The Blossoming Rose|
Professor Clark Neuwirth. A name from the past, a man of the past.
Not less than a year after The Event, Clark had cracked the codes of the books, translating the marks and symbols into a new literacy Renaissance. It was hope for the survivors, that there was now a way to link to the past they had forgotten.
Nothing came of it, really. Of course, there was the certainty we were now above the animals ... now that we knew there were animals to be above. The revelation only brought more questions than answers.
Fifteen years ago, before I joined the Military Police, I was a criminology major at the university. One of the required courses was 'Human Adjustment', necessary for a social science credit, taught by Professor Neuwirth ...
Clark was a man enthusiastic about his love, which was teaching. It proved to me that a career had to be something I enjoyed ... And I soon found out in the Military Police that a structured police system was one I despised. Thank-you, Clark.
And then there was little Cassandra Neuwirth, sitting quietly near her father's desk after her own school was finished, waiting for him to finish his afternoon classes. Nice child. It was understood she was going to grow up into a dangerous person, considering her father.
Fifteen years later, I was going to find out.
Roger adjusted the bow-tie and checked the shoulders of his tuxedo jacket. Not bad, not bad at all. Dorothy was always a conscientious seamstress and cleaner. In complete honesty (a belief he would never voice aloud), he believed Dorothy was better than Norman in that respect.
"I am ready, Roger," she announced from the doorway.
He gazed at her reflection through the mirror, nodding in approval at the red sheath gown with spaghetti straps and opera-length black gloves. "Very nice."
"Norman said you would like it."
Norman is bucking to get his nose broken, Roger thought, if he doesn't keep it out of my business.
"It looks very nice on you, Dorothy," he added.
She continued standing in the doorway. "What is that you are spraying on your skin?"
He put the bottle down. "Cologne."
She remained quiet, then asked, "Why?"
He knew what she was driving at. He usually hardly wore anything more than aftershave, so why cologne now?
"Special occasion is all."
She left the doorway, giving him a chance to chuckle aloud. Her practical straightforwardness bordered on the humorous; since she joined his household, he had actually found himself laughing at times.
He checked his watch, then left the bedroom.
* * *
"Ever been to the opera, Dorothy?" Roger asked as the Griffon sped through the city streets.
"Once," she answered, staring ahead through the windshield. "Father took me."
"What did you see?"
"Angel Wings." She turned to look at him. "Have you ever been to the opera, Roger?"
He smirked. "Afraid not. This will be my first time."
She turned to look forward again. "Father said there must have been opera before The Event."
"Probably. I very much doubt we're doing anything new that the human race hasn't thought of before."
She remained silent, continuing to stare.
* * *
"Roger!" a man's voice called through the rooba-rooba of gathering opera patrons in the theatre. "Roger Smith!"
Roger looked around and saw Clark Neuwirth waving his arms frantically.
Same old Clark - rotund, ruddy cheeks, a rapidly receding sandy-red hairline, clad in a blue tuxedo and a ruffly-unto-death pink shirt. He was currently trying not to fall over the seat he was standing on as well as keeping his glasses on, which painfully pinched his bulbous nose.
Roger waved back. "Found him. Keep close to me, Dorothy."
He was startled when she gripped his hand, her cheek brushing against his shoulder. "I am keeping close, Roger."
He pulled her through the crowd toward the front of the theatre. People automatically parted for the tall, dark-haired man, allowing the slender redheaded girl to follow in his wake.
At last, Roger made his way into the seat row, meeting Neuwirth in a handshake.
"Clark," Roger greeted him. "You haven't changed a bit."
"Roger, you still can't lie," Neuwirth responded, laughing. He continued shaking Roger's hand and added a pat to the shoulder. "Good to see you again, though."
"Likewise. May I present Miss Dorothy Wayneright?" He gently pressed Dorothy forward. "Dorothy, this is Professor Clark Neuwirth."
Neuwirth smiled down at her, offering his hand. Dorothy offered hers, then Neuwirth brought her hand to his face and gently brushed his lips against the back of her hand. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss Wayneright. You are quite lovely."
Dorothy gave him a steady gaze. "Thank-you, Professor Neuwirth. Roger told me you were one of his teachers."
"One of many," Neuwirth answered, his face melting into a buttery smile. "But I probably corrupted him the most."
Dorothy made a sideways glance toward Roger, a small smile passing her lips. "Corrupted?"
"My core programming," Roger stated, returning her smile with a smirk. "I wouldn't be a negotiator if it weren't for him filling my head with a desire to do work I actually like."
Neuwirth's green eyes sparkled. "Have I ever been wrong? Come and sit, the opera's going to begin in a minute. Cassandra is playing the lead, you know. She grew into such a beautiful young woman - got that from her mother's side."
Dorothy obediently sat in the seat next to Neuwirth's, while Roger took the seat on her left. "What is the opera called, Professor Neuwirth?"
"The Blossoming Rose," Neuwirth answered. "It's become a hit within the last few weeks. About civilization after The Event, how we coped with the amnesia and all that."
A thought occurred to Roger. "Were you a consultant?"
Neuwirth nodded, his expression now suddenly sober. "That's partially why I called you up. We'll discuss it after the opera over a late supper."
The lights in the theatre blinked rapidly three times.
Neuwirth's expression twirled another one-eighty and he chirped, "It's starting! It's starting!" He patted Dorothy's hand. "I do hope you enjoy music, young lady. Opera is the best marriage of music and voice."
Dorothy allowed herself a small smile as the lights finally dimmed.
A lone clarinet filled the theatre, weaving a jazzy melody through the air as the curtain rose. On stage, all was dark save a golden glow behind a backdrop of a city. The black skyline became alive as windows and skyscraper details became visible, the tableau shadows of actors becoming clearer.
A drum roll softly crept upon the clarinet, then quickly overtook the jazzy notes, drowning them out until the whole percussion section of the orchestra crashed together at once as a flash of bright white light filled the stage.
The spotlights highlighted upon the actors on stage, shielding their eyes and faces from the flash, as they fell to their knees and cried out. Their voices blending together into one long note of anguish.
A young woman, clad in a black gown cut high here and cut low there, appeared from the mob of actors on stage, rising above them. Her flaming red hair swirled around her as she raised her hands heavenward.
"That's my girl!" Neuwirth whispered across to Dorothy and Roger.
The make-up did not take away from the intense green of her eyes, as she stared intently around the actors as they babbled and chattered around her.
She struck her arms out at waist level, causing the rest to silence. She looked around silently, then the most pure of contralto voices came from her throat:
"Is this the end?
Or another beginning?
Where are we?
Who are you?
Who am I?
Has a God abandoned us?
Or has a new God touched us?
I ask, I beg, I demand
I call upon what is left of man
Why is no one answering?"
Dorothy watched and listened with interest. Opera was more than a marriage of music and voice, it was also a blending of acting and art, combining all that is artistic.
And the art did touch her. This she knew. For instance, Instro's piano-playing had more ... depth than she had ever known anyone to play. She had heard many performers through her existence, some good, some bad, some with that undefined touch of greatness. Instro was one of those with that greatness.
Her own performances as well ... Her own singing had that touch of 'greatness'. It was not just the opinion of her Father saying she was great, it was others, others who did not know her, were not aware she was an android. Singing was her ... gift.
And this woman - Cassandra Neuwirth - also had that touch of greatness in her own singing. A smokey contralto voice, feminine and strong, sliding through the notes like honey and bringing each note to life, commanding them and caressing them, kissing them in farewell at the end of their lives.
Dorothy gazed at Roger from the corner of her eye. He was staring intently at Cassandra Neuwirth, his eyes following her every move as she crossed the stage, his eyes never leaving her form. One of his smirks played at the corner of his mouth.
Her eyes went back to watching the opera.
* * *
During college I always went to Clark with my problems. He was the professor all the kids liked, encouraging curiosity and keeping a firm hand in regards to our typical childish actions. He was also the campus Uncle - willing to invite you to his office and listen to you for however long you needed, either as a sympathetic ear or as a troubleshooter.
I never expected him to seek me out to troubleshoot a problem of his.
Roger leaned back in the booth, his hand around a cup of after-dinner coffee, his other arm leaning across the back of the seat and his temple against his fist.
"You think there are more books out there than what we do have?" Roger asked.
Neuwirth nodded, nervously sipping his coffee. "It occurred to me a few years ago, when I was interviewed about the early years after The Event and the work I did in reintroducing reading the old language. As you noticed, the underlying plots of The Blossoming Rose had a lot to do with politics and the in-fighting among religious groups."
"Always been that way, probably before The Event, too."
Neuwirth's lip twitched. "There's been books written about politics and speculations on religion since then, but what about before then?"
Roger's eyes widened slightly. Dorothy, quiet through the whole dinner, betrayed no outward sign of her interest in the conversation.
"Nothing about those?" Roger asked as he sat up properly.
Neuwirth nodded, reaching to the sugar bowl and scooping up a small sugarspoon worth to put in his coffee. He put the spoon back, then picked up his own to stir the sugar around his coffee. "I also discovered there are no books written in foreign languages, nor are there any books making references to any type of society with those Megadei."
Dorothy's eyes shifted to Roger, who continued to gaze at Neuwirth.
"Then what is there?"
"The library where all the Old Books are kept has a decimalized system in finding books and their subjects. All references of what categories that were used are gone, as well as whole numerical sections. The question would be what is not there." He looked up, his green eyes wary. "I think part of The Event was to make us forget other ways of thinking."
Roger dropped his cup to the table, making a loud clunk sound as the ceramic bottom made contact with the wooden table. Coffee splashed up the sides of the cup, spilling over the rim and down the outside.
Dorothy turned her head to look at him. "Roger, how can someone hide all those books?"
Roger leaned back and crossed his arms, lowering his head and closing his eyes. Another smirk cross his lips. "Simplest way would be to burn." He peeked up. "Clark, ask yourself this - why would they only take away part of the library instead of torching the whole thing to the ground?"
Neuwirth shrugged his large shoulders. "Don't ask me, ask whoever did it. I just read. By the way, if we assume that they've taken away all the political literature then that means any fictional books mentioning politics was also in the ban."
"Assuming. And I don't recall reading any Old Books that involved politics front and center."
"That's what gets me, Roger," Neuwirth commented as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Judging from Paradigm City and my studies, history should be soaking with political events. What does it mean? Has The Event been an excuse for someone to systematically destroy free-states?"
"Free-what?" Roger repeated.
Neuwirth looked up, a startled look on his face. He pushed his glasses up. "Hell if I know what it means, it just came out." He glanced around and another warm smile fell over him. "Cassie! Over here, darling!"
Roger and Dorothy looked up to see the prima donna of the opera coming toward them. Her face was tired, her body suggested exhaustion, but the green eyes still retained their intensity. She was wrapped up in a simple green dress, her red hair pulled up into a lazy pile.
Roger got up and bowed formally. "Miss Neuwirth."
She peered at him, studying his face, then a smile blossomed and her whole expression changed into pleasure. "I remember you from Daddy's class ... Mr. Smith! Mr. Roger Smith!"
She offered her hand and Roger took it, shaking her hand gently.
"Well, Cassandra Neuwirth, you've grown up behind my back. Last time I saw you, you were asking your father if you could use our term papers to finger paint on."
"Well, I'd like to think I've grown up some." She peered across the table. "And your companion, Mr. Smith?"
"Miss Dorothy Wayneright. Dorothy, Professor Neuwirth's daughter Cassandra."
Dorothy shook the woman's hand. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Neuwirth. I enjoyed your performance tonight."
Cassandra smiled, placing her hand over their still shaking hands. "I thought that was you. I suspected by the surge of energy I felt in the air."
Dorothy took her hand back as Cassandra slide into the booth next to her father.
"Beg pardon, Miss Neuwirth?" Dorothy asked politely.
"Sorry, a little talent of mine ... I think it's called psychic ability."
Roger raised an eyebrow. "Psychic? You mean mind reading and such?"
"Got it from her mother," Neuwirth said with pride.
"Daddy," Cassandra chided him. "What I meant was that I feel things like emotions, and I felt quite a strong sense of appreciation for not only the performance but also the art form." She smiled at Dorothy. "And it came from you."
Roger looked at Dorothy, grinning, as she remained expressionless.
"Yes, I appreciate the art form, Miss Neuwirth." She leaned slightly forward. "How are you able to sing like that?"
Cassandra shrugged. "Grew up. I think the body has a bit to do with it - larger resonance chamber than the one I had at twelve or even sixteen. And enough practice to make one mad. Unless you love the theatre or performing, I suggest not going into the business. Better off getting shot at." She turned her attention to Dorothy's companion. "So, Mr. Smith, we have to catch up on old times."
"Yes," Roger replied. "Sometime."
"But not tonight," Cassandra added. "I'm about to fall over dead with exhaustion. So, sadly, I must depart." She kissed her father's cheek. "Good night, Daddy."
"G'night, darling," Neuwirth answered.
Cassandra got up. "Good night, Miss Wayneright, a pleasure meeting you."
"Agreed," Dorothy answered.
Roger stood. "If I may escort you out, Miss Neuwirth?"
She shook her head. "No, thanks, Mr. Smith." She giggled and patted his cheek. "Still the same old smooth boy. All the girls in the class liked you, you know."
He smirked. "Psychic impression?"
"Didn't need it. So long, Roger."
She waltzed out of the restaurant.
Roger sat back down and immediately felt a sharp pain on his instep. He turned and looked at Dorothy, who returned his stare.
"Roger, I believe Professor Neuwirth was going to ask you something."
Roger was tempted to raspberry her then it occurred to him that Dorothy was acting jealous. He quickly dismissed the idea. "Right. So, Clark, what do you want me to do about the missing books?"
Neuwirth bit his lip. "Perhaps you can find something that I overlooked at the library? Admittedly, I'm not a detective - "
"Then why not hire a detective?" Roger asked.
"Because you're the only person I trust. I know you haven't changed since college, Roger, you still have decency left in you. I can't find anything resembling it in this oubliette, that's why I'm asking you to do this."
Roger folded his arms again. "Considering what you've been saying, I don't blame you for being paranoid. I'm afraid I will offer the standard fee - "
"You know I can afford it, and I was even going to pay you, anyway. You may think me an old fool to cling to a past no one remembers, but that gaping hole will never be filled unless we know what happened. No foundation, no roots, no connection ... I'm terrified to know how we ended up with The Event, but I am fascinated to learn how it got to that point."
Roger gazed at him. "All by books?"
"We didn't invent newspapers, either. Where are those?"
Roger admitted the old man had a point.
* * *
Can't sleep while thinking.
Can't think while sleeping.
Maybe a happy medium really is a cheerful psychic.
Roger pulled on his robe and made his way across the house to the balcony. He opened the doors, causing a gust of chill air to wash over him.
He carefully closed the doors behind himself, and looked up at the starry sky above.
The clouds had broken enough to allow the ethereal starlight to bathe the balcony in a soft, almost iridescent light.
Movement caught his attention and he turned to see Dorothy standing atop one of the arches, her skirt flapping in the breeze. She appeared like the dark bird in that one story he had read in school ... something about a raven perched on the bust of Pallas Athena and a man mourning for a woman named Lenore ...
Roger actually liked these moments with her. Standing together in the cold. Silent but open, thinking their own thoughts. Do electric girls dream?
Dorothy stepped off the arch, landing delicately on the railing in front of him and gazing back into his face.
"Roger," she began.
"Why are you not in bed?"
"Thinking too much."
"You might hurt yourself."
"I'll chance it, Old Nag."
She remained expressionless. She sat down on the railing and pulled her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms around her legs, her eyes still level with his. "Roger, do you think Cassandra Neuwirth is beautiful?"
Oh, hell ... he thought. That implies just about everything, Missy, and you're not helping by sitting there and looking like a twelve-year-old girl-child. Of course I'm going to say yes because of how you're presenting the question.
"Why do you ask?" he finally inquired.
"The way you were looking at her, Roger." She looked down at the space between them.
"In her own way she's quite striking," he replied.
Dorothy looked up. "Roger, am I beautiful?"
He gazed at her, his own face expressionless. He should know what to say, it was the backbone of his job, but for the life of him he could not figure out how to answer her.
Yes, you're a sweet girl ...
No, stop baiting me ...
Yes, in a wholesome way ...
No, you're still a child ...
It occurred to him that Dorothy was very likely older than him.
"Externally, I think you know the answer," Roger replied. "Internally, you have a quirky type of beauty."
Dorothy remained silent for a moment, then released her knees to jump down to the floor. "Thank-you, Roger." She made her way to the door of the house, then paused. "Roger?"
"I think you are quite handsome. Even with your hair messy like that."
She went inside, leaving him alone with the cold and the starlight. He went to lean on the railing and sighed. "Remind me again why I took you in? Isn't the debt paid off yet? And will Norman allow me to kick you out?"
"You took me in because you were lonely and pathetic, no, and unlikely."
Briefly, Roger wondered what the city laws concerning robot abuse were like.
Thinking too much may be part of the reason we humans are clueless.
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