I’d 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 course.
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.
Over 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.
But 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 life.
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
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
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 bedside table?