Blue Bird Rhapsody
When he was little, and still called Grencia, his mother would read him old poetry, Earth poetry. She would read to him about snow, for those poets had written years and centuries before the gate accident had scorched such luxuries from the face of the mother planet. She would read to him about the silence of snow, about how a soft snowfall can mute the world like a blanket. He would listen, wide-eyed, for he had never seen snow, until one day she went to the freezer and took out ice and ground it into tiny bits and dropped it on his head and said there, that's snow, and he spent the next few minutes thrashing about and squawking for the cold, and did not understand how it could be silent.
Now he has come to Callisto, and he understands.
For the first few months he lives far away from the cities, for fear of discovery. In the countryside of Callisto the snow lies fluffy and a handspan or more deep, and it has its own profound silence and its own soft roar of sound, and he understands.
At first he revels in it. For the first time in far too long, he sleeps with ease. He goes outside wearing every piece of clothing he owns and merely stands in the snow, listening with every fiber of his being, to silence. It's the first time he's heard it in years. He's far too sensitive, after all. Even his mother would say that. Too sensitive.
Titan was gunfire and explosions, mortars and artillery, bombs and the rat-tat-tat of rifles. His bunkmate sobbing for home, rough swears, the mumbles of the perpetual poker game, the little grunts of guys in tents jerking off to photos of faraway women, snores, shouts of battle, the cries of dying men. Vicious' music box, the one thing to soothe him; Vicious himself, though he spoke rarely. When he'd first come to Titan, even the winds had haunted him, and he could hear every grain of sand shifting until the multitudes of them scraped against his soul, and then the first bomb exploded and he thought he had gone deaf. Perhaps, eventually, he did, at least to the wind.
Prison was the tromp of guard's feet, mutter and grumbles, sharp curses, threats, the sound of a knife being whetted against a wall, more snores, more screams, a man who'd been locked in a room for twenty years banging his head against a wall. Kerflush of a toilet that he could hear from the next cell, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next. Water through old plumbing, the clatter of the steam heat coming on, the deafening racket of a bored prisoner banging on the steampipes. Drip, drip, drip of the leaky faucet in the next cell. Heavy doors open, close, slide, lock. Three in the morning, if he's maybe managed to get to sleep, somebody in the next cell will be having a punk and the man will be screaming, or maybe he's making those stifled, gagging groans which mean he's being fucked from both ends, or maybe his cellmate will wake him to take his own rough due. The tinkling noises of auditory hallucinations, drawing his head to the side, a hint of music at the other end of the corridor which isn't real, is only dream leaking into reality because he can never sleep. The soft hiss of a crystal of Titan Opal dissolving in the heat of his palm, until it's just the right consistency, pour into the vial, click-lock into the syringe, load, stab, one little grunt of pain as it burns through his vein--the one thing to soothe him.
Callisto, now, and there is silence for the first time in years. He falls asleep at times in the snow, wakes shivering and unable to feel his feet and deliriously happy. Even the name of it slices cold and clear, but even the name of it cannot contain the sudden and profound peace he feels.
Weeks later, with nobody to talk to him, with nowhere to work, with only snowfall and the hiss of styrofoam cups of noodles cooking over their own fires and Titan Opal cooking in his hand, the silence begins to drive him mad. Unbroken silence. He sleeps eighteen hours a day, and the black circles beneath his eyes begin to fade. His hair grows unheeded. He continues to do the Opal, because that's not the sort of habit one can break, and sometimes he is wracked by the sudden pains that are the first signs of hormone imbalance, or the utter sleepless agony of withdrawal if he hasn't stolen enough that week, and the silence is broken by his own cries. He takes an unused thumbtack from his little wall of photos and thumps it in and pulls it out and again and again until a flaking hole is worn in the corkboard. He winds and plays the music box, winds and plays, winds and plays and remembers the man who betrayed him, winds and plays and remembers the man he just about loved, until it breaks and falls into empty silence. Nothing is enough. The vast quiet of snow begins to terrify him. There are days he almost thinks he is deaf.
Sometimes, when he goes out and the snow is blowing, he bows his head and then his hood eats the world and all he can see is unchanging white. Step after step through untracked snow and there is nothing to anchor him, nothing to direct him, and he is frightened, to the point of tears. There are times the world goes away and there is nothing but snow and silence, a silence that could swallow him, and his body means nothing, and his steps mean nothing, and when he gets home he huddles in the corner, shaking, and almost wishes he was back on Titan, even back in prison. At least the rhythm of walking in snow is familiar; it is the same rhythm as walking in sand, the same clinging and shuffling steps, but after so long in prison even that can make his legs ache all the way up the back, for his soldier's body has become plagued by inactivity. And snow is more blinding than sand, more unchanging, and Vicious does not walk at his side. There is nothing safe in that whiteness.
He understands now, and if he wrote poetry it would be of silent terror.
Then he hears of the Blue Crow, and leaves for it almost before thinking. He pulls on six layers of clothing, and puts the music box in one pocket, the great clutch of photographs in another, a few crystals of Opal in their insulated box in another, and that is all he owns. It is the city, after all; perhaps he can claw his way out of the maw of silence there. And it is far enough from the law to still be safe, and it is all men. He has always, after all, preferred men; perhaps he has a better chance of finding a comrade here.
For on Titan, despite the noise, he slept, and that was because Vicious was there. That was the simplest and most important and most profound reason he'd clung to the man, after all. Vicious, cold and taciturn and inscrutable that he was, somehow meant enough to him that he could sleep, even if he slept alone. He could lull away the din by imagining strong arms around him; and he felt silly, foolish, an idiot in love, but it worked. And perhaps, perhaps he could find somebody.
He weasels himself an apartment with a piano, and steals a saxophone, maybe not as good as the one he'd once had, but his long fingers remember the way of it better than his mind, and his mouth shapes to the reed like an old lover, so he begins to fill up the silence with frightening urgency. He learns more tunes than he'd ever thought possible, but there is one he plays obsessively, until his entire soul is in the music, and the music fills up what silence is left in the painful din of the city, until he begins to find peace. One tune: the music box. To him, Vicious. To Vicious, Julia.
As if summoned by the music, she comes, and soon goes, but not before taking apart the music box and looking at him so sadly, so very sadly, because she understands how he had been betrayed. Not before requesting that song, every night. Not before telling him about Spike. And not before watching him cry for the first time in years, convulsive, irrepressible sobs, and holding him, just a little, and making him feel like the soft luxury of a woman's body pressed against his, warm and sweet-smelling and foreign with handfuls of silky hair in his face, is not something he deserves, even though it means nothing to him.
But even there, he never finds another comrade, and he has lost Vicious, and so he retreats into music and loneliness, and throws up day after day as his body heaves its way into new and feminine forms, and plays one tune, again, and again, and again. And watches the snow fall outside his window, silent reptition in the city, and remembers, and waits to die.