Table of Contents
Chapter 13 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 14: Night Trains
Toni reached the head of the queue for tickets. He had carefully prepared his request in Italian.
‘How can I get to Prague, please?’
The booking clerk tapped her keyboard. ‘2043 departure. Change at Villach and Salzburg. Arrive Prague at 1051 in the morning.’
Toni paused and translated. ‘That’s seventeen hours from now!’ he exclaimed. The woman simply raised her eyebrows.
‘Are there any direct flights from Venice to Prague?’ he asked, completely forgetting his great-uncle’s specific instructions.
The look he received was a credit to the loyalty of this employee of the Italian Railways.
‘Oh, please ...’ he tried again, oblivious to the queue building up behind him.
The clerk sighed and resigned herself to the lesser of two evils. A single click took her instantly to the Marco Polo airport web site; one more click gave her a full list of international departures.
‘CSA/Alitalia. 1435 tomorrow afternoon.’
‘OK.’ He gave up. And he had remembered Terleone’s warning at last. ‘I’ll go by train. Can I book a couchette?’
‘There are three separate trains. Do you want a couchette on each one?’
‘Oh ... what time does the first train arrive at ... er ... Villach?’
‘Then I will take a couchette for the second and third trains only, please.’
‘Finalmente!’ she exclaimed. She printed the tickets.
Should he try his shiny new bank card? Giuseppe seemed to think Italy posed the biggest risks to him, whatever they were. He now recalled hearing things about those bank computers ...
He paid cash.
* * *
He had over three hours to kill. He would have loved to wander around the city again, but he realised there were risks, and anyway he now had a large and precious suitcase which he didn’t want to deposit anywhere. No, it would be safest to stay here, and get something to eat in the station buffet. He could have a little nap as well ... he suspected he wouldn’t sleep too well on those trains. And he could perhaps go back inside the church for a while.
So Rafael Luis Barola dined modestly at Santa Lucia station and then had his little nap. But he did not re-visit the church, and he finally boarded the 2043 departure for Villach.
* * *
He found a quiet corner seat in a fairly empty compartment, set his alarm for ten to one, and soon dozed off.
Carla tracked the train in her usual way, giving him an hour to rest, then settled in next to him, adjusted her velocity, and re-made.
He woke up and rubbed his eyes. ‘Oh, hello Carla. There you are again. I never know when you’re going to pop up next!’
‘I think you probably do, Toni.’
Carla’s command of Spanish had not significantly improved, of course ... she had not had much energy left, after Toni’s initial transferral and missioning, to go out on the town in Bilbao and pick up lots of vocabulary in a range of interesting contexts. In fact, apart from some research at the airports, which had only served to confuse her, since so many languages were being spoken, her only close observation of Spanish had been when listening and talking to Toni — and that had often been a little thin on context.
In fact, she had seen and heard far more Italian and English during their four days in Rome and Venice. So her fledgling vocabulary was now an amusing combination of nouns, verbs and adjectives from all three languages, strung together with some early attempts at grammar.
But her efforts to communicate in the tongues of others were already far better and more valiant than those of countless humans of many great nations.
And her precious sherpa was unconsciously still able to convert everything she uttered into perfect communication ...
‘Toni, we need to plan how we will take the final pair of fixes. I suggest that when we reach Prague station, you should capture the co-ordinates as soon as you can, somewhere in the forecourt. You should then leave the station, walk some way towards the city, stop, and wait there for me. I will join you a little later, after the Mater has taken its final fix. No-one will recognise me, I promise!’
‘I really hope there won’t be any trouble this time, Carla.’
‘I hope so too, Toni.
‘After that, we must try to get our other mission re-started. You know it is over three days since we had to abandon everything in Rome ...’
‘Yes, Carla. Believe me, I haven’t enjoyed all this cloak and dagger activity. Not my style at all! I’m really glad I can relax a little now ... even though there are so many things I don’t understand, hanging around somewhere in my brain.’
‘Do not worry about those things, carísimo. Everything is for the best. We must concentrate on our work. We must cultivate our own garden ...’
Carla waited for her sherpa to relax, as he had suggested he might.
‘Now, our initial study of you, Toni, revealed the potential usefulness of your great-uncle. We did indeed gain two valuable contacts from him, one of whom we have used already for our mapping work — and some information he obtained on a Dutch politician should eventually prove very useful. But, for various reasons, we have now been forced to abandon Don Giuseppe. You should not try to call him again ...
‘You have already begun your journey to Prague, so we shall stay with that plan. But we do not want you to make contact with his friend’s son there. That could well lead us back to Italy, which would not be a sensible move! And we are sure the student won’t worry if he doesn’t hear from you after all ...
‘And since you have not been able to provide us with any other promising leads yourself, particularly in Prague, we must try to initiate a completely fresh chain of contacts when we arrive.’
‘OK, Carla ...’ said Toni, rather hesitantly.
‘But we won’t try to plan this out right now. We can begin tomorrow afternoon. Before then, you need to rest properly on the trains, then we will take the fixes as I have proposed, and after that we must get you and your suitcase checked into a hotel — and as Rafael, don’t forget!’
‘You seem to have it all worked out, as usual, Carla.’
‘We both play our parts, Toni ...’
‘May I ask you something?’
‘I really would like to know a lot more about you. There never seems to be time to talk together quietly - we’re always rushing around, or seeing the sights, or making new plans!’
‘Don’t worry about that, Toni ... I honestly don’t mind.’
‘But I do, Carla! I really want to know you better. I want to know all about where you come from on Dome ... and what instruments you play ... and lots, lots more ...’
‘Toni, I fear that if I tried to describe my homeland, it would make little sense to you ...’
‘Oh, Carla ... please! Please try, for me!’
‘Very well, Toni. I will just say that I come from a region known as Arunura. It is a place of great inspiration. It is famous for its beautiful “bottomless” warm lagoons, and for the glorious colours of its sunsets. Yes, we too need a sun to warm us on Dome.’
‘It sounds gorgeous, Carla. I’d love to be able to go there.’
‘I fear that will never be possible, Toni. But perhaps one day I shall be able to help you to draw a picture of Arunura for yourself ...’
‘Ah ... now that would be wonderful.’
Toni fell silent for a few moments, then recovered his train of thought.
‘All right ... if you don’t think you can say any more about your homeland, at least tell me about your musical instruments. And what else do you do when you’re not rushing around on voyages of discovery?’
Carla completely missed his playful attempt at irony.
‘Toni, we do not use instruments of wood or metal, fibres or plastic. Nor do we distinguish between composers and performers.
‘Ours is a music of the mind.
‘It is born in very special situations and places, such as Arunura. Our music makers know when the moment has come to visit one of those places. Several of us may go together, or one may go alone.
‘A composition is then — how can I say it? — is then revealed by us, often over a substantial period of time. It may not sound like hard work, but I can assure you, from personal experience, that it is very demanding and highly satisfying. On Dome, musicians are held in the highest regard.
‘And when a piece is at last complete, it is carried back to be enjoyed by those who desire to hear it. But in its glorious performance, no sounds travel through our “air”. We listen to the music, or the song, in the same way that we hear each other’s thoughts and voices ... in our minds alone.’
Toni was again pensive for a few moments.
‘So — how does your music compare with what you have heard on Earth?’
‘Ah, Toni ... I think comparison is fruitless.
‘Our music is more complex than yours, both in its creation and its projection. It is born and it grows organically — it is, at once, both a single expression of truth, and a near infinity of tonal elements. It can never be broken down into constituent parts, nor documented in any way. And it can only be heard if the listeners give it their full attention. It is the pinnacle of artistic beauty on Dome.
‘Whereas, I see that even the most sophisticated works of your greatest composers on Earth need to be made up of small groups of simple, individual notes, which are then fused together to form a perfect whole, and are often carefully captured in a written code. And this is then interpreted in performance, by the composer or by any number of different instrumentalists and singers, using humble animal, vegetable and mineral materials, and human voices, for your ears to hear in their own special, vibrating way ... and often, amazingly, while also listening to countless other sounds!
‘But judging by all I have heard so far, Toni, the creations of your musicians are no less beautiful than ours.’
Toni spent several minutes thinking more deeply than he had ever thought before. Finally he spoke again.
‘Carla, perhaps it is your music that inspires ours here on Earth.’
‘And perhaps also, Toni, it is yours that inspires ours on Dome ...’
Toni would have loved to continue this delightful conversation, particularly to pursue his interest in Carla’s other pastimes. But he suddenly found himself overwhelmed by an intense tiredness, and he could not stifle a long, deep yawn.
‘It is time for you to rest again now, Toni. You will see me in Prague tomorrow, as we have agreed.’
Toni was looking straight into her eyes.
‘Carla, I wish I could hold you.’
For the first time, Carla’s voice quivered as she replied.
‘So do I, Toni. So do I.’
As soon as Toni had closed his eyes, she un-made, left him in the safe tracking hands of another of her guardian angels, and attempted some relaxation of her own, her mind filled with many strange new thoughts.
* * *
Toni’s alarm woke him at ten to one, and soon afterwards the train pulled into platform two at Villach. He crossed to platform three, and had less than twenty minutes to wait for the departure to Salzburg. He climbed on board, found his way to his couchette, reset his alarm for a quarter to four, and despite his expectations was soon fast asleep again.
The alarm woke him as planned, shortly before the train arrived at Salzburg’s platform one.
This time he had about forty minutes to wait for his connection. He decided it would be safest to take his suitcase for a walk around the concourse, rather than risk falling asleep in the waiting room. After a while he left the station building to try to catch a glimpse of an Austrian skyline. But it was still far too dark.
Then he had another abrupt realisation that there were many things he really should have been attending to in recent days, and many things he should have been doing differently ... and many things he should not have been doing at all. But he could not put his finger on any of them. Then that awareness once again died down as quickly as it had arisen. He turned on his heels, and walked back into the station and straight onto platform three.
The third of Toni’s night trains also departed right on time. He found his new couchette and reset his alarm for twenty to eleven.
He slept well for a couple of hours, then wakened with the dawn. He spent the rest of the journey simply staring out of the window, initially dozing off from time to time, but later enjoying his very first views of spring time in Bohemia.
* * *
The train arrived in a sunlit Prague just before eleven o’clock. Rafael Barola switched to his smart new shades, and towed his heavy suitcase down the platform and into the station concourse.
To be continued ...