Symphony to a city under the stars10 min read


Armando Saldana
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Allegro con brio

The night she came back, the Cut bled dimensions off onto the City … like every other night.

Sinclair was ready for that day’s sunset. He’d been ready for the longest time. Alone in his reality sarcophagus, he witnessed the day’s last light bathing the gothic arches of the Kaiserplatz north of the river in gold as the waters murmured softly in red on their way to the Gulf, glowing with fire through a dozen streamcasts, including several from the Hundred Moons. Bandwidth was no longer an issue for the Sinclair crèche, so the light was truly divine. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that only a single man in possession of good bandwidth can experience God. Sinclair remembered less fortunate sunsets, with bandwidth so poor as to be almost entirely cut off from the Consensus. His IQ had dropped precipitously, unable to answer even the simplest questions. But now Sinclair was an Aristo, who lived in the City, and those dark ages belonged to his low-definition past.

Five yellowjackets hovered around Sinclair. Most people settled for one, maybe two if they were eccentric enough, but Sinclair wanted the full experience. The nearest yellowjacket buzzed close to his ear, its bright tiger stripes vibrating with output signal. A second spiraled over his head in a widening arc, transmitting the same signal to create a stereophonic field.

The sun finally sank past the twin towers of the Friedensbrücke Cathedral, burning as if ignited, and Sinclair hailed Gideon on the other side of the City, almost two hours away.


Gideon was in a foul mood as usual.

“They’re almost here,” Sinclair said.

“And I told you I’d be there.”

Sinclair remembered the last time as if it had been yesterday, and not ten years. His memories, like everything inside his sarcophagus, were in HD.

When Nadia came riding on her Hymenoptera, its membranous wings an indigo stain on the air, she smiled as she saw the open garden of Sinclairhaus. Nadia climbed down from the bristled thorax of her ride and dissolved her shoes, letting the soles of her bare feet feel the touch of the grass. She smiled again. The Hymenoptera stretched its long proboscis to drink the nectar from the closest rhododendrons. Nadia walked slowly to the house, towards the tall beeches, letting herself enjoy the feel of the mowed lawn.

Sinclair had opened the lid to his sarcophagus and walked up to the entrance. Ten years ago, he didn’t spend so much time inside, but it was already more than half his waking hours. But what Sinclair remembered most vividly was that moment when he opened the lid and everything went blurry.

Sinclair knew what love was when bandwidth was not enough, and no streamcast could replace her presence. This transcended even the divine, it seemed. Perhaps love, as poets speak of it, is divine. Gideon disagreed. To him it was just a lack of computational power. The chemistry itself could be easily manufactured.

Let me wear your ribbon, my love,

and I will smite my brother for thee.

Let me wear your ribbon, my love,

and I will stab my friend in the back,

I will tear asunder the moon in a hundred pieces …

Nadia was tall, with a thick tangle of Pre-Raphaelite hair and pale blue eyes, but that’s as far as her ethereal looks got. She wore baggy clothes, and usually had paint under her nails. She often smelled of oils and turpentine. Nadia was an artist, a painter. In a universe of high-definition, she lived on the other side of the spectrum.

Sinclair smiled, for he thought Nadia was beautiful.

“I thought you’d never get here,” he said, his hands groping her face.

Nadia smiled back.

“I told you I’d be here.”

Sinclair was as blind as Homer, and Nadia stared into those milky, dead eyes as his hands reached up to feel her. He remembered the HD hair and the eyes the color of the Mediterranean in the early hours of a summer morning, but this was different. This was real. His fingertips traced her cheekbones and the arch of her nose, the line of her eyebrows and her thick lips, before stopping on her chin. He pulled her to him and kissed her mouth.

Gideon chose that precise instant to materialize inside the Sinclairhaus.

Sinclair opened the lid to his sarcophagus, and met his oldest friend in the world.

“You said you’d be here in person,” Sinclair protested.

“I said I’d be here,” the hologram said, with a shrug. He really could be impossible.

The night fell upon the City, and the skies glowed with light.

And they both raised their eyes, for just as the friends had come together below, so above. The Cut sparkled and roared, and then opened wide to turn the night into festival.

The Cut ejaculated leopard-skinned voidships, their hulls still glistening with the sweat of eleven dimensions, into the skies above the City. And close behind them came the golden carapaces of the Idiosyncrasy, their translucent wings shedding spacetime and coming to a stop once they settled on three dimensions. And more, too many to name here. Dandelions, older than Kalpas and crewed by steel-jacketed angels; a murder of Calabi-Yau manifold ravens, swarming back and forth according to the designs of their Grandmother AI; supersymmetry twins who had crossed half a galaxy, the spin of their iron wills differentiated only by a half-integer of a breath; the feral spermships of the Id Continuum untethered from their corresponding D-branes once they found the City’s night; the silver barges of the Pantheon, as well as the Kolu armada in Hodge diamond formations; the Poincaré stallions galloping across the Cut in their fiercely chaotic deterministic march, as well as the impassive Suda, in their flowing robes. Last of all came the towering Cathedrals, with their grim-visaged captains singing their songs of Crossing, their voices never wavering until the City became solid in their crosshairs. And so, the night around the Cut became crowded with the sentiency of an entire galaxy, as it did every night, and Sinclair laughed, for this was the moment he had waited for so long, and it was good.


Adagio lento

The afternoon had turned lilac with a promise of rain.

Nadia was alone, and she loved it. She loved this house. She would be with Sinclair even if he was homeless, but she loved this house.

The Sinclairhaus was hardly the most opulent structure in the City, but its grace and elegance could not be denied. The Sinclair crèche was not the greatest, and that’s precisely where its prestige lay. Old Ludwig Sinclair had coded and grown the family house from a fistful of nucleotides and decidedly gone with … unusual sequences. The Tuscan columns on the marble-lined façade were intended by Ludwig as an allusion to the portico of St. Eco’s Basilica, up in the Königstrasse, but, in fact, were a callback to older structures imprinted on mankind’s racial memory throughout the centuries and millennia.

Sinclair came up behind her, and put his hand over her shoulder. For a split instant, Nadia resented the intrusion, but then she put her own hand over his.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Sinclair said.

“Yes, it is.”

“I want you to be here, always.”

Nadia said nothing. In fact, she wanted nothing more, but she had a hard time convincing him. Even in a perfect world, life wasn’t fair. She turned around.

Sinclair had lovely eyes. It was the first thing about him she’d noticed. They were smart, yes, but also warm. She could easily imagine her whole life staring at them.

Sinclair, for his part, only wished this moment could go on forever.

“We have so little time,” he said, before he could help himself.

“So better we use the moment living it, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves.”

“It’s not fair.”

“No, it isn’t.”

A sudden gust of wind drove rain into Sinclair’s face and he cursed the reality of it all. Part of him wanted to go back inside, into his more-real-than-real cocoon, but Nadia loved the messiness of it all, and part of her charm was this very mess.

A thin drizzle started to fall then, and by the time they’d made it to the house, the rain was coming down in earnest.

Before Sinclair could put on his goggles, Nadia stopped him.

“I like your eyes,” she said. “I like looking at them.”

The fact was, Sinclair was losing his sight. In a few months, maybe less, he’d be completely blind without his goggles. So many dimensional jumps, singing the song of Crossing, had blasted his eyes. The light of a million stars had finally robbed him of his eyes. It was a price he’d pay all over again, but that didn’t mean he liked going around in the dark.

“I only wish I could’ve seen everything you’ve seen,” she said.

“You can.”

“It’s not the same with the goggles.”

“You will have plenty of opportunities to burn your eyes.”

“I still prefer to use my low-def sight right now.”

It was pointless to try to explain it to her, to anybody who hadn’t gone out there. There was a spiritual malady out there, in the void. It was difficult to put it into words. An eagerness to arrive somewhere that wasn’t there. A lust for movement that could never be sated. Sinclair kept staring at Nadia, her pale skin, her lustrous hair, trying to absorb it all, to burn the memory on his synapses for those days when there would be no light, no colors. So he put the goggles aside, and looked outside with her by his side.

A russet sunset, like Martian skies, hung west of the City. The day after, Nadia left Sinclairhaus.

He had waited for a letter from her, quantum-entangled signals from the void, but none ever arrived. After a while, he started looking for her. He sent messages to all the people he’d met out there, all those years of restless singing. Some rumors came back. A woman with hair like fire had sang her way to the pyramid cities of Bolivar’s World; a woman who painted impossible skies crashlanded in Lacrimosa; a woman taller than most men had found Captain Klein, lost for almost a century, and now they traveled the void together. And more, places he hadn’t even heard of. Nothing came out of these tales. Nadia never wrote back.

Sinclair went blind, and buried himself in his sarcophagus.

It was more real than real, and Nadia was there. Taller than him, with an ever-present smile, hair like molten lava flowing over her shoulders.

And then Nadia wrote back.

It had been ten years. Sinclair could only imagine how much time it had been for her.

She was coming home.


Scherzo: Molto vivace

Night had fallen over the City, and banks of mist rose from the river to shroud the cobbled streets and alleys. Venusberg glittered high in the sky, as the Tannhäuser portal roared to life!

She stood at the edge of the familiar garden, working her toes into the close-cropped grass. The air was hot in her lungs, the sky almost translucent, the lawn shimmering with droplets of water from the morning sprinklers. In all those alien worlds, she’d never seen grass like the one in Sinclairhaus. Or maybe she had and her memory was playing tricks on her. The past always looked better. She shook her head sadly. She could vaguely remember a time when the past meant nothing, and she had only eyes for tomorrow.


She turned around. Sinclair looked the same. She had changed so much and he remained like a rock. Unchanged. She was glad.

“You haven’t changed,” he said.

She smiled sadly. “Take off the goggles. Come closer and see for yourself.”

He did and his fingers eagerly looked for her.

She moistened her lips and kept very still.

Gideon stationed himself at one corner of the garden, watching them, watching her. She glared at him. He knew. He could tell. He bowed his head slowly, and then vanished. It had been Sinclair who obviously asked him to be here. Poor Sinclair, always hoping all the persons that mattered in his life would get along as well. Sinclair, Sinclair …

What did his hands find? Sinclair kept his expression frozen, and that’s how she knew that he knew. She wasn’t her. Not that Nadia he’d known and loved. The void had killed her long ago. She had sung the song, falteringly at first, her voice constricted by doubt, until she had found her confidence and sang better than any of them, better than Sinclair ever did, and crossed farther than anyone else before her. She had been a clear soprano soaring through the void. She wished she could tell him everything. If anyone could understand, if anyone could see, it would be him. A captain, blind with too much seeing. She wanted to tell him about Klein. She wanted to tell him about Cooper and Borges. She wanted to confess everything. But what was the point?

She could see. His fingertips were overwhelmed by the size and asymmetry of her. Most of all, she wanted to be that Nadia, that forgotten little girl he’d loved. It broke her heart to read the questions on his restless hands. Who was this woman? What was her name, what does she call herself? How can I ever know?

Finally, Sinclair pulled his hands back and smiled.

“You came back.”

Nadia stared at him.

“How long?” he said, almost timidly.

“Less than a year. I’ll go blind before that.”

“Was it worth it?”

“Oh, yes,” she said.

Sinclair grabbed both her hands and squeezed tight.

Sinclair had known what love was when bandwidth was not enough, and no streamcast could replace her presence.

Let me wear your ribbon, my love,

let me be your chosen one,

and I will smite my brother for thee.

Let me wear your ribbon, my love,

let me be your chosen one,

and I will stab my friend in the back,

I will tear asunder the moon in a hundred pieces …

And the voidships and the translucent-winged vessels of the Idiosyncrasy, and the Dandelions, older than Kalpas, and the Calabi-Yau manifold ravens, and the supersymmetry twins, the feral spermships of the Id Continuum, the silver barges of the Pantheon as well as the Kolu armada and the Poincaré stallions and the impassive Suda, all joined with the towering Cathedrals, with their grim-visaged captains singing their songs of Crossing, their voices never wavering until the night above the City vanished out of existence, as it did every night, and they all went on their way, for the song of Crossing never ended, and it was good.

  • Armando Saldana

    Armando Saldaña is over one hundred years old and has spent every one of them secretly plotting to take over the world, so far unsuccessfully. Yeats dubbed him the “Wickedest Man in the World,” but the popular press thought he was talking about Aleister Crowley. A vagabond by trade, he did some soldiering with Sun Yat-sen, as well as Pancho Villa, while also getting drunk with Picasso and Modigliani at Monet’s house on Giverny, before eventually doing a spot of bootlegging Canadian whisky and English gin into New York during the 1920s where he made his first fortune, which he promptly lost in the ’29 Crash. He is the author of several short story collections, among them One of Our Shanghais is Missing (2011), One Night in Bangkok (2009), and The World According to Kane (2000). His fiction has appeared in a variety of venues, including Rudy Rucker’s Flurb Magazine and The World SF Blog. He lives in Mexico City, paying obscene amounts of rent. Then again, he’s a writer so you probably shouldn’t believe a word he says.

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