.
The music stopped him in his tracks. He froze, listening as it started up, broke off, started up again. Someone was here.
So he wasn't alone in the house after all. Vila almost panicked on the spot. He had to get out of here before he was caught. But even as he turned to flee, he found himself hesitating, listening to the strange and unfamiliar music.
Up until then, music had not played any part in Vila's life. He vaguely remembered his father singing bawdy songs when he was drunk, and then there were the propaganda songs that were taught at Delta schools and in the detention centers. But they were just songs, nothing to rouse any feelings in a boy whose ambition was to be the best thief on Earth.
This music was different. It was pictures inside his head and feelings and dreams, and even though he knew he would be caught, he found himself seeking out the source of the music.
Opening a door silently, he discovered a dimly lit room where a shadowy figure was playing a piano by the faint light of a power candle. Vila had the feeling that he didn't even need the light, that he knew the instrument well enough to play it in total darkness. Certainly Vila was no expert; if he had been, he might have caught the occasional mistake, but the spirit of the music was more important than any sight error, and he crept into the room and sat on the edge of a chair near the door, poised for flight, just listening.
He did not know that he had been seen, but without stopping his music, the player said suddenly, "What are you doing here?"
Vila jumped, but the voice was young, maybe even younger than he was, maybe a year or two older; in the darkness, it was not possible to tell. Vila hovered near flight and heard himself respond as he might not have done to an adult. "I'm a thief."
The playing stopped and the dark figure turned to study him. "Then why come in here? I'm alone in the house, and you could have taken anything you wanted and got away without disturbing me."
Vila said involuntarily, "It was the music. I never heard anything like it before."
"It's only Tchaikovsky," the boy said. "Did you like it?"
"Then I'll play some more." And as calmly as if he gave concerts for thieves every day of the week, the boy began to play other melodies, some clearly beyond his skill, some light and easy that made Vila want to tap his feet in rhythm. He had no idea how long he sat there, but finally the boy ceased his playing. He did not turn the lights up but said without facing Vila, "My parents will be home in less than an hour. I think you should be away from here by then."
Vila said in astonishment, "You're not going to turn me in?"
"No." A rather bitter laugh. "Why should I? There's nothing here I would miss if it were stolen, except this." He patted the piano lovingly.
"I've never seen a piano before," Vila admitted. "At least only in pictures and on the vid. I didn't think people had them any more."
"My father is...old fashioned," the boy responded. "He has some very strange ideas. He doesn't mind me playing around with this, but when I talk to him about my maths..." He added savagely, "Did your father decide that you were to be a thief?"
"No. Well, he didn't much care what I did as long as I didn't bother him," Vila confessed. "I haven't seen him in five years." He shrugged. The drunken man he remembered had not been one to inspire trust or affection; Vila expected neither from anyone--he knew better. He said, "Why? What does your father want you to do?"
"Go into politics," the boy said scornfully. "Politics. Dirty politics, that's more like it. I want maths. Numbers." He shrugged. "They say an aptitude for math and music go hand in hand, but he won't believe it. The piano is just a toy, and I'm to study political science." He added fiercely, "I don't intend to do it."
"I don't blame you," Vila said. "Politics sounds nasty to me. I'm going to be the best thief in the business. You'll see. And they won't condition me away from it either. Five years now, they've been trying, and they haven't done it yet."
"Really?" A note of grudging respect crept into the other boy's voice. "Well more power to someone who knows what he wants and how to resist."
Vila grinned. He knew that all right. "Tell me about the music," he said. "I don't know anything about it."
So the boy talked about pre-atomic composers and went on from there to talk about writers and artist. It was obvious that he was enjoying the chance to display his knowledge to one who was apparently ignorant, and a pompous note crept into his voice as he lectured. Vila heard and recognized it, but he didn't really care. He simply listened. This cynical Alpha came from a world he had never imagined, and now that he knew it existed, he was going to find out more.
He said, "I'm going to learn all that stuff."
"In a detention center?" the boy was frankly skeptical.
"I'll steal books. You don't think they let Delta grades into libraries, do you? Well, there're other places to get books, the kind you don't need viewers for. I can find them. I'll get them. I'll learn."
"Good for you." The boy closed the instrument. "I almost wish I could find out how you manage," he said. "But you'd better go now or they will catch you."
So Vila had gone, hearing the music start up again when he had left the room, feeling the frustration and bitterness in the music now that he knew a bit more about it. And for the first time in his young life, he realized that Alpha's didn't have it their own way either, not always. It was a revelation.
Vila had made good on his vow. He'd even stolen music books and taught himself to read music. His deft fingers could manage a piano if he took his time but he realized with some sadness that while he could manage the mechanics, he could not put the soul into it that the unhappy boy could put into his, so Vila had contented himself with listening. His opportunities to use a piano were so limited as to be nonexistent anyway.
He had also found literature and ploughed through it, at first making little sense of it, but gradually coming to understand more and more. His education was scattered and not very thorough, but he learned things most Deltas didn't. And he resisted all attempts to force him into a mould, to condition him, to turn him into something he was not. He would not be trapped like the other Deltas and even like the Alpha boy whose father had wanted to turn him into a politician. And the end result of it was that he had been sent to Cygnus Alpha as unprogrammable, and here he was on the Liberator.
Well, it had been a long time ago. Vila sighed and abandoned the piano to continue his explorations.
It was three quarters of an hour later that he heard the music, and as he had done years before, he followed it back to the piano room. Avon sat there at the instrument, playing, to Vila's astonishment. Obviously he was out of practice, for he hit a number of wrong notes, and this time Vila knew enough to notice, but he didn't care. He crept into the room, not wanting to break Avon's concentration and sat in a chair near the door, silently waiting. Like that boy of long ago, Avon could bring something to the music that Vila had never been able to do.
Then Avon raised his head and froze when he saw Vila watching him. "What are you doing here? " he demanded viciously, apparently furious at being discovered.
"I could hear you all through the base," Vila said. "You weren't exactly keeping it a secret, you know, Avon." And when Avon's face didn't change, he added quickly, "Besides I wanted to hear the Tchaikovsky."
Avon stared at him in surprise. "You know who Tchaikovsky was? "
"Of course I do. I'm not stupid, after all. Just because I'm a Delta doesn't mean I don't know anything at all. I like music."
Avon's anger was beginning to fade. "Amazing," he said with his usual sarcasm, but without the vitriolic note which had come to characterize their exchanges of late. "I should never have thought it of you."
"Why not? In fact it was one of your snobbish Alphas who taught me about music. I was there to rob his house." He grinned at the memory. "That was the first time I ever heard real music."
"You came to rob...." Avon's voice trailed off. "And he played Tchaikovsky for you--and told you about what career his father had chosen for him?"
"Yes, but...." Vila's mouth dropped open as he made the connection. "That was you," he said as if in accusation, stunned at the discovery.
"Yes." Avon's voice was abstracted.
"But you didn't go into politics," Vila said, remembering that midnight discussion very clearly.
"No. My father died the same year, and the Federation thought it would be to their benefit to develop my computer skills." His face twisted wryly and Vila realized that he had said all about himself that he had meant to, and most likely, more than he had intended. He added, "I heard the piano before. Was that you?"
"Trying to, yes. I don't have the gift." Vila heaved a sigh. "Pity we can't take this with us back to the Liberator. You could do concerts with Dayna."
"Perhaps," said Avon repressively. He rose to his feet. "Well, come on, Vila. We have this base to check out, and we needn't take all day about it." He walked out of the room without a backward glance. But the note of utter coldness had gone from his voice. He still sounded forbidding, but really no more so than usual.
Vila gave the piano a fond pat before he followed him. Maybe, just maybe he'd be able to understand Avon a little better after this. He wouldn't count on it, but he hoped so.
Whistling tunelessly, he followed Avon from the room.
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