Evan Angler

Evan Angler is safe, for now. He lives without the Mark, evading DOME and writing in the shadows of Beacon. But if anyone asks, you know nothing about him. Don’t make eye contact if you see him. Don’t call his name out loud. He’s in enough trouble already. And so are you, if you read his books.

Evan Angler

The First Markless Orchestra

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 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 bedside table?