Requiem For the Future

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Requiem for the Future

(The Story)

 

Magdeburg

Late March, 1636

 

Friedrich von Logau, poet, epigrammist, op-ed writer, caustic critic, and oft-considered gadfly of the body literary of Magdeburg, was smiling. That would have surprised some of the targets of his wit, undoubtedly. It probably would have frightened others. He didn't care. Marla Linder was singing with her friends tonight in The Green Horse Tavern, and he was in a good mood.

Marla was leading into the ending of what looked to be the final song of the night. Logau was lightly thumping his fist on his tabletop, as were most of the patrons in the tavern. It was a familiar song, one Marla and her friends frequently performed, an up-time song entitled Those Were the Days. Over half the patrons had joined in the final chorus, and the noise level was impressive but not deafening. Logau himself simply hummed along. He didn't consider his singing voice to be pleasant, so he saw no reason to inflict it on those around him. But humming he could get away with.

The group was in full swing following Marla as she sang, tossing her hair as she looked around the room and bestowed smiles on everyone. Even Logau felt a bit of warmth as she glanced his way.

Ah, Marla was holding her hand up, her signal for the last time through the chorus. The men and women at the tables responded with even louder voices. Logau's fist thumping got a bit more forceful.

"Those were the days!" Marla sang, holding the final note out, and out, and out, until she brought her hand down in a hard fist-pump, bringing the song to an end. The crowd in the tavern broke out in wild applause, producing a volume that had Logau looking around to see if someone had snuck an extra crowd into the room behind him. No, no more than had been there when Marla started her last set. But his ears were starting to ring from the noise.

Marla took her customary bows with her customary wide grin and waved her hand toward the musicians behind her, which included her husband Franz Sylwester. They all looked a bit worn. Logau could understand that. Marla in full performance mode emitted a level of energy that seemed to draw everyone in its wake. This tended to leave everyone else a bit frazzled when a late evening set was done, but they were all smiling as well, so that was good.

At length Marla motioned downward with her hands, and the clapping began to dwindle. The guys on the little platform turned to start putting instruments in cases and bags. People in the crowd upended their mugs and began leaving. It was only a matter of moments before Logau found himself alone at his table. Alone, that is, until Marla headed toward him.

Logau straightened. He could see some of the remaining patrons staring in his direction, obviously wondering how he rated having the diva of Magdeburg join him. He stood and gestured to a chair. Marla settled into it with grace and a slightly weary smile of her own—which, when he thought of it, seemed to be at odds with her usual post-performance behaviors.

"It's good to see you, Friedrich," she said. "I don't think you've been here the last couple of times we've sung."

Logau shrugged. "You know how it is. When you're courting a patron, his schedule becomes your schedule."

"Or her schedule," Marla replied. "I know how that works. Are you looking for work, then?"

He spread his hands. "You know how it is with an artist . . . there is never enough work. There is only too little or . . ."

"Too much," Marla joined in with a laugh. "Too true, too true. So what are you looking for?"

"Well, truth to tell," Logau said as he ran a finger around the rim of his beer mug, "after the success of Arthur Rex, I think there may be a sudden demand for operas in a similar manner. So I've been sounding out some of the more prominent of Magdeburg's Adel residents to, ah . . ."

"Float a trial balloon," Marla interjected.

Logau had to parse that statement out. "Ah, yes. I haven't heard that one before. Anyway, what I found is there is some interest, but only if the right composer is in the project. So . . ."

Marla raised her eyebrows. "Let me guess. You'd like introductions to Masters Carissimi and Schütz."

Logau managed to not look sheepish. He was proud of himself for that. "Yes, if you could manage it."

"Oh, I think I can manage it," Marla said with a smile. She turned to smile at her husband, Franz, as he sat beside her. The two men exchanged nods. "I still owe you," Marla continued as she looked back to Logau, "for the translation of Do You Hear the People Sing."

"You paid me," Logau protested.

"I paid you for the words," Marla said, drawing her eyebrows down. "I still owe you for the artistry. Do you want letters of introduction or personal introductions?"

"Yes."

Marla backhanded his shoulder with a muttered, "Smart aleck."

"Seriously," he said, "whatever is convenient for you and you're comfortable with."

"I'll look at calendars and see what I can put together." She nodded firmly.

The server came by and set a mug of beer in front of Franz. Marla wrinkled her nose. "Beer. Yuck."

Franz wiggled his eyebrows at her over the rim of the mug as he took a pull at it. She laughed.

"What else are you doing these days?" Marla asked as she turned back to Friedrich.

"Reviews and op-ed pieces, I think they call them, for the paper," he replied.

"Done any new epigrams lately?"

"Umm . . ." he pulled a notebook out of a jacket pocket and flipped through a few pages. "How about, ‘You say your work was flawed because you didn't have enough time to do it well? From whence will come the time to make it whole?'"

Franz snorted in his beer, and Marla laughed. "That's just cold, Friedrich."

He had to stop—again—and think about that for a moment, and about whether ‘cold' meant the same thing as ‘cool.'

"My favorite is that one you did about politics. How did it go? ‘What brings a man . . .' "

". . . into public office?" Friedrich picked up. "Presumably his ability? Very seldom, so what else? Almost always, greed and connections."

"Yeah, that one," Marla said with a bounce. "That was so up-time."

"I liked it." Friedrich's mouth quirked, and he shook his head. "I would have hoped that mankind would have improved a little bit in four hundred years, though."

"Nope. Not in politics, anyway." Marla echoed his head shake. Suddenly her expression shifted. Friedrich was taken aback by how dark her expression became and how she hunched her shoulders.

Marla sat that way for a long moment. Friedrich was afraid to say anything. Then she relaxed a little and sighed. Her expression lightened somewhat, but still was not her normal self.

A moment later, she sighed again. That was followed by a moment of silence, before she fixed an obviously artificial smile on her face and said, "We need to work together again soon, Friedrich. Do something for me, okay?"

Logau was dumbfounded. Something wasn't right here, something beyond the incredible fact that the premiere musician in Magdeburg, in northern Europe, was asking him to do something for her. ‘Wow' seemed to be the most appropriate reaction to the request; although it didn't pass his lips, it certainly bounced around in his mind for an echoing moment. "Um, okay," he finally said, still watching Marla with care.

Marla turned to Franz who was in the middle of accepting another mug of beer from one of the servers. "I'm tireder than I thought, so I'm going to go on home. No," she said as Franz started to stand up, "you stay for a while with the guys. Y'all need to talk and stuff, I know. I'll see you when you get home."

They shared a quick kiss, and then she rose with a wave to Logau and headed toward the door. Logau watched her walk away until she passed through the door, then looked back to find Franz looking at him with a small smile on his face. His face stiffened in embarrassment, and he thought he might have flushed a little.

"It's okay," Franz said. "She's not the most beautiful woman in Magdeburg, but she's still worth watching." He took a pull at his mug while Friedrich took a deep breath and grasped his composure in both hands.

"Is she all right?" Friedrich looked toward the door again. "Her mood . . . her face . . . Should she be alone?"

"One of the CoC guys will follow her home," Franz said. "They still keep an eye on her." Friedrich raised an eyebrow. "Keeping an old promise," Franz continued.

"But is she all right? Did I say something that upset her? She seemed, I don't know . . ."

Franz's mouth quirked at one corner. "Yes, she's all right—mostly. She still has down days because we lost Alison last October. She's still pretty fragile about that." For a moment, Franz's own face was very drawn with that remembrance. He took another pull at his mug, then continued. "Then we lost our new musician friend Karl Tralles in the big storm earlier this month. And we're getting closer to the anniversary of the Ring of Fire. That always hits her hard."

"Why?" Friedrich was perplexed and curious about that last.

Franz surrounded his mug with both hands where it sat on the tabletop. "She and her older sister came back. Her parents and her younger brother were left behind. He was really sick with something, and they had taken him to another town for doctors to treat him, and the Ring of Fire fell while they were gone. That almost destroyed her." Franz's expression was very somber. "It was bad enough to lose her world, and the opportunities that lay before her, but to lose her parents suddenly when she was eighteen, to never see them again, and to lose her brother and never learn what happened to him . . . that shook her foundations. Jonni, her sister, says she was ‘a basket case' for some time afterward."

"Wow." This time Friedrich did use the up-time word that was sneaking into daily conversation even beyond the developing Amideutsch pidgin. "I never thought of that."

"Ja," Franz said. "Ring of Fire Day is hard for her—will probably always be hard." He finished his beer and stood. "I should get home."

"Go," Friedrich said with a hand wave. "Tend to her. She deserves it."

Franz clapped Friedrich on the shoulder as he walked by, paused for a minute or so to talk to the other musicians, then headed out the door.

Friedrich finished his beer and ordered another before the barkeeper called time. He drank it slowly, various thoughts chasing through his brain, chief among them Marla's request for them to work together again following the thought about the pain that Franz had said she had suffered. And as the level of beer in his mug lowered, those two thoughts achieved prominence.

At length, the last swallow of beer went down Friedrich's throat. He set the mug down on the table and stood with a bit of care, propping himself on his walking stick—his evening walking stick, of course—to make sure he was stable. He'd had a fair amount of beer that evening, and he wasn't sure he qualified as strictly sober at the moment. He waved at the barkeeper and the serving staff as he left.

Outside, away from the lamp post near the front of the tavern, it was dark, with only a few lights visible here and there. Friedrich stopped, drew himself up straight and took a deep breath of the rather cool night air. "I," he announced, "have work to do. Time to be about it." And with that, he grasped his walking stick firmly in one hand, and strode toward his rooming house. Tomorrow would be a busy day, he suspected. He'd need his rest.

****

 

Grantville

 

Friedrich looked at the young man in a Jesuit's cassock and the nondescript man in a monk's robe who had stepped into the cubicle where he was examining an encyclopedia volume. He raised his eyebrows.

"I am Father Nicholas. Most folks in Grantville call me Father Nick," the Jesuit said. "And this is Brother Johann. We understand you are looking for someone to aid you in research. We may be able to help you. What are you looking for?"

"You're researchers?" Friedrich had a bit of trouble keeping the skepticism out of his voice. From the way the Jesuit's mouth quirked, he apparently hadn't entirely succeeded.

"You might say that," Father Nick replied. "We can at least help you get organized. Whether we do more than that will depend on what you want and how much you are willing to pay."

That Friedrich could understand. "I need some subjects I can develop into operas. Stories that are not part of the down-time, that are a bit on the fantastic side."

The two researchers lifted their eyebrows at the same moment. "Fiction, or things that really happened in the future?" Brother Johann asked.

"Probably fiction, but I'm open to either if the story is right."

"That might take a while," Father Nick said, eyes staring off as if toward something at a distance. Friedrich restrained the urge to turn and see if there was something on the wall behind him. The priest's gaze came back to focus on Friedrich. "But it's doable. Give us, oh, four days, and we'll have a selection for you to judge."

"I'll be here," Friedrich said, mentally rubbing his hands together in anticipation.

"One of us will meet you here every morning around eight o'clock beginning tomorrow to update you on what progress we're making," the Jesuit said. "Is that acceptable?"

Friedrich pursed his mouth. "Depends on what you're going to charge to be my guides."

Both the others smiled. "It won't be bad. We'll give you a rate tomorrow."

Friedrich shrugged. "I'll see you then."

****

Friedrich ended up with a personal tour guide in his search for knowledge. The next day, Father Nick and Brother Johann had presented him with an outline of what would be needed, and offered a day rate for his project. They dickered back and forth a bit, before coming to an agreement.

It only took a day for Friedrich to see that he had made a wise decision in taking the two of them on. For all that Brother Johann was his usual attendant, it was obvious that the Jesuit was the one guiding the process, and guide it he did. Book by book, story by story, article by article, they took him on a fantastic journey of tales such as he had never imagined. At the end of the fourth day, the three of them congregated to review the results.

Friedrich shuffled his notes. "Let's see now: A Tale of Two Cities, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Crisis of Winston Churchill, The Hobbit, Eleanor Roosevelt, The Tragedy of Louis the XVIth, The Lord of the Rings, The Tragedy of Abraham Lincoln, and Starship Troopers. Surely out of all of those, I can find something a patron will like." He looked up with a smile. "Thank you, both of you. I appreciate all your work and note taking for me. I also appreciate the copies of the books you were able to find and purchase for me. And I was serious about if you can't find a copy of Starship Troopers, have someone copy it out or commission a print run. I can support producing several copies of a work that small, and I'm going to need my own copy for reference if one of the patrons selects it. I mean, my notes are good, but for that one, I'm going to need the whole work to capture the atmosphere about it."

"We will do that," Father Nick assured him. "There is a new printer in town who is beginning to specialize in reprinting old and rare up-time books, kind of like Zopff and Sons in Magdeburg is specializing in reprinting up-time music. I suspect he would be willing to take this on, as it's a popular book and he could probably sell a number of copies just here in Grantville."

"Good, good." Friedrich stood and held his hand out. "Thank you again," he said as he shook hands with both of the researchers. They exited the library together and waved as they turned in their different directions.

Friedrich took his time about returning to the Higgins Hotel. He had a lot to think about, what with all the topics he had worked up. He bounced back and forth among them, tasting them, trying them on, seeing if any of them would work for his first opera libretto. They were all strong, they all had possibilities. But which one to do first?

His steps took him toward Cora's restaurant. It was shading toward evening, and his lunch had been light, so he turned in. Finding a table open, he sat and ordered a sandwich and coffee. Up-time style sandwiches were ubiquitous now in Magdeburg and the surrounding territories, so he didn't even think about it.

He took his time eating the sandwich when it was delivered, thick roast beef with some sort of cheese on it, but later he couldn't have said what it tasted like.

By the time he was finishing the sandwich, Friedrich had settled on The Hound of the Baskervilles as the first project he would work up. Just as he popped the last bite into his mouth with a feeling of satisfaction, the main door to Cora's opened and a man entered; older, clean-shaven, thinning hair that was a dark blonde shading to light brown in color. He was dressed in up-timer style clothing, including a short-waisted heavy jacket, and something about the way he carried himself said ‘up-timer' to Friedrich. Age-wise, he wasn't so sure he could pin the man down. There were some lines on his face, but given that the up-timers as a group seemed to age better than the down-timers, he could have been anywhere from thirty-five to seventy, as far as Friedrich could tell.

"Hi, Cora," the man said with a bit of a slur to his speech. Friedrich judged that he'd taken on some beer or wine, especially after he stumbled for a step in the middle of the floor where there wasn't even a mark, much less a seam, join, lip, or edge to catch a shoe on.

"Be careful, Charlie," Cora called out as she stepped around the counter toward him.

"'m fine, Cora," Charlie replied as he stopped and straightened, regaining his balance before he moved toward the counter. "You got it ready?"

"One apple pie to go, just like you ordered," Cora said, moving back to pick up a square box and turning to place it on the counter between them. She started writing on an order pad. "That'll be $12 for the pie, and a $5 deposit on the pie plate."

"Oh, come on, Cora, you know I'll bring the pie plate back." Charlie sounded a little bit on edge to Friedrich.

"Yeah, but the last time you brought one back it was broken, so you can pay a deposit just like everyone else in town."

"All right, all right," Charlie grumbled. He pulled an up-time billfold out of his pocket, counted out bills to equal the charge, and pushed them across the counter to Cora. She picked them up, put them in her cash drawer, and gently slid the box with the pie in it across the counter. "Here you are, Charlie."

Friedrich blinked. That last phrase was spoken in a much softer tone. He finished chewing the last bite of his sandwich and picked up his coffee cup to wash it down.

Charlie placed his hands to hold the box between his palms. He looked down at it, then looked up at Cora. "It's for Stephanie. Today's her birthday, and she always liked pie better than cake."

"I know, Charlie. I know."

"I'll never see her again, Cora." Charlie's voice had gone raspy. "I'll never see her again, left up-time with her husband and the baby on the way. I'll never see my grandson. But I'll never forget her." Silence fell in the restaurant. Everyone had stopped talking. "Did I tell you today was her birthday?"

"You did, Charlie. You did. And Happy Birthday to Stephanie."

Charlie picked up the box, curling his fingers under the edges. As he turned away from the counter, his gaze crossed the table where Friedrich was sitting, drinking his coffee and looking at him.

"What are you looking at? Huh? Mister Big Shot Down-Timer, with your silver buttons, and silver buckles on your shoes, and your fancy cane and hat . . . what are you looking at? You think you're so big. You ain't nuthin' compared to us. We were Americans—the greatest nation the world has ever known! We were great! We were the best . . ."

Charlie's voice trailed away, and his eyes stared over Friedrich's head. "And now we're here. Why? In the name of God, why?" His gaze dropped down; his eyes locked onto Friedrich's. "You got an answer for that, Mister Big Shot Down-Timer? We were taken away from everything we knew, away from our families and all, and dropped here in the middle of nowhere. For what? You tell me that, Mister Big Shot Down-Timer. What are we here for? Huh?" He leaned over the table, glaring hot eyes boring into Friedrich's. "What are we here for?"

Friedrich sat perfectly still, coffee cup in one hand, the other resting on his walking stick. After a moment, Charlie straightened up. "Ah, you don't know nuthin'. You won't never know nuthin'. I oughta . . ."

Cora stepped up and placed a hand on Charlie's shoulder. "Charlie, it's time to go. You need to get that pie home for Stephanie's birthday."

"Hmm? Oh . . ." Charlie stared up at Cora for a moment, "yeah, need to get home. See ya, Cora."

"See you later, Charlie."

Friedrich watched Charlie exit the restaurant, then watched as Cora seemed to slump a bit before she turned away. "If I said or did anything to cause that . . ." he began.

Cora waved a hand. "No, you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, mister. Charlie Lefferts, he's a good man, but his wife and kids were left up-time, and his daughter was expecting their first grandchild, so he took it pretty hard. When's he's had more than one beer, it tends to come out. And today being his daughter's birthday, yeah, it's a really hard day for him."

"I'm sorry," Friedrich said. "I think I understand how he feels."

Cora's eye narrowed. "No offense, mister, but you don't know squat. You ain't walked our road, so you got no way of knowing how we feel, or why. You don't know nuthin'." She was obviously quoting Charlie.

Friedrich shrugged. "You're right, I haven't walked your road, so I don't know what your pain feels like. I don't know how you hurt. But I work with Marla Linder." He let a long pause pass before he said, "So I may not know your pain, but I know the pain is there."

He stood, picked up his walking stick in his left hand and shoved his right hand into his coat pocket. He brought it out. "Take this, please." Cora held out her hand and Friedrich dropped three silver groschen into her palm, then folded her fingers over the coins. "Charlie's next three pies are paid for, and whatever is over the cost, use it for anyone who needs a pie or a cake like Charlie did."

Friedrich turned away from the silent Cora. His gaze swept the room. The down-timer customers were all staring at the plates and cups before them. The up-timers were all directing hard-eyed gazes at him. He touched a finger to the brim of his hat, and left.

****

The next morning, Friedrich was at the library early, waiting outside impatiently. He blew a sigh of mingled frustration and relief when Father Nick and Brother Johann finally showed up. There was surprise on their faces when they saw him, as they had obviously thought their mutual work was done.

Friedrich bypassed a greeting and began with, "I need your help again." Then he stopped, for a moment stymied for words.

"Go on," the Jesuit prompted.

"I want to understand the up-timers."


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About David Carrico

David 2013-03-03 small

David Carrico made his first professional SF sale to The Grantville Gazette e-magazine in 2004. His stories have also appeared in the Grantville Gazette and Ring of Fire anthologies from Baen Books and in Jim Baen’s Universe e-magazine. Baen Books has published a story collection by David entitled 1635: Music and Murder, and two novels written in collaboration with Eric Flint: 1636: The Devil’s Opera, and The Span of Empire, which was nominated for the 2017 Dragon Award for Best Military SF or Fantasy novel. David is currently working on a solo project.