This is the first time I’m posting a science fiction story. Would love to have constructive feedback.
The Sound Of Music
“Now, won’t you stop playing and come here for lunch?”
“Yes Ma, just five minutes,” Nandini answered absentmindedly, still playing her keyboard.
Her brown eyes looked at the keyboard as if it were alive, and had a close relationship with her. It had been a week since her mother had gifted her the keyboard, but even now she was as infatuated by the instrument as when she had first seen it.
On the face of it, Nandini Sarkar was as normal as any fourteen year old girl. Her room walls were plastered with posters of rock stars who, according to her mother, would have been a hair-stylist’s nightmare. She would chat for hours on the phone, even though her mother always chided her for that.
Yet the same boisterous girl transformed into a picture of serenity when she played the keyboard. Alone in her room, she could go on for hours playing her favourite pieces, oblivious to her mother’s prating outside.
“Your daughter has a ear for music,” Nandini had once overheard her music teacher say to her mother. She had blushed a little then, but the blush was overshadowed by a self-assured nod.
Her hands now moved sensuously over the keyboard. She couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift; the school vacations had just begun, so she could devote more hours to practice for the next two months.
“Are you listening? We’re all here at the table.” It was her mother again.
“I’ll join you in a minute Mom,” she yelled, and got back to the piece she had been playing.
She had been practicing it for the last fifteen minutes. Her thin, long fingers moved over the keyboard with the grace of a ballerina, timing each key perfectly until she got to the part where the beat slowed down. That was where she lost control, either carrying forward the same fast pace, or slowing down into a stutter.
I’ll get it right after lunch, she told herself and stopped playing. Walking lazily to the dining table, she hummed the piece to herself. Yet in the silence of the afternoon, she could hear the notes loud and clear as if they were being played on a keyboard.
She rushed back to her room wondering if someone was tinkering with her instrument. She opened the door quietly and peeped in. No one in there, everything was still like a painting. She walked in and took a closer look at her keyboard.
She watched openmouthed as the keyboard keys moved perfectly in time as if someone was playing the keyboard. She tried to scream, but the sight seemed to have choked her voice. She found herself moving closer to the keyboard, mesmerized by the tune. Her room began to shrink and it appeared as if it would soon collapse into nothingness.
The next second she was amidst about a dozen people, most in their mid-twenties, in a big hall, gathered around a guitar kept in a glass case. A balding man with a broad forehead and little tufts of hair above his ears stood beside the guitar. “The guitar,” he said, with an air of authority, “was a popular musical instrument in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. It was much more fashionable than the violin or the piano, and its appeal cut across different genres. By the mid twenty second century however, it began losing its charm and by the late 2100’s, it was replaced by what we now know as telepathic music.”
“Late 2100’s?” Nandini wondered as she looked in disbelief around the museum.
Meanwhile the group moved to another corner of the hall where a cello was placed. A few men stayed back near the guitar, eyeing it with the curiosity of an archaeologist who has just stumbled on an ancient relic.
“Haven’t they seen a guitar before?” Nandini questioned herself. Maybe that was possible if this was really the twenty third century. But then how did she get there? And how would she escape back to her world? Maybe she could pay attention to what was going on and find out soon.
For the next fifteen minutes, she silently watched the guide direct the visitors to the other musical instruments in the museum.
When the tour was over, the guide led them to an auditorium. A baby faced man with drooping cheeks and narrow slit-shaped eyes behind a pair of oval spectacles sat on a stool on the stage.
“Friends,” the guide addressed the visitors once they had taken their seats. “We conclude this evening’s visit with a recital by Professor Alex Boganski.”
The man seated on the stage smiled modestly to the applause. He closed his eyes; slowly his body began to stiffen.
The music flowed in a low volume, filling the auditorium with its richness. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Nandini immediately identified. Yet on the stage, Alex sat unmoved. His arched eyebrows almost met each other above the bridge of his spectacles. As the music played on, the tension in his face eased, and he swayed lightly to the music.
Nandini looked around her. Everyone was swinging to the tune much the same way as Boganski himself. It seemed like he had cast a spell on his audience.
When the music stopped, Alex abruptly opened his eyes as he had just come out of a trance. The audience broke out into a spontaneous applause.
“Isn’t he a genius?” a girl seated beside Nandini whispered to her companion.
Alex was walking towards the exit when Nandini spotted him again. She rushed down the auditorium aisle and ran towards the heavily built professor.
“Professor Alex,” she called just as he turned the doorknob, “Can I have a word with you?”
“Sure.” He let out a smile. His pouched cheeks dimpled faintly.
“How did you do that?”
“You mean the performance?”
“Yes. How did you do it without using any instrument?”
“It’s not really as magical as it looks. I just recall the melody in my mind and concentrate hard enough to send out sound vibrations of the required frequency. With practice you can play almost any piece.”
“Almost any piece?” Nandini raised her eyebrows. “But certainly, not everyone can do it, can they?”
“Of course not. It’s a talent, just like playing a musical instrument. Moreover, it takes years to tune your mind, to learn to filter out frequencies and produce the notes exactly the way you hear them in your mind. Once you master the skill though, you can play any instrument you wish.”
He paused, then smiled mischievously at her and asked, “Do you know why you are here?”
“No,” she shot back, realizing that the thought hadn’t occurred to her all this while.
Alex lowered his voice. “That night, when you saw the keyboard playing on its own, was the first time anyone had used this technique to make music. You were too young to understand by yourself what you were doing, Nandini. So you had to be brought here, 220 years into the future, to see what you can pioneer. You’re the one who will lead this musical revolution.”
“Me? Are you sure? I don’t think I have the skill.”
“You surely do.” Boganski now put on a school teacher’s tone. “You are the chosen one. But remember, you need to develop this gift. I need to go now. And so do you. Goodbye.”
He patted her head lightly and walked towards the exit. As soon as he was out of sight, Nandini found herself back in her room, standing beside her keyboard.
Was it a dream? She pulled back her frizzy hair, and out of sheer habit hummed a song, and listened intently.
In the stillness of her room, she could hear the melody clearly, almost the same way it would have been played. The notes seemed staccatoed, she observed. Of course, it would take practice, Alex had said. She hummed the tune again, concentrating harder this time. It played more smoothly than before, but she still felt something amiss.
What was it? She began playing the piece on the keyboard. The melody flowed and broke while her long fingers danced over the keyboard. She arrived at the point where the beat would change, and this time too her pace stuttered.
Not the same mistake again, she grumbled to herself. Wasn’t it easier to just hum the tune?
She hummed the tune again. Sure it was simpler this way. She truly possessed the skill, as Alex had said. Yet, she felt she was just stringing a sequence of notes together. It didn’t give her the same rush she felt when she played the keyboard.
Alex Boganski, you will have to wait for someone else, she thought. Her hands returned to the keyboard and she began playing the same piece, one more time.