This is cut material from The Unnoticeables, the first book in my upcoming urban fantasy trilogy from Tor. The book itself won’t be out until June, 2015, with each installment to follow a year after. There wasn’t a whole lot directly cut from the book, which has to be a good sign, right? However, this section was in the first chapter and interrupted the flow a bit. “But Robert,” you say “this makes very little sense out of context.” To which I reply: “Why do you gotta be such a jerk all the time?” And then I sniffle a little bit. You monster.
The exact methods vary, from person to person: I had seen the angels before, but the first man I saw solved was a conductor named Harold, back in Lisbon.
It was 1974, two weeks after the Carnation Revolution, a mostly bloodless, beautiful little moment of peace and love that bucked the odds and won out over violence and oppression. Everybody descended to the streets with flowers in their hands, civilians mixing in with the soldiers, slipping carnations into the barrels of M16s. Into the lapels of grinning young boys in ragged uniforms who, at any other time, in any other place on Earth, might have been emptying their clips into that crowd with set jaws and hard eyes.
It was a crisp, churning mass of collective euphoria. Drivers left their cars idling on the street; mothers picked up their children and left their homes; shopkeepers left their stores to be a part of something unique and beauteous. Which was dumb, in retrospect.
Hey, I wasn’t the only one looting.
Two weeks later, and I was trading shots of aguardente with Harold, a little bug-eyed fellow in the back room of a recently closed brothel. We’d both swung by with conspicuously large bulges of cash in our wallets, and conspicuously average-sized bulges elsewhere, only to find the place half-burned and empty. I had a bottle. He had a flashlight. Neither of us had anywhere else to be. We were playing a drinking game, wherein one person said “drink!” and the other person did.
“Drink!” I said to him, and he drank.
“Drink!” He said to me, and I did.
“Drink!” I said to him, and half the room exploded.
Something pale and shining flared into existence on the other side of the singed sofa. It was impossible to focus on. It was like the aftermath of staring right into a camera flash – that washed out, smudgy brightness that you can’t blink away. I got the sense of an outline in there, something sharp churning in the heart of a star. The light was magnificent, but it was not beautiful. There was something cold and clinical to it, something more like fluorescents in a filthy warehouse than sunshine in a meadow.
“No!” Harold said, slapping at the air, “I did it! It all happened!”
I think the light may have wavered in response. Not something as dramatic as flickered, but maybe it pulsed, or shifted focus. I got the general sense that it replied in some fashion. But that might just be a hard drunk scrabbling to assign relevance to a traumatic event after the fact. Either way, the conductor answered as if it had spoken:
“Look outside! It’s there! It’s all there! Just like we s-“
But the light simply blinked out of existence. When our eyes finally adjusted to the dark, we saw what it had left for us.
His solution was a snatch of discordant music, and a rippling patch of color in the air – something softly red, that undulated blue as it moved. When he heard those notes and that saw that disembodied, shifting swatch of crimson-blue, his heart collapsed. The empty space in his chest sunk into itself with a crackling sound, like tires on gravel. It brought the rest of his body with it, folding his legs and arms up with sickening snaps, and slurping his head down and around like a wad of flushed toilet paper. I still remember the expression on his face: There was no terror there, just pure, unhappy surprise. Like he’d answered the door and found a particularly vile ex-girlfriend standing there, holding a baby.
There was a loud pop, the floorboards beneath my feet rattled once, and Harold was gone. Answered. Reduced to something simpler, I suppose.
Harold got a few notes of strange new music, and a color never before seen on Earth that shifted states through space and time, and he was solved.