“Double” by Clio Em

by Clio Em

“Alison?” Lev spoke my name urgently. Around me, floating candles drifted dreamily to the ground. It was time to focus on the task at hand.

This morning I had landed in this microreality with the usual stomach-heaving lurch. Unusually, a very handsome man dressed in a dapper suit had gallantly helped me up when I was finished retching and reeling in a flower-filled meadow. Inter-universe travel can be extremely disorienting. Every parallel microreality – and they are always small pockets of space-time, nothing like the vast home universe – has a subspace portal, a device that allows us to enter and leave. All mapped microrealities have listed frequencies, and it was one of those that I had been trying to reach. But I had instead been dropped into this other, unfamiliar pocket of space-time.

I had introduced myself by first name only; he’d introduced himself as James and had asked me a few confusing questions. When I couldn’t come up with answers, he had bundled me gently into his beautiful carriage-like car. My memory would return soon, he’d insisted, and had reminded me that inter-universe journeys could sometimes have unpredictable effects on the human body and mind. That was true enough, but I felt like myself and didn’t know what memories he expected me to come up with.

James had taken me back to his house – in fact a mansion. Here he had guided me to a room that was clearly meant for my use – a bed, writing desk, and a window out onto a little courtyard. “I’ll be back in a few hours, Alison,” he’d said. “I’m sure you’ll want to change out of your travel clothes.”

Someone had already laid out a long, high-necked lace dress for me, as well as Victorianesque accessories. I peeked inside the wardrobe; more beautiful dresses. I noticed they had some sort of strange electrodes inside them whose function I didn’t understand. I looked inside the dress on the bed; it had them too. I put it on nervously, but I felt nothing from the electrodes. The cut was extremely flattering, and the dress fit me perfectly. The hat had electrodes in it as well but the thought of having them touch my skull was too much, so I left it on its stand.

A robotic being arrived and asked if she could do my hair. I agreed to a braided updo; she spoke very little but seemed friendly enough and brought me tea when she was done. And what tea! Swirls of exquisite taste flooded me. It was becoming clear that this worldlet was special, and I was the one who had discovered it! Once James returned I would ask him if he would take me to the local authorities; I needed to locate that subspace portal and that seemed a good place to start. I explored the beautifully appointed house and ended my tour in the courtyard. I walked around the fountain, twirling my parasol. And then I allowed myself to laugh in the delight I was beginning to feel.

James seemed puzzled that I wanted to go into town but agreed to take me to City Hall. We had just stepped out from his car when Director Lev happened upon us. And then everything escalated. I learned through their tense verbal sparring that it was he who was actually in charge of this microreality. Lev was an odd choice of leader, I thought. He seemed emotional and impulsive. But then James, dropping all pretense of formality, sharply informed Lev that he had taken the subspace portal for himself, and that he had deactivated the outgoing routes on the device.

No one is supposed to know how to restrict access through a subspace portal. Lev and James argued; it appeared to be an old argument and I didn’t follow it at all. James then coolly got into his car and drove away without even attempting to invite me to return with him. I eyed the Director with rising panic. What was I to do in this situation? He offered, rather reluctantly, to take me back to his own home. As he opened the car door for me I realized I was still holding the parasol, closed now, twisting it in lace-gloved hands.

“Alison, that parasol is absurd,” he snapped.

How rude. And how did he know my name? James hadn’t introduced me.
I soon found out the reason. In this reality lived and worked my exact double; it was her clothing that I was now wearing. She’d been doing some inter-universe exploring herself and James had mistaken me for her. Lev had figured out the truth rather quickly – it was rather obvious that nothing in what was supposed to be my own home was familiar to me. My double had allied herself with James against Lev, even though she had long been Lev’s lover. James and Lev had been friends and colleagues, but that seemed over now. This was a complication.

Lev’s plan was to go to James’ mansion with me. The local Alison had ported out into another universe a few days ago. It was an incredible coincidence that I had ported in instead of her. Lev believed that because of this, I could impersonate her long enough to confuse James and steal the subspace portal back. To me, going to James’ home seemed prodigiously foolish. I felt that in my earlier confusion I had already given too much away, and that he would soon figure out who I truly was. But it also seemed to be my only way out of this reality, and I didn’t have any better ideas.

Lev ushered me impatiently through a door. A photograph in a filigree frame hung just above a desk. I peered closer and was startled to see my own face. This must be my double and Lev in happier times; they were smiling and holding hands. She was wearing the dress I had on now, or one very much like it.

Even more interesting was what was on the bed – burnished metallic torso, arms, legs, and a faceplate with glass goggle eyes – a disassembled version of the robot creature that had done my hair earlier. An involuntary shudder passed through me – could these robotic people be taken apart at their owners’ will? But then my mind caught up with what I was seeing – it was a suit. Did that mean it had been a person inside a suit, back there, and not an actual robot? I wanted to ask more questions, but Lev’s attention was elsewhere, on a dress hanging on the wardrobe door.

“Costume change?” I asked archly.

“Not necessary,” he replied sharply. “My Alison has lately taken up wearing gowns again, instead of that monstrosity.” I followed his glance to the robotic suit on the bed. “She has more of those at James’.” He spat the name with so much venom that I flinched.

Lev told me that my double – his Alison – had often worn a robot suit. She and James had designed them together. They had run experiments and made suits for James’ staff. Lev had at first been happy to support his lover’s engineering pursuits. But she had seemed to become addicted to the special abilities the suit gave her, and she and James had shut out Lev. One day, she had abruptly moved in with James, leaving her life with Lev behind.

“A robotic suit improves all your skills,” Lev said, then paused. “Before, my Alison used to do it all with her mind. And what a mind! Infinitely pliable, making new connections at the speed of light. But then she became nearly dependent on the suit, as if it had sucked up half her soul…”

A sudden suspicion had crept into my mind as Lev had explained. “Lev?” I asked. “Look inside that dress on the hanger, please.”

He undid the buttons on the front of the dress that resided within the jacket. Inside, running all the way down the back of the dress until past the waist, where the spine would be, was a row of glowing electrodes.

“She still has her robotically enhanced abilities,” I pointed out. “James let me use what I think was her room there. All the dresses had those electrodes inside them. Even the one I’m wearing now does.”

“When did she find time to do all this?? he gasped. “The engineering… it’s light-years beyond what is in her robot suit!”

“How did you not know, Lev? You lived together!”

“Yes, but…” he hesitated, covered his face with his hands, inhaled sharply – a small gasp. When his hands came away from his face his expression was controlled again. “We’d been growing apart for some time,” he finished flatly.

We were silent a long moment. Tacitly we rifled through the wardrobe. More lace dresses; more electrodes. Mindful of the hat I’d left behind at James’ mansion, I found an ornate headband with long trailing ribbons. It was absolutely replete with electronics. Eyes alert, Lev took my hands in his own in a gesture that felt very intimate. I inhaled sharply, but he was peering intently at my gloves. Now that I looked myself, I saw that a fine metallic mesh had been woven through the lace. He dropped my hands abruptly and reached for the headpiece, placed it on my head, and tied the ribbons back in a certain way so that they touched the collar of my dress. Again a very familiar gesture, but I put that from my mind. The jolt when the ribbons’ circuitry connected with that of the dress was monumental.

“The device is attempting to communicate with you directly,” he told me. “Focus.”

I could hear a voice in my ear, some sort of induced hallucination. Instructions spilled into me. The spine tingling seemed to reach into the tips of my fingers. I jumped up experimentally: rather than the superhuman leap I expected my jump was normal. He laughed – a delighted sound, quickly stifled.

“Alison, it doesn’t work like that! It requires far more training time than we have right now.” He gestured at the dresser beside the bed. “We should go for force over finesse. Try lifting that.” I lifted the dresser with ease, tossed it up into the air, almost dropped it but caught it at the last second. It felt incredibly light. I laughed nervously.

And then I pulled the photograph of Lev and his Alison off the wall with my mind.

I was so surprised that I only let it hang in the air for a second before I let it drop and the glass shattered, spraying crystalline shards everywhere.

“You’re an electromagnet,” Lev commented drily.

“Did your Alison ever do this?” I asked shakily.

“Not that I know of, no,” he answered, and paused in thought. “Ask the device in the headband,” he suggested.

I asked. I thought hard at the interface.

“It says ‘no such function’,” I informed Lev.

“Impossible,” he said.

“Well, that’s what it tells me.”

“I assure you, she must have programmed in electromagnetics,” Lev insisted. “Don’t start thinking you have some sort of special powers.”

“Don’t I?” I retorted.

“We need to test your speed and agility, and then go,” he said shortly. We left my counterpart’s bedroom, stepping over the shattered frame on the way out.

Lev took me by the hand and led me into a ballroom. I sprinted back and forth, ran around chairs and long tables, jumped and somersaulted in the air, perfectly balanced and perfectly agile. I levitated a set of lit candles in metal candleholders and floated them in a slow circle around my head. I was fine-tuning my abilities at an incredibly rapid rate. Now, after only an hour interfacing with the electrodes, I could make each candleholder float in its own pattern. They dove and swept around the room in an intricate air ballet at minute motions from my hands. Doubt was slowly evaporating, replaced by blazing self-confidence.

“Alison?” Lev spoke my name urgently. Around me, floating candles drifted dreamily to the ground as I willed them to stillness. It was time to focus on the task at hand: confronting James and gaining control of the subspace portal.

Lev was very close to me now. Seized by a sudden impulse, I took him by the hands and kissed him on the lips. He returned the kiss after the slightest hesitation. In the last hour something in me had changed: I could see it reflected in his expression. I was his Alison now. My mind raced as it considered various possibilities.

With Lev trailing behind me, I walked out of the ballroom, twirling my parasol. And then I allowed myself to laugh in the delight I was beginning to feel.



Story and image Copyright © 2020 Clio Em.

“mint tea” by Clio Em

As she releases the EP ‘Lace’, Clio Em also treats us to one of her sci-fi stories:

mint tea

Today she is drinking mint tea.

She hasn’t had mint tea in a good two years. Long enough to miss it. The botanists always get to the mint plants first. For research. She’s seen the results of that research in the salons of the moneyed, when she passed unseen through rooms and retrieved books as the scent of mint arrogantly infused the swirls of heated water and made her head spin with envy.

It makes very little sense, this scarcity of mint. The planet feeds itself. Food grows. It isn’t difficult to grow mint. The aroma arrests her attention and pulls it away from this critical line of thought.

Green leaves float like a forest from another world. She squeezes lime directly from a diminutive and elegant green fruit into the water, then stirs, watching as water and juice combine in an aurora of near-nothing pale green. To amuse herself she leans over and peers into the glass from the side.

Someone peers back at her through the glass. She starts.

Oh, it’s you!

Of course it’s me. Who else would peer at you like that?

No one, I suppose. What are you doing here? I thought you were out of town.

I was, yes. He nods affirmation but does not elucidate further.

Do you like the seat I found?

In the window? Yes. You can look out onto the port.

Indeed they can; the airships are coming in. So many now. Smaller and sturdier than even the ones last year; they cope better with the winds. No more delays.

Do you like this view? She asks.

I like the view of you, he answers. Is that mint tea?

Yes. Would you like some?

No, I wouldn’t take that away from you.

You can only add to my happiness if you have some.

Is there honey?

There is honey. Another swirl joins the galaxy of leaves and lime and water, cooling now. New formations. They take turns sipping, watching the giant honeybees that are the airships. To and fro in the strengthening winds. The cold drafts are kept at bay by the lake of mint tea on their little island.


Story © 2015 Clio Em.



“Paper” by Clio Em

Leading up to the launch of Clio Em’s EP ‘LACE’, as well as her ‘AIRSHIPS’ musical premiere on Sept 5, we present a few of her stories, complete with musical accompaniment.


Why is putting pen to paper so difficult?

She’s read so many words on paper in the last two years. Perhaps that is why. It is a sort of ritual for her. And now she has an entire book filled with blank pages.

She doesn’t write with pen on paper, though. She always uses pencil, but today pencil will not do. With the utmost care, she tears a page from the notebook.

She begins. The awkwardness of this writing implement, so much more clumsy and unwieldy than what she is used to, slows her down.

She read something in one of the books the other day. How in one of the languages unknown to her, the word for spirit and the word for paper are very similar.

Sometimes she feels this entire place is inhabited by spirits. Spirits driving the airships, raising them up, dictating their fate. More and more angry, it seems, or at least capricious. Often merciful, though definitely ice or air spirits. Cold. Maybe from space, creatures that have not been discovered yet and move among us, learning and absorbing and affecting in small subtle ways.

She misses him, but it would not do to build up her life around him completely. He is in town and has not been to see her yet. Is he waiting for something? She is not sure. It would not do to call too often, but it would definitely do to write.

She cares about him.

She wants to write him this letter but no more words flow out of the pen onto the paper. It is terrifying to think that once the words are there, the spirit inside the paper will grow and take on a life of its own. This spirit will convey to him the words she wrote down, but perhaps something will be lost in translation. Perhaps he will not understand.

She must write it down.

She writes it down. Still, something is not quite right.

She sketches an airship for him.

There. Now the spirit in the paper is smiling.

She seals up the letter, dresses warmly, and drops it in a post box. On the way home she sees the cafe near the port is still open. A sign dangles tantalizingly. It seems a new shipment of herbs was brought in today. Tea, and lots of it, awaits.

The spirit in the paper is laughing from inside the post box. She walks into the cafe and closes the door behind her, shutting out its tinkling cries of glee.




Story & soundscape © 2015-2019 Clio Em.




“Science Fiction” by Clio Em

TALES FROM NEW CANADA:  “Science Fiction”

BY Clio Em

sci fi

For Yazz

I’m an engineer. My main diet should be engines, but I live on books. And every day after I finish my tasks in the lab at New Canada Engines, I go book-hunting.

Books are printed on paper on New Canada, so it is not as difficult to gather a collection as on some of the other colony worlds, or even on Earth. The library here in New Toronto is immensely well-stocked and has provided me with inspiration. The local culture values books, and especially recently I’ve been noticing a proliferation of tiny bookshops popping up, selling everything from Austen to Zalania.

I am taking the long way home from the glider station one day – regretting my decision with each step against the crystal eruptions of snow suspended in a freezing wind – suspended until they hit my face, that is – when I spot a flash of dark fur in a shop window. A lucky flash of fur, indeed: a cat has squeezed its way between the windowpane and what looks to be a genuine paper edition of a score of the Fire Opera, a work by my favourite New Canada composer, Lauretta.

Of course I step into the shop. How could I not? Immediately, the furball pounces on my feet and attacks my shoelaces. I laugh. An woman about my age – late twenties in New Canada years, early thirties in Earth time – emerges from the back, carrying a mountain of books. Her unruly red hair is tied back nonchalantly and her dress is green with a full skirt. Not the fashion at the moment, but she pulls it off wonderfully.

“The cat’s not for sale,” she says with mock sternness.

I presume this is the shop owner. She seems to adore green – there is green trim along the bookcases and the window display and green lettering denoting various categories of books – music, colony planets, Earth, New Canada, and an odd little corner with different, bolder lettering. Science Fiction. That particular bookcase’s bottom shelf is devoid of books and is instead filled with green cushions. Perhaps to enhance the comfort of the little beast that is currently attacking my shoe?

“Actually, I was more interested in that score in your window…” The cat is insistent and bats at my leg. I bend down to pat him and he begins purring like a little engine. He might be louder than some of the engines in the lab at work.

“My cat seems to like you.”

“My name’s Asimov,” I reply, with uncharacteristic impulsiveness. I never strike up conversations with strangers, not even friendly shop owners. Usually I’m quite introverted. Usually. But now something compels me. I notice that the shop owner’s eyes are brilliant and laughing and full of sharp intelligence; that her hair creates a bright cloud of unruly red curls.

“Ah, a Historical Earth name,” she says, a smile pulling at her lips. Mine’s Corinne. “But Asimov is a last name. What’s your first name?”

“That’s my first name,” I reply ruefully. “My parents are from Earth but I don’t think they know how names work.” She fights to suppress a giggle.

“Ah,” she finally says, calming her features back to bland politeness. Why would this silly thing amuse her? She walks over and picks up the cat. In her arms he becomes completely docile. “Never been to Earth.”

“Oh, neither have I!” I exclaim, a little too loudly. “My parents never cared much for naming convention, or convention of any kind. The genre this author wrote in escapes me.” I close my mouth before I can ramble any more.

“Isaac Asimov wrote science fiction,” she provides, and gestures vaguely at the boldly lettered shelf to her side. “His narratives may seem quaint and outdated today but imagine reading that stuff in the context of his time. We didn’t have interstellar travel yet. We had just the one planet, too! The essence of some of his stories really cuts to the heart of the colony world experience.”

“I’m embarrassed that I know next to nothing about him,” I reply. A silence grows between us. I can hear the ticking of a clock. She saves me.

“Maybe you’re more of an opera lover.” I nod in agreement. “We have a reading desk in the back,” she tells me brightly. I want to take her up on it but hesitate a little too long. “And free coffee, and Asimov the cat to keep you company.”

“Your cat has the same name I do?” I must sound very dismayed. She laughs, this time out loud.

“I’m afraid so,” she replies.

“Won’t I bother you?” I ask.

“Do you see many other customers?” She counters. The shop is empty, save for us and the cat. “I’m still new to this bookshop game. I think I need to reorganize and make the display more appealing.”

“It was very appealing to me.”

“I know, but I’m pretty sure you’re one of a kind.” I grin, then realize it’s a very wide grin. Foolishly wide. Why not stay, though? I make myself at home at the desk. The feline Asimov stretches out on the smooth wooden surface, occasionally lying down on top of the Fire Opera. I good-naturedly push him off and he returns insistently. I keep turning the pages, marvelling at Lauretta’s beautiful notation. The bookshop’s clock strikes Evening Mark. No, not possible. I must get going.

“I think I’ll buy this opera score,” I say to her as I pass the counter on the way out.

“It’s yours without charge,” she replies, eyes twinkling.

“I… I can’t…”

“Accept it? Oh, you can, but only if you agree to my conditions.”


“There’s a performance of the Fire Opera at the theatre in two days. Buy the tickets, and I’ll consider it a fair trade. They cost the same as the book.”

“I love … I love opera!” I manage awkwardly.

“Thought you might, given that you spent an exceedingly long time looking at an opera score just now,” she says. We exchange contact card codes, laughing. A contact card code never made me laugh before.

As I leave the shop I take a look back and see Corinne putting a new book into the display case. The cat named Asimov sits under it in the window, watching me as I walk away into the snow.



Story © 2019 Clio Em . Image © 2018 Hali Rey.

“Star Garden” by Clio Em

Tales from New Canada: “Star Garden”
by Clio Em

For Karen


I step out onto a stage made of stars and sweep my skirt around me as I take a seat on the bench prepared in the centre. In reality, it is a panel of plexi showing the expanse of space below; we are still midway on the trip between Earth and New Canada. Surrounding me are New Canada pine trees, little lights floating between them. The audience is seated around the circular panel, creating the effect of a floating amphitheatre.

The stars swirl beneath as I play my first notes. Bow touching strings, first the lowest, an open string, a long, resonant tone. Then the next, a run, a leap, notes strung together like so many stars.

New Canada needs more musicians. At least so they told me – and lured me onto this beautiful spaceship with promises of contracts and performances and tours. The first tour is to take place in all the cities of the planet, and my first concert is taking place enroute, before I have even stepped onto the ground of my new home. The recent building boom has brought about a fascinating renaissance in historical Earth architecture, and I imagine that the acoustics will be beautiful, especially with the addition of sound relays.

It was the last world to be settled, but the people of New Canada are apparently thirsty for historical music. They especially want to hear Baroque works, coupled with new compositions, sometimes superimposed. I can hear in my mind how Bach and Handel and Purcell will sound here, on this ship, and in the beautiful conservatory gardens on the planet below. And how other composers will sound. How my own pieces will sound – I write for my viola often, though I seldom share these works. But I believe that on New Canada, I will begin performing my preludes and etudes and sarabandes.

In the first row, or rather the closest cluster of seats, I notice a woman watching in rapt attention. I try to pay her no mind, but it is difficult – I realize she is Lady Anne, a prominent engineer for New Canada Engines – the company that made this spaceship.

I have always been slightly afflicted with stage fright – switching to the vertical viola was the only thing that really helped. Back when I used to play the viola in the traditional manner on the arm, I would shake. But sitting on stage grounds me and helps me keep my thoughts together.

Stage fright is beginning now, its icy fingers working their way toward my veins, cooling them, inducing shivers. Shocking, this strange return of fright, after I thought it was long gone. But space travel affects everyone differently. Perhaps I traveled so fast on this spaceship, I caught up to my fear and must now vanquish it.

Lady Anne’s attention ceases to unnerve me. I imagine how a spaceship engineer must feel when testing an engine. In many ways, it must be very much like a musical performance. The acoustics of an engine must be perfect. And like I carry a melody and emotion, engines must carry a ship.

I think of the planet I have chosen to make my home on, without ever having seen it, having felt its air or tasted its water or walked through one of its gardens.

But if it is anything like this star garden on this spaceship, I believe I will be happy.

The viola is a marvelous instrument, one that sings precisely in a range where people speak. Many say this of the cello, and it’s true too, of course. But a viola brings out different resonant frequencies, ones that, to me, are more in tune with certain emotions. I can carry a heartbeat on a string. And I do, trying to attune my playing so that this musical beating heart is at a comfortable and warm speed. Bach. Handel. Purcell. And then, my own music.

I hear every nuance of my composition resound in my mind before I play a note. and then I can confirm my predictions as the sound is reflected back to me. This spaceship’s acoustics are indeed stellar.

I play the last phrase of the first partita I ever wrote, letting the air consume the final vibrations and overtake it with silence. Space expands.

I am home.


Story © 2018 Clio Em. Image © 2018 Hali Rey.

“Dreams” by Clio Em

Tales from New Canada:



for Eric


I design dreams.

It was not a job I was assigned, but I decided to undertake it anyway. When I was taken for the program that brought me here from Earth, I had a very different view of what I would be doing. I found out quickly that I would be working every day with a hurting population. Many people on New Canada had engineered genes. This had allowed them to work for years in risky conditions, but not all those risks had been known, and now many were ill. Gene engineering is banned here now, and no wonder. It was a nightmare the planet will need a long time to wake up from.

I arrived on New Canada only a short time ago. It’s been a difficult adjustment, but one person has been making it easier for me. She has always listened when I was homesick; has always offered advice on how to settle into life here on New Canada. She has taken me to see the breathtaking sights on my new planet. In return, I’ve been helping this particular dreamer dream. And what I’ve been doing is introducing her to a dreamscape based on my own home.

She wakes up in a snowy landscape, the wind hitting her face in full force – or so she believes. She is still thinking in New Canadian terms – the landscape here is harsher, more unforgiving. She first sees the trees as New Canada pines, but she soon realizes that something is different about the way the sunlight strikes the needles, about the way they grow, about the atmosphere’s effect on our perception of colour. The brightness of the sunlight and the snow blowing off the distant peaks, not quite the same as what she is used to. She is experiencing the Rocky Mountains on Earth.

As she dreams on, her thoughts parse out sensations more effectively. The wind becomes more gentle, the whispering in the trees becomes milder, more of a whistling echo. As she wanders through the dreamscape, it begins changing again, now some sort of intentional shift – from the expanse of skies over sharply drawn peaks and a glittering, half-frozen lake, to a grayer vision – a landscape from her own New Canada. She walks toward a small cluster of trees. The air is bracing. She feels it more sharply on her skin in this dream than she ever has in her waking hours.

At least, so she tells me. Earth and New Canada, meeting in one beautiful landscape.

She has never been to Earth. And to be honest, I didn’t design the program to show her both worlds. Her own thoughts have been modifying her perceptions. In fact, I had wanted to show her what it meant to me to be under the sky in the mountains on Earth, to feel that wind, to hear it, to be among those trees. But she draws so much meaning from this blending of our two planets. I have never told her that I didn’t design it that way. She is an engineer, and her mind sparks with creative energy. I believe that this is why she constructs constantly, even while dreaming.

I must admit that I thought of one particular mountain valley in New Canada with an uncanny similarity to one on Earth when I designed this particular dream program. Since the New Canadian valley is her favourite place to hike, I’m not surprised that her mind is interpreting the signals this way.





Check out the New Canada “universe” here:               http://clio-em.com/gravity-wing

“Instrumental” by Clio Em

insert 2

Tales from New Canada: Instrumental

for Jake

I’m being driven to the Engine Industry Ball in a carriage so ornate it looks like decoration, not transporation. This ride was not my idea; I was picked up as the clock struck Evening Mark. The clock inside the carriage. It is as ornate as the carriage exterior, and rather more ornate than my simple rose gown. The colour to wear this season, I’d been told.

New Canada is beautiful but it intimidates me. I just arrived onplanet last month for a yearlong residency at the New Canada Arts Centre. My mentor here, Isabel, originally comes from the Terran Canada like myself. I am already overwhelmed with my musical tasks, but I know that Isabel managed to accomplish a tremendous amount here in a little over a year – not only artistically, but also taking part in an incredibly complex set of legal proceedings, foiling a nefarious sabotage plot – and finding a life partner. She’s now the director of the New Toronto Art School. Incredible. I am barely treading water keeping up with my repertoire.

I wonder why Cecilia, New Canada’s star violist and dear friend to Isabel, didn’t come pick me up herself but sent only her carriage. I ask the driver, who says I should wait for a message. Mysterious – and annoying. Then my contact card chimes and her message comes through. Sudden illness, meaning she had to cancel. I feel a sharp pang of disappointment. She has found a violist to take her place, so my performance will go ahead.

Isabel introduced me to Cecilia the day I arrived. I have no idea how the two of them are such great friends. The violist is eccentric and a lot more dramatic than my rather reasonable mentor, but both have offered me guidance and ready friendship. I gather that it is usually harder to make friends on socially restrained New Canada, but I suppose neither Isabel nor Cecilia are typical New Canadians.

I envy Cecilia her ability to communicate with her audience when she is onstage. Compared to hers, my playing is reserved. She promised that she would design a very effective exercise for me to allow me to break out of my shell. “It’ll be a shock and come when you least expect it, Fiona, but it will let your musicality shine,” she’d said.

It’s a shame we didn’t get to that before tonight’s performance. I will be terrified without her up there with me.

I try to reason my nerves away. I am an experienced guitarist and have memorized the program. I just haven’t performed it on this planet yet, nor with this duo partner. Who’s this mysterious new violist, anyway? Whoever it is, they had better be quick-thinking; we won’t even have time to rehearse beforehand.

I am surprised that Isabel’s Partner, Serge, is the one waiting for me when my carriage arrives. He co-runs a company called New Canada Engines – this planet’s most important corporation. I’d thought he would be too busy tonight to socialize much with me, but he seems to take his Partnerly duties toward Isabel seriously.

“Fiona!” He calls, waving me over.

“Hi Serge,” I say, gamely attempting a cheerful and fearless tone. “Cecilia said my new violist would be here to meet me, but you seem to have beat him to it.”

“Actually…” Serge grins. I notice that he is holding a viola case.

“You?!” is all I can manage. He laughs. Isabel had mentioned he played the viola. Beautifully, she’d said. She told me the story of how they fell in love. His viola playing had had a lot to do with it, apparently. But how objective is her assessment? I have my doubts.

“Cecilia only told me that it’s time to try the performance exercise she was telling you about,” he says.

“She mentioned an exercise, yes…” A realization hits me. “She’s not really ill, is she?”

“She’s been known to do things like this before,” he replies, a smile quirking his lips. “When she and Isabel worked together last year….”

“Well, I hope you’ve been practicing daily for Isabel,” I retort, cutting him off. “I don’t know how you play but at least you give a lot of speeches and won’t get stage fright.” I sound too annoyed. “Sorry,” I add mitigatingly.

“Look, I know I’m in a different line of work, and we all know Cecilia is the better performer,” he says. “But this is part of the exercise, I think. I’m definitely not what you’d expect in a duo partner.”

“Definitely not,” I say, trying hard not to sound rude. I hope he can hold his own on that stage; I’ve met too many rich hobbyists who considered themselves artists and were actually dilettantes. But the exercise design here is brilliant and it’s forcing me to be flexible. As mad as I am at Cecilia, I also see exactly why she did this to me.



We take our places and tune. So far, so good. My resolve intensifies. I play the opening chords. When Cecilia and I rehearsed, she was always the one leading, but now I have to assert myself. It turns out that I can do this quite well. Even more surprisingly, Serge plays with an appealing musicality. Not as techically perfect as Cecilia, but he is definitely a competent performer. I briefly wonder why he plays so well, or when he has time to practice if he’s busy co-running an engine company, but push all that out of my mind as I focus and pour everything of myself into the piece.

Cecilia is in the front row, dressed in red. So is Isabel, also dressed in red, but a darker shade. The two of them are whispering and laughing. Cecilia’s own Partner, Brigitte, joins them and begins laughing too. Her own gown is a deep magenta. They stand out in a sea of fasionable rose-coloured gowns and applaud enthusiastically at the end of every piece. I realize that their enthusiam is not only for Serge, whom they know so well, but also for me. They can see my musicality reshaping itself up here on this stage, and I can tell they are proud of us both.

This performance is both wonderful and absurd. I am at a ball, making music on a new planet, and I have been tricked into playing more expressively than I ever have before. The audience seems to be enjoying the performance immensely. And for the first time since I landed on New Canada, I feel truly, completely at ease.

The ornate clock in the hall strikes Midnight Mark.

Serge and I play on. And now Cecilia joins us onstage, improvising counterpoints to our melodies.

The ball continues.

Story © 2019 Clio Em. Image © 2018 Hali Rey.