Mathématique: Chapter 58

Measure after measure, Beethoven called to Mozart. Across space and time. Through the medium of music.

Chapter Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Grief.

Additional notes: This chapter’s been waiting in the wings for something like a decade.

Chapter 58

Rush spent the Amtrak ride to New York on his laptop, reading through lists of pieces for classical piano, reproducing movements in his head, and creating a spreadsheet with every piece he knew, ranked by degree of familiarity. His repertoire was deep but not as broad as he’d have supposed. It centered on the period bridging the late Classical and early Romantic Eras: Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, and, of course, Beethoven. He’d had comparatively less luck with the Baroque and Impressionist Eras, which came as something of a surprise.

“Too good for Bach, were we?” He muttered, scanning through lists of pieces, as the sun sank toward the horizon on the other side of the train car. “Unimpressed with fugues?” He added a few pieces to the bottom of the list, but those would take some work.

Brahms yielded up nothing, which struck him as purposeful, given the clear affinity Nicholas Rush had held for some of the man’s Romantic Era colleagues. “Bit of a grudge about the business with Clara Schumann, maybe?” he murmured, brows raised as the history between Brahms and the Schumanns inserted itself rather aggressively into the stream of his thoughts. “My my, we were opinionated, weren’t we?”

He had a few hits with the Impressionists—Debussy, Ravel, Sibelius. Better luck with Erik Satie.

“So,” he murmured, leaning back in his seat and looking at his list, eyebrows raised. “You seem to have been a mathematician with a strong penchant for melodic drama over structure and form. Very odd. What did you think about that, I wonder?”

Could some of these preferences have come from Gloria Whitbourn, whomever she had been? His newfound musical talents were opening up a curiosity about her that, finally, didn’t feel forced. She’d given him the only gift he’d managed to carry with him across the mnemonic wall that separated his living and dead selves.

Rush crossed his arms, looking out the window of the train, watching the approaching skyline, glittering in the early evening. “Did you ever come here?” He murmured, his eyes on canyons of light, carved between towers of darkening glass.

He doubted it.

There was nothing in his head of New York, other than a few scattered facts. Manhattan was an island. Yes. Very helpful. The Empire State Building—well, was a thing that existed, he supposed. There was a subway system, a good one, running like a web underground. 

The soaring glass towers, limned with light, ached deep in his thoughts.

As the train pulled into Penn Station, he stowed his laptop and checked his prepaid phone only to find he had over 40 missed texts. He furrowed his brows, then opened his messaging app. 

They were, of course, all from Eli.



::Are you still alive?::

::Tell me you’re alive::

::I executed my part of the plan, by the way::

::I put the security programs you recommended on my phone::

::This texting is very secure::

::Too secure?::

::Are you getting this?::

::I’ve got my plan in place for the Rational Grounds meeting::

::Do you care?::

::I’m going to record the whole thing::

::At a minimum I’ll get audio; I already have that up and running::

::Maybe also some video. I did, I admit, buy some spy gadgets online::

::What are you even doing?::

::Shouldn’t you just be staring out the window, watching the Megalopolis go by?::

::Like, literally, you’re doing nothing right now::

::Text me back::

::Did you make arrangements for YOUR part of the plan yet?::

::Your hair looks really really bad::

::You need to fix it before you try to get a fancy piano job::

::Also, you need better clothes::



::Oh god::

::You’re going to be so bad at texting::

::This is terrible. I never should have agreed to this::

::Here look I found you a place for your hair that’s close to Penn Station::

::It’s going to be super expensive, because, y’know. New York::

::But you have to spend money to make money::

::Tell them your technoswag is for epilepsy::

::You’ll get fewer questions than saying it’s a corporate prototype::

::You’re dead, aren’t you::

::RIP Dave. I’ll miss you::

::RIP Nick, I mean::

::I don’t want to actually call you::

::I’m a Millennial and we don’t do that::

::Also because what if you’re on the run?::

::From people in svelte leather??::

::But I WILL call you. Soon. Not yet::

::Just, text me please::

As he waited to disembark, Rush composed a quick message and sent it.

::Eli. I’m fine. I made it safely to New York. I’ll keep you informed of my progress::

::Thank GOD. You’re the WORST::

Rush smiled faintly, then pulled up the website for the salon Eli had recommended, eyeing the price list dubiously. This seemed certainly a problem best left for the following day.

Given his newfound aptitude as a pianist, his employment prospects seemed strong enough that he’d decided to spend a not insignificant percentage of his total cash on a hotel room. Even if he couldn’t sustain hotel living for more than a few nights—it seemed worth it in the short term. The weather was turning cold and he was short on sleep. Point of fact, he was beyond exhausted by the events of the past two days. His head ached, overburdened, maybe, with all that had happened and all that it couldn’t recall.

Rush emerged under the arching metalwork of Penn Station, following the flow of foot traffic to the nearest exit. The night was cool, the street brightly lit, and the crowd pressed around him on all sides, high spirited and anonymizing.

The towering lights were beautiful. Full of color, full of human effort. 

He found his way to the the relatively inexpensive hotel he’d identified prior to leaving Boston, navigating by street signs. He walked through a small lobby, argued his way into a twenty percent discount for a cash payment up front and emerged with a room key and a tragically insecure wifi passcode.

The room was small but clean, with two east-facing windows that granted an excellent view of the city—blazing with so many lights that one wouldn’t know the sun was on the other side of the earth. Rush stood at the window, one hand hooked over his shoulder, watching people pass below, listening to the cars and crowd beyond the panes of glass.

That night, as he sat in bed, using the insecure wifi through his customized set of protocols, he searched out videos of Gloria Rush, in concert. 

There was no shortage of options.

He found her beautiful, he supposed, in an abstract way. She carried herself well, with dignity and poise, but there was a concealed fire in her bearing. Something mischievous in the tilt of her head, the line of her jaw.

He watched her play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, wearing a blue dress, her arms bare, her hair escaping its upward twist during the chromatic transition in the first movement and falling down her back during the ricochet bowing of the cadenza.

“Did you—plan that?” he murmured, smiling faintly. “I’m sure you must have done.”

For Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, she wore yellow. Her hair was fully secured. This one she performed with joy—on her face, in her movements, in the way she guided the melodic line away from the orchestra and back, in the way Mozart himself must have envisioned, hundreds of years ago.

And then? He happened upon a performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer.

Written for violin and piano.

And this one? This one he knew. 

He knew it in his hands. He knew it in his mind. And even though he didn’t remember anything about the personality or character of Gloria Whitbourn Rush, he knew how she played the thing. The way she’d exploded into the the turn from A major to A minor in the Adagio. The life she’d brought to the second movement, stealing the melody from the piano, always a little early. And how difficult, how terribly terribly difficult, it was for anyone to keep up with her during the Presto.

He could see her accompanist onstage struggle with it, and the bones of Rush’s hands fair vibrated in sympathy.

So. There was something of her that something of him remembered. 

“Gloria,” he said, experimentally, watching her wave at the crowd as they applauded her. Her dress red, her hair swept to one side.

The name brought nothing with it. 

The performance had happened in London. Had he been there?

No way to know.

He tried to connect this fiery, talented, and dead violinist to the marrow-deep loneliness he felt. It wasn’t working. She remained pure concept. A pleasant one to be certain, but there was nothing of her he could hold to. Except—

Except for how bloody difficult she was to accompany during the Kreutzer.

How bloody difficult she had been.

It was something.

He closed his laptop and leaned back against the headboard of the bed, looking at the multicolored glaze of city lights beyond his windows.

Try Beethoven, next time.

He wondered whether his spectral visitor had meant for him to find the Kreutzer.

Rush sighed.

More likely the man didn’t exist at all, and was a cognitive side effect of the things on his head, or whatever had happened to strip him so effectively of all personal memory. Then again. Even if the man was some kind of cognitive epiphenomenon—it didn’t mean that Rush didn’t know him from somewhere. 

Possibly, he was extremely important. So important that he was, somehow, transcending what was otherwise a complete mnemonic block. Possibly.

In any case, the Beethoven had been a good tip. Not only had it given him the little personal connection he was capable of with his late wife, but it had given him three very conventional options to use for the upscale Manhattan restaurant scene. Sonata 8, second movement; Sonata 14, first movement; Für Elise. 

He stared into the darkness of his hotel room, pondering his options, then opened his spreadsheet. It was time to decide on the final lineup for what would likely to be a series of rather harrowing auditions, given his extremely limited access to a piano beforehand.

He’d begin with the third movement of Mozart’s eleventh piano sonata—the one he’d already confirmed he could play. His impromptu performance at Dr. Geiszler’s keyboard had been very solid for something dredged up out of nowhere, with no warmup. He was sure he could do it again.

From there it got trickier. He scanned the list, looking for something a bit less dragged through the mud of pop culture than Für Elise. 

Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat major was near the top of his list. He knew that one very well. Well enough that it, too, would likely claw its way out of his mind as if it lived there, behind that mnemonic wall; a separate thing, waiting to emerge fully formed. Absently, he fluttered his hand through a mid-air arpeggio, his articulation practiced and familiar and sure. Yes, that one would work for a restaurant as long as he didn’t make use of his full dynamic range—kept a low to moderate volume and energy the whole way.

Could he do that?

He wasn’t certain.

He sighed. The Mozart had—arrived. He hadn’t “remembered” it, per se. It had arrived. From his body. From layers of his cognition that were currently closed to him. Consequently? He wasn’t sure how alterable his early performances were going to be.

Third up would be Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, though this was something of a risk, as the mood of the piece veered a bit dark, and he had the feeling his performance of it was going to angle into at least moderate drama.

But what else could he use that he was certain he could play?

What else was he certain he could play in a restrained manner?

Virtually nothing.

If he needed a fourth option, he’d go with either Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8. or his Rondo a Capriccio in the case that the Mozart went over significantly better than the Chopin.

He gave his spreadsheet a dubious look, and closed the document.

Rush climbed out from between crisp sheets, plugged his computer into the wall to charge, took the longest, most luxurious shower he’d ever experienced in his nine weeks of accessible mental existence, and fell asleep with extreme rapidity.

“You the new piano guy?”

Rush, waiting on a bench in the entryway of Au Coeur, looked up to see a young woman bearing an explosion of dark curls. She was wearing a black dress and opaque tights, but beneath the edges of her sleeves he could see the borders of mostly-concealed tattoos. Fish, perhaps?

“I very much hope so,” he said, squinting from the glare of the afternoon sun off an overhead chandelier.

“You look like you’re gonna be our new piano guy,” she said, her head cocked, considering him critically. “You have the right vibe. Nice accent. They’ll like that. You know any Gershwin? The last guy played a lot of Gershwin.”

“No,” Rush replied. “But I’m sure I could learn.”

“No way, man. Don’t learn Gershwin. If I have to hear Rhapsody in Blue one more time I’m gonna be sick.”

“Ah,” Rush said.

“Come with me,” she said. “The bosses are upstairs.”

She led him through the entryway, decorated with French Impressionist paintings superimposed over newspapers from the past decade or so.

“Classic French Cuisine with a modern twist,” the girl said, noticing his perusal of the walls, “and don’t you dare forget it. Guests take this elevator up to the fifth floor. Kitchens are on two. The Family lives on three and four. Staff take the service elevator.”

“The ‘Family’?” Rush repeated.

“Yeah it’s a husband-wife team that run this place,” his guide said, leading the way down a narrow side hallway.

“Got it,” Rush said.

The girl hit the button for the service elevator. “So, you feeling lucky, Future Piano Guy?”

Rush sighed. “Not sure.”

He’d taken Eli’s advice and invested in a vastly improved, much more natural dye job for his hair. He’d requested a haircut specifically designed to conceal the devices at his temples. He’d found an affordable sport coat. His shoes had always been acceptable. 

Even so, his first two auditions of the day hadn’t gone well.

As he’d anticipated, it was very difficult for him to pull the passion out of his performances.

“Not a great fit,” he’d been told.

“Hmm,” The girl said, leaning against the wall next to the elevators. “I’m thinking maybe you lean into this British thing more than you are,” she advised, giving him a critical look.

“Pardon?” Rush said.

“That’s a start, I guess. It’s just—you seem like you want this job.”

“Frankly,” Rush replied, “I do. Very much.”

“Right, I get that. But maybe pretend you don’t,” the girl said, crossing her arms. “This restaurant is obsessed with getting a Michelin Star rating. It’s all they talk about. They’re trying to swank up the place in every way they can. So I’m guessing they’re really going to want a British guy who thinks he’s too good for the likes of them.”

The elevator doors opened, and the girl waved him ahead. “Like, you’re God’s Gift to Piano, right? They should be so lucky. Usually you only offer your services at Michelin-Star Rated Restaurants, so this is a bit of an exception for you. That kind of thing.”

“Ah,” Rush said. “I can probably manage that. Thanks for the tip. You seem—astute.”

“I’m Coral,” the girl said. “Taking a year off medical school because it’s horrible.”

“David,” Rush said.

“Nice to meet you, David.”

“Likewise. Medical school is worse than waitressing?”

“Well, that’s the question, I guess,” Coral replied. “I haven’t been here all that long.” She glanced at the display above the elevator door. “Okay. We’re almost at the top. So. Practice your hardcore British disapproval.”

Rush tipped his head down and glared at her over the tops of his glasses.

“Damn, that’s great, man. Just like that. You’re a natural.”

“I suspect so,” Rush replied, pushing his glasses back into position.

The elevator doors opened on what could only be the dining room, the afternoon sun glinting off glass and crystal and the gold-edged frames of doctored replicas of French Impressionist paintings. Across the room, a man and woman waited, sitting at a table near a piano.

“Good luck,” Coral whispered.

As he crossed the room, he tried to settle himself into the ghost of a man with a mathematical background and a musical gift and a wife who was dead. He kept his pleasantries cool and his gaze vectored over the tops of his glasses. And, when he sat at the piano, he tried to channel the dead in a different way, playing as Mozart must have had to play, in his early life, when he was learning on harpsichords that would break under the strain of human hands.

He was engaged to start that very evening.

A little before six o’clock, Rush sat down at the Steinway piano, no sheet music in hand, but his spreadsheet of choices at the forefront of his thoughts. He began with the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 8 as the first seating of diners filed in beneath chandeliers of modern cut. The ambient noise in the dining room turned loud enough over the first half hour that he found he had room for a bit of dynamism in his playing. He tried to keep his choices largely sedate, only veering into darker moods when the volume in the room rose sufficiently to accommodate a tonal shift.

He played continuously, transitioning in and out of different pieces, blending Mozart into Beethoven, Beethoven into Schubert, Schubert into Chopin, Chopin through a little Baroque motif that could have only come from Bach, then back to Mozart. 

He played continuously.


It wasn’t a good idea. But once started, he found he couldn’t bear to stop. He played through the evening, absently watching diners arrive and eat and go, only to be replaced by others who also arrived, also ate, also went. He played until the analytical side of his mind gave way to the creative blend of style and era. He played past the point of pain in his hands and his shoulders and his neck. Each piece was a discovery, a familiar country, an excavation of patterns that someone he couldn’t recall had laid down with time and effort in a past life.

Nicholas Rush had done the work of hand and mind.

But it had been Gloria who’d gifted him this. All of this.

Because he must have done it for her.

How could it possibly be otherwise?

She’d specialized in the Romantics and in Mozart, who’d singlehandedly built the bridge to the era she’d so loved. He’d seen no footage of her playing anything else.

Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 14 came into his mind, and he performed the rebellious opening Mannheim Rocket, but then had to slow down as his aching fingers failed to muster up the dexterity required for the imploring answering passage. The entire first movement was a fusion of wild passion and exhausted collapse, triplet motifs turning the development through its dogged minor tonalities, suggesting resignation, until, finally descending to a quiet whisper at the lowest register of the keyboard. 

And then, the adagio. A ternary structure. The anguish of the b-flat in the sixth bar. Grief and longing spread over the memory of the first movement like a shroud of spectral flowers. And he thought of Gloria, dressed in yellow, channeling the pure joy of the dead. She’d known how it was done. 

But then, it seemed, so did he. 

His hands, pushed far too far, moved slowly. And that seemed right to him. Perhaps he had always played this one slowly.

And then, as naturally as breathing, Rush blended the second movement of Mozart’s fourteenth sonata into the second movement of Beethoven’s eighth sonata. They were almost the same, after all. Beethoven had composed the thing in direct homage. And this one—this one—the Beethoven, he felt sure he’d played just like this. Aching and slow. Exhausted. He knew it as well as he knew calculus. It was a part of him.

I can only imagine how much I must have loved you, he thought, as his aching fingers moved through the first pass of Beethoven’s cantabile melody. But if—for reasons I can’t explain—my musical ability is the only thing left to us, of us, then I hope it meets with your approval the way it meets with mine. 

Measure after measure, Beethoven spoke to Mozart. Across space and time. Through the medium of music.

I can’t think of you,” he whispered, without interrupting the rhythm of his playing. “But I can still play for you. As I suppose I must have done. When we were both alive.”

He made the second pass through the cantabile.

This one, he told her in his thoughts. I’m sure I played you this one. And I know your Kreutzer. As you must have known mine. And these things are central. They go right to the core. Unstrippable. We must all, all of us, have unstrippable qualities.

“And who’s granted this kind of afterlife, hmm?” He murmured as he began his third pass through the crushingly beautiful central theme.

There was no answer. But he could feel her there with him, somehow, through the Beethoven. 

The piece ended.

Before he could transition into the next, someone slid onto the piano bench.

Coral wrapped an arm around him. “Dave,” she whispered, her chin hooked over his shoulder. “Hi, man. Stop playing. Closing time.”

He looked up at the room to find a handful of diners had lingered. There was a scattering of brief applause. He nodded at the room, and moved to stand.

“Nope,” Coral said, holding him down. “Hang on. Wait for the tips.” She pulled a tissue out of her pocket, and handed it to him. He used it to wipe his watering eyes. As the diners filed past them, several left money in the already full glass bowl on the piano. 

“I gotta say, you really changed up the vibe in here, Dave,” Coral said quietly, after the last of the guests had made their way to the coat room. “I hear people ordered, like twenty percent more desert drinks than usual. And we ran out of drip coffee and biscotti.” She pulled the bowl off the piano, fished the money out of it, stacked it neatly, and handed it to him.

Absently, Rush nodded, tucking the cash into his wallet. It looked like enough to justify another night in a reasonable hotel.

“You know, the other guy we had? He took breaks. You might want to consider that.”

Rush flexed his aching hands. “I’ll take it under advisement.”

“What are the things on your head?” Coral whispered.

“Medical devices,” Rush murmured.

She looked at him with interest, inviting him to continue, but he shook his head.

“Come on,” she said, smiling at him. “There’s still a bunch of braised short-rib left in the kitchen, I heard. Plus, uh, everyone wants to meet you.”

After dinner and drinks with the restaurant staff, after the tables and floors had been cleaned, after the last dish had been washed and the front doors locked, Rush walked back to his hotel through unsleeping city streets lined with undimmed electric light. He negotiated a few additional nights on his hotel reservation in return for another cash payment, then took the elevator—not to his room, but to the hotel’s rooftop patio. 

He threaded his way through the outdoor tables, passing beneath dim, warm-spectrum bulbs, strung in lines. He made for the edge of the roof, where the shadows were the deepest, where carefully maintained greenery grew thick in heavy wooden planters. He leaned his forearms against the metal guardrail, and looked out over the city in the direction of the East River, blocks and blocks away.

The air was very still.

There was, as yet, no hint of the coming dawn. 

He hooked a hand over his shoulder and angled his head up, looking at the night sky. Between the rows of skyscrapers, he could see only a few stars shining through the diffuse glow the city. Venus glittered tens of degrees above the horizon.

Next to him, late-blooming autumn roses shifted with small air currents. 

Soon, at night, it would begin to frost. 

He favored the flowers with a sympathetic look. “What happens to you in winter? Thrown over for something that can survive the cold?” 

He sighed. 

“Talking to plants. Yes, well. I’ve made worse choices, I’m sure.”

Rush stared at the Empire State Building, lit with blue and gold. He pressed his fingers into the knotted muscle at the base of his neck and tried to summon a sense of optimism.

Very little was forthcoming.

His hands and shoulders ached terribly. He shouldn’t have played so long. 

“Hey, genius.” 

Rush whirled.

There was a man standing next to him on the deserted roof. Faded black military fatigues. Wild hair. Kind eyes. He was leaning on the rail, only a meter away, both forearms resting against the dark metal. He looked obliquely at Rush.

“You again.” Rush glanced behind him, over the rooftop, looking at the elevator doors on the other side of closely spaced tables. It seemed impossible that he wouldn’t have heard the man approach.

“Me again,” the man agreed.

Rush took several shallow breaths, trying to collect himself.

“I like the jacket,” the man said, looking over at him, smiling faintly. “And the hair,” he continued, his tone wistful. “I like all of it. Makin’ it work. Just like always.”

“Who are you?” Rush whispered.

“God, I wish it worked like that, genius,” the man said ruefully, looking up at Venus, suspended like a gem between a row of skyscrapers. “I really do.”

Rush found that his eyes had begun to hurt terribly. A hot, wet ache. He wrapped a hand around the metal rail, braced himself, and nodded. “Yes well,” he said, unsteadily. “Thanks for the Beethoven.”

“You’re welcome,” the other man whispered, sounding none too steady himself.

Rush shut his eyes against the warm burn of unshed tears. He supposed, for a moment, he’d allowed himself to believe that someone, somehow, had come for him. 

He could feel his heart beating hard, overburdened, certainly, with all it felt but couldn’t articulate.

“So.” He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, trying to get a fair fucking hold on himself. He squared his shoulders, shook his hair back, and looked over at the other man. “Y’must have some kind of purpose here. Out with it, then.”

“What can I say? There’s something about you and a piano that gets my attention.” The man looked at him, his eyes full of everything Rush couldn’t remember. “Always has. Always will.”

“So we know one another then?” The words were raw, full of confused longing, and Rush tried to master himself. Tried to breathe slowly and evenly in the cool night air. 

“Yes and no,” the man said. “If I get a vote, and I’m not sure I should, I’m gonna vote yes. Mostly.”

“Make some sense, will you?”

“Working on it. It’s not as easy as you make it look.”

“Tell me what you’re doing here,” Rush whispered.

“Nick,” the man said, gently. “I’m trying to communicate that there’s a whole mess of questions I can’t directly answer.”

Rush tried to muster the energy for anger or for argument, but it was no use. He’d wrung himself out over that piano. And what did one more inexplicable occurrence really mean, anyway? 

He’d add it to the fucking pile.

Rush shifted to lean both forearms against the rail, mirroring the other man’s pose. He could feel the slow acid strain of his recent performance from his fingertips to the base of his skull. 

“So.” He cleared his throat. “How’re you finding New York, then?”

That surprised a pained laugh out of his mysterious companion. The man looked over the lattice of dark asphalt below them. “The real answer is that I can barely see it. There’s so much potential difference that it blurs itself out to the point of unparsability.”

Rush arched a brow and gave him a look over the tops of his glasses.

“Y’know, you really remind me of you sometimes,” the man said, smiling at him with a truly breathtaking amount of affection.

Rush averted his eyes, looking back to the city, gilt with light. He leaned his weight on his forearms, then began to use his right hand to massage his left. “Questions you can’t, and I quote, ‘directly answer’ imply a constraint of some kind. Which, in turn, implies oversight.”

“If you were right about that,” the man said mildly, “you might think twice about what you say out loud.”

“Hmm,” Rush said, continuing to work on soothing the cramping muscles of his left hand. “You must have very strong feelings about Beethoven to take such risks on his behalf. Especially given that he probably wouldn’t recognize you if he saw you. Especially given that he is, effectively, dead.”

“You’re a lotta work,” the man growled, but he couldn’t quite stop the half smile that followed the words.

“Do you take metaphysical risks on behalf of other dead composers?” Rush asked, smirking. “Or is Beethoven special for some reason?”

The man considered this question with a progressively pleased expression. “Beethoven’s definitely special. But I’ve also stuck my neck out for Schubert, locked into stasis. I’ll sit with Schumann when he’s having a hard time, Chopin when he’s sick. We’ve got a Berlioz in the mix who’s probably gonna need to be redirected before he lights the universe on fire. But really? I’m Mozart’s man, at heart.”

“And what makes Mozart so fucking special, then?”

“The beauty of this is that you know exactly what,” the other man said, grinning at him. “And I know you know, because of that little finale you just pulled with sonatas fourteen and eight. I’m gonna tell him about it. Maybe it will win him over.”


“Don’t get sidetracked. You’ve missed seeing. All the composers I mentioned—they all have that identical spark of musical genius.” The other man paused, and then, when Rush looked at him, he repeated the word. “Genius.”

And there was a vocative case if he’d ever heard one.

Rush knit his brows. “I’m not following.”

“Hmm,” the man replied, trying to hide a smile. “First time for everything, I guess.”

Rush shot him a dark look. “What distinguishes them from one another? Your—personal array of composers.”

“Spacetime and circumstance,” the man said.

“So, hypothetically speaking, Beethoven doesn’t differ in nature when compared to Mozart?”

“Well, like I said, you gotta leave Mozart out of this. He’s special. But Beethoven isn’t of a different nature than, say, Berlioz.”

Rush sighed, staring at his hands. “I don’t like where you’re going with this extremely esoteric thought experiment.”

“Maybe don’t articulate your concerns. Maybe just move on to the next question.”

“Right then,” Rush said, then reached out with two fingers to prod the other man’s arm. It was extremely corporeal.

His rooftop guest gave him an amused look. “Pretty forward of you.”

“You’re the one who keeps condensing out of thin air in my vicinity,” Rush replied.

“Fair enough.”

“I don’t suppose you’d care to explain the mechanism behind that one?” Rush asked. “Your sudden appearances, I mean?”

“Explaining it is tough. But I might be able to open up an angle for you. What do you know about the quantum multiverse?”

Rush laughed, short and sharp. “Where all your Romantic Era composers live, no doubt.”

The man looked at him.

“You’re serious,” Rush said.

“You basically just said it,” the man said, with a hint of defensiveness.

“I said nothing of the kind. You told me to skip any articulation of my concerns. I was picturing, I don’t know, human cloning?”

“Cloning? You thought you were a clone?”

“I woke up without a past and with extremely advanced technology attached to my head, and then here you are, talking about an array of metaphorical dead composers that share the same spark of native genius, subject to some kind of universal oversight and with a single variant, ‘Mozart’ presumably preferred above others. What was I supposed to think?”

“Okay, sure, yeah, I guess, but cloning? Really?” The man looked down, hiding a smile.

“Are you criticizing me? Do you find this amusing? You’re the one making opaque allusions to multiple copies of me. Human cloning is far, far more likely than branes of the quantum multiverse interacting. By orders of magnitude. They don’t touch. That’s their nature. Presuming they exist at all, which they very well may not. I’ll have you know that just now, in this exact moment, I discovered a personal preference for loop quantum gravity over string theory when it comes to describing the nature of reality. How nice for me. This has been a very informative day. Night. Whatever. But if you’d care to know, and it seems like you might, I can tell you that I’ve also discovered I can do very well without adding the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics to my list of practical problems. So you can just—” 

He stopped himself, breathing hard.

There was a long silence.

“Fuck off?” the man suggested, with a small smile.

“I didn’t say that,” Rush said unevenly. “Please don’t.”

“Not planning on it,” the man replied, his words deliberately reassuring. “As insulting monologues go, that one didn’t even rate.”

“Have some experience with such things, do you?”

“Oh yeah. I collect them, actually.” The man eyed him with a complex mixture of what appeared to be affection and frustration.

“From across the multiverse?” Rush whispered, despondently. “Really?”

“I’m here to help you, Nick. Not to amuse myself.”

Rush felt a muscle in his cheek begin to twitch. “How?” he demanded. “By appearing from nowhere, telling me nothing of substance, other than implying you might know something about the quantum multiverse and its infinite Monte Carlo simulation of fate choice?” Rush asked, hating the bewilderment in his own voice.

“Pretty much,” the man murmured. “Sorry genius. I know this is a lot. And I’m the first to admit this whole idea is one hell of a long shot.Then again, I’ve been known to land some spectacularly long shots in my day.”

Rush shook his head, blinking hard, leaning on the rail. 

“Don’t try to parse this, genius. Maybe just kinda go with it.”

“Go with what?” Rush whispered.

“All of it.”

“All right,” Rush said, trying to ground himself in the ache of his hands and shoulders, the faint scent of the autumn roses.

“All right?” the man said, surprised.

Rush shot him a look over the top of his glasses.

“That’s more like it,” the man replied. 

“I don’t have much recourse,” Rush replied, “given my lack of recallable life experience. Which, I am beginning to strongly suspect, may have been considerably less pedestrian than I’d envisioned. But, presuming I do, and I quote, ‘kinda go with it,’ very precise, thanks for that—what exactly am I supposed to do?”

“Nothing. I’ve already accomplished what I came here for.”

“Do you understand that, at present, I don’t even remember your name, let alone your nature?” Rush asked, his voice cracking. “I have no idea who you are or what you are or what you’re trying to achieve.”

“I’m pretty well up to speed on all of that, yup.” 

“Who are you, to me?” Rush demanded.

“A lot of things, genius. We’re wrapped up in each other across space and time.”

“How poetic. Terribly sorry I can’t recall so much as a scrap of information about you.”

“The beauty of it,” the man said gently, “is that you don’t need to.” 

They watched the eastern sky turn to edgeless watercolor with the coming dawn.

“Are you going to tell me your name?” Rush whispered. “I find I’d very much like to know.”

“I’m a superposition of someone you’ll meet shortly,” the man said.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Rush whispered, bracing himself against the metal rail.

“Yeah, I know,” the man said, his voice rough, like the grinding of stones. “Sorry.”

“You’re a superposition?” Rush said, his voice cracking. “And so the implication is what? That you can actually see into—I don’t know—the Grand Monte Carlo?” Rush threw up a hand. “All simultaneously running realities? You know not only know your fate, and mine, across multiverses, but you’re capable of interfacing? Of affecting collapses in some universal wave function? That’s why you can’t see New York?”

“Sure. Just shout it from the literal rooftops, why don’t you,” the man said dryly.

“Fuck,” Rush whispered.

“Eh, I think it’ll be okay. Someone’s distracting the local law enforcement pretty heavily. Mozart’s busy. So I think we’re good.”

“Yes well, we wouldn’t want to upset Mozart, would we,” Rush muttered, looking away.

“Eh, he’ll come around,” the man said. “Especially after I drop your line.”

“What ‘line’?”

“The Grand Monte Carlo,” the man repeated, grinning up at the lightening sky. “Ah genius. You never lose it, you know? No matter where you are, no matter what happens to you.”

“Lose what?”

“Who you are.”

“Maybe it appears that way from a superpositioned reference frame,” Rush said, looking away, “but, I assure you, down here in the trenches of reality? I have nothing.”

“Oh I don’t know about that. You have Eli Wallace,” the man said, smiling a small nostalgic smile. “You’ve got all kinds of resources you don’t remember. All kinds of allies you can’t see. You’ve got friends you’ve never met. Sure. Maybe you don’t have your personal memories. But you’ve got reality braided into you—from your genes to your lost social network.”

The other man turned to face him and reached out one hand, resting it on Rush’s shoulder.

“Don’t leave,” Rush said, reflexively. “Don’t leave me here alone.”

“I can’t stay,” the man said, pulling him into a tight embrace. “But at the same time,” he whispered, “I don’t ever really go.”

Rush wrapped his arms around the other man. He pressed his face into faded black fatigues, and tried, heroically, not to weep. 

“Any individual manifestation of you,” the other man said into his ear, tightening the embrace, “might feel alone. But when it comes to that Grand Monte Carlo, genius—you’re not.”

Rush nodded wordlessly.

Slowly, the other man pulled back, both his hands closed on Rush’s upper arms. He looked searchingly into his eyes. “Hang in there. Won’t be long now.”

“What won’t be long?” Rush whispered.

The other man smiled at him. His hands tightened once on Rush’s biceps. And then—

He vanished.

Rush dropped to his knees on the rooftop, both hands coming to his face.

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