The projection tape tingles. It runs from my fingertips to my collarbone, following the line of the holoviolin I’m holding.
I take take the projector that will generate bow, a little whisp of plexi, in my hand. The instrument flickers to life.
This curious holographic instrument is something of a novelty on New Canada. A glimmer of tech in our mostly analog lives. Ironic that analog is so prized on a planet with such an advanced spaceship industry – our manner of life is like luxurious upholstery. Everything in my musical experience until this moment has been tactile and historically inspired. My creativity soars and an expressive cadenza flows from the holoviolin.
I briefly wonder how I came to own this particular instrument – I have always played a traditional violin. Strange that I cannot remember when I made the switch. I brush the thought from my mind and begin playing. That solo passage from the overture of the Fire Opera. A striking work composed by my composer mentor, Lauretta. I play so well that soon I receive a standing ovation. An unlikely scenario for a violinist during an overture, but I attribute it to my phenomenal performance. There is a blaring accompaniment from the electronic orchestra, something rhythmic and driving and urgent…
The alarm rips the last shreds of sleep from my thoughts. Escape pod. I stumble around my cabin on the New Canada Engines transport ship, getting dressed – never stop to get dressed, they said during all the drills, but I have dignity. I grab my violin case on the way out. Also technically forbidden, but who’s to say how long we’ll be out there? Or how hard it will be to replace my violin? This one is an analog, unlike my dream instrument.
One last pod is left docked. Everyone else already ejected. I slam the control panel, just like they made us practice, jump into the chute, and fall into the pod. No one else here. I see the glint of several other pods drifting off. I am apparently the last one.
I bang the distress beacon and send out signals to the other pods. Out of range.
My pod remains attached to the ship.
More than about myself, I worry about what my parents will think when they find out their university age daughter, offplanet for her first tour, was unlucky enough to be on the one pod that malfunctioned and could not undock from a burning ship. I spare a thought for Liam, too, even though we parted ways last month. If something happens to me now, he will be destroyed.
The Fire Opera. The name seems prophetic. This was the work we were to have played on our first tour.
After a breathless stretch of time, I pull out my violin and begin playing, harmonizing with the blaring of the alarm for a while until that bores me and I turn on my insulating sound bubble, a function that mutes the alarm to my ears, as well as everything else outside it.
More time passes.
The pod detaches.
I’ve never really been alone before.
Alone in a practice room, yes Alone in a bubble car, in a park, on a stage. But never that deep chilling feeling, the isolation.
I grew up protected, cushioned, in the social equivalent of a sound bubble. Concerts, conservatory garden parties, balls, carriage rides. Liam and that carefully constructed Partnership. Too early, for both of us. There were voices outside my circle but these could always be muted. Criticism was carefully filtered; I was nurtured like a conservatory plant.
At some point I came to resent it. But at this moment, in cold space, I am also deeply grateful for that milieu.
As I play I think to myself that one can only feel loneliness if one has already experienced closeness. It must be the contrast that chills you when the warmth is removed.
And so I play – movement after movement. Excerpts from the Fire Opera. Ensemble passages. Soli. Improvisations I invent based on the various melodic themes. The pod has everything I needed for my body to survive: food, drink, even a tiny bath bubble. I stop playing occasionally to eat, sip water, warm up another coffee, adjust the temperature.
This pod really is beautiful, like a cocoon. A spherical view of the stars, obstructed only by the tiny gravitational unit and functional fixtures. There is a small gravity point where the bed is; on the other end I can float freely. I play both in gravity and while weightless; this influences and changes my technique. I explore the differences. My butterfly wings are the thermal blanket I wrap myself in more and more often now. At first it was only for sleeping, but I decide to conserve energy and wear my wings during my entire performance.
When they find me, I can barely move my arms anymore. My wrists and elbows are sore and inflamed; the cold has crept into my fingers and into my joints. My butterfly wings are crumpled in a heap in the gravity point of the bed.
Even now, back in New Toronto I can’t shake that terrible loneliness and it seems that my very solid New Canadian bed can keep hold of me far more strongly than any artificial gravity point.
The entire time in the pod, I played that one passage from the Fire Opera, the one I had dreamed about, over and over. There was a recorder; I listened back to excerpts with a team of psychologists. They were shocked. I was thrilled; I’ve never performed better.
They canceled the tour due to the accident. But we are to perform the opera here in New Toronto. I wonder who thought that was a good idea; maybe the psychologists are of the opinion that it will help us recover. They also seem to think putting me and Liam in the same room is a good idea. I disagree.
Liam is so very kind. What can I say to someone who is so kind? How to reiterate rejection? But he seems to understand. We do not get back together. His gestures and words and hugs are friendly, not fraught with meaning.
The Fire Opera has knifed its way into my mind. I don’t know how the others feel about it; It’s been over a month but I haven’t talked to them since we were all briefly reunited on the ship that was sent to rescue us.
I haven’t dreamed of playing music since that night on the ship. Perhaps it is because I have been practicing every day. I reached a level of unparalleled virtuosity when I was in that pod. Now that I’m grounded again on New Canada, I dedicate every minute of practice to this piece.
The performance will be spectacular.
Story © 2018 Clio Em. Image © 2018 Hali Rey.