heard rumors about the Markless orchestra playing in basements out in
Beacon’s suburbs, but I never believed them. I can understand the stray
minstrel here and there, roaming the streets with his guitar, singing
songs for scraps or fun, and keeping one or two steps ahead of the
Department of Marked Emergencies. But an orchestra? How does a group
like that get its Unmarked hands on so many working instruments? Then
there’s the set-up to worry about, the rehearsals, the noise it would
make, the rest of it . . . an orchestra like that sounds to me like
just one big bulls-eye for DOME to hit.
So yeah, I’d heard the rumors.
But I never believed them.
Then a couple of years ago I
followed the rumors out past Beacon’s City Center hill, into the lower
homes of the urban sprawl, where the lights burn a little less bright
and the stars shine a little more. There was definitely word of a
concert that night, and there was definitely evidence that the whole
thing was true. I had to hear it for myself.
The house I walked up to, the
last one on the left of a long and still street, was dark and quiet. I
took a breath and knocked on the back door—I’d been told no one would
hear me at the front—and stood in the breeze of the pitch-black yard,
waiting. Was it a trap? Was DOME on the other side, readying magnecuffs
and smiling at the big “GOTCHA!” they’d yell as they opened that big
door and pounced?
No. Instead it was the
conductor, alone, smiling in the threshold of the door.
“Welcome,” she said. “I’m
Olivia. We’re just about to begin.” And just as the rumors promised,
Olivia led me down to the concrete walls of that abandoned basement,
where an orchestra really did sit, tuning and eager to begin.
Olivia was young for a
conductor, not more than seventeen or eighteen, and Markless, of
Olivia had gone into her teenage
years certain that she would be a musician for the Chancellor, for
Cylis, as most Marked musicians eventually are. Few professional
artists are in the American Union, but they are frequently government
sponsored and well compensated. It’s nice work if you can get it, I’m
told, and Olivia had looked forward to it with all her heart.
But then something happened. She
was walking home, by herself for only the second time, from an evening
music lesson, just a few short blocks from her apartment in City
Center. Violin in hand, she hummed the post-Unity music she had just
that evening learned. Without warning, a Markless accosted her,
demanding her violin. Olivia, mature and composed beyond her years,
thought to ask him why. Olivia learned that this Markless did not want
her instrument for its value; he wanted it to play for himself. Turns
out, this man was a violinist, and a good one at that. So Olivia made
him an offer: Every evening on the way home from her music lessons, she
would stop by this man’s street corner. And if he promised not to run
off with it, Olivia would let him practice the violin every night for
as long as he wanted, in exchange for teaching Olivia the songs he
knew. It was in this way that Olivia’s real violin lessons began.
the next few months, Olivia discovered Mozart and Beethoven. She
discovered Wagner, Mahler, Bach, more. She discovered all of the
pre-Unity masters and their music that had long since been banned and
forgotten. Unfettered from the shackles of DOME, Olivia learned what
music really was.
now that she’d heard it, now
that she’d played this music, she could never go back. The life of a
Marked musician playing DOME-approved songs to a DOME-approved audience
with a DOME-approved agenda . . . Olivia could no longer live that
So she’d fled. Choosing the
Markless path, Olivia had run away from home just months before her
Pledge and started the country’s first Markless orchestra.
I know all of this because I
asked her about it the night I saw her concert in that abandoned
basement. I know because the story was corroborated by her orchestra’s
first chair violinist—the same Markless who’d accosted her on the
street several years ago. I know this because Olivia and I talked long
into the early morning hours about many things. About art. About what
it means to people.
This was two years ago, as I
mentioned, and it was right around the time that I had learned about
Logan Langly and the trouble he was in with the Dust out West near New
Chicago. I thought that Logan’s life might be a story that needed to be
told. I had begun outlining a series of novels—the Swipe series—in my
excitement over this idea.
But I was afraid. Afraid of the
attention the series might attract, afraid of what that attention would
mean for me. Afraid of the danger, and of the impact it might have.
I mentioned all of this to
Olivia after her concert—Logan, the Dust, Swipe, and my uncertainty
about writing it. And do you know what Olivia told me?
She told me that a good book,
resting on the bedside table, can save a person’s life.
What books do you have on your