art by Stephen James Kiniry
A Concert of Flowers
by Kate O'Connor
The packed concert hall was far from silent. People whispered to their neighbors, fancy clothing rustled, jewelry chimed. In the wings, William Reis waited, the sound of his rapidly thumping heart filling his ears.
A sharp tug on his collar dragged his eyes down. Emily's pale hands, beautiful still though her skin was wrinkled and growing translucent, straightened his lapels. The charcoal gray suit belonged to her second son. It was tight across the middle and a little long in the leg but he had forgotten that he would need concert attire until the last minute.
"I'll be in the front row. Don't puke." She wrinkled her nose at him and shoved him gently towards the stage. He clutched the ring in his pocket, making sure it was still there. He thought about asking her then but she was gone before he could unstick his lips. Stomach fluttering, he walked out to his place at center stage instead.
William watched the house lights go down through the slim inch between the rich red velvet hem of the curtain and the satiny, dark-tinted stage floor. His head spun and he transferred the slender remote between hands, wiping first one sweating palm than the other on his baggy slacks.
With a ponderous creak, the heavy curtain rose and he was momentarily blinded by the spotlights. They hadn't seemed so bright during the lighting test. He blinked stupidly for a long minute before the uncomfortable rustling of the audience broke through his surging panic. He frantically keyed the initial button on the sweat slick remote.
There was a soft hiss as the clear casing of the first stasis jar fell open. The slim-leafed plant anchored in its deep pot trembled as air rushed in. Its single bud exploded into bloom even before the casing had touched the table and a note, high, clear, perfectly pure rang through the dark. It brought tears to William's eyes. Almost as good as hearing it for the first time.
The equipment on his back was heavy and getting heavier by the hour. He pushed up the sleeves of his shirt again, pulling the sweaty garment away from his chest and flapping it a few times. Surveying was a solitary job. One day this field or one like it would be the site of the new spaceport. Ships would come and shops would spring up, followed by restaurants, businesses, and apartments. One day it would be a bustling city.
Now it was just one more muddy meadow to slog through on one more far-flung colonial world. The climate was pleasantly temperate but there was an odd purplish cast to most of the vegetation. A few scrubby trees were growing to the south, barely more than bushes twisting up through the waist-high, mauve-spotted grass. Lumpy amber clouds were building in the distance, threatening to force their way over the low, rounded mountain range.
William stopped on a slight rise, shrugging off the shoulder straps and easing his equipment down. He fumbled through setting it up, hurrying a bit as he tried to keep half an eye on the weather. Tulandra was his second assignment and his first solo job.
The leg of the theodolite tripod slipped just as William finished calibrating it. Cursing loudly, he kicked at a patch of sturdy, indigo-green plants. Their thick stalks rebounded easily and one of the baseball sized buds burst open, stunning William to silence as a clean note rang through the open field. He had never heard anything like it. Cautious and disbelieving, he nudged another bud with the mud-caked toe of his boot. The plant trembled and the blossom opened, unfurling crimson petals as it added its note to the no-longer-desolate air.
Easing away from center stage, William pushed a couple of buttons. Two tones rang out together, wavering delicately as they adjusted to each other and found balance. As he keyed the next sequence, the sound swelled. William watched as a series of jars in front of him collapsed and the plants within burst into salmon and ruby and violet bloom.
The singing flowers of Tulandra had two notes each. One when their petals opened for the first time, the hollow pistils sucking air all the way to the plant's roots and vibrating the tiny filaments inside the stem. The second came when the stem's integrity was compromised and the stored air rushed out. Each leaf had microscopic protuberances that caught the frequencies emitted by the other flowers. The invisible vibrations would cause the plant to tighten or relax the internal filaments, adjusting them until its note matched the harmonics of the flowers around it.