In such groundbreaking novels as Crache and Idolon, Mark Budz established his reputation as one of science fiction's most exciting and innovative writers. Now he surprises us again with an ambitious new thriller set in three realities at once, where three different lives hang in the balance....
What if your world were rapidly running out of tomorrows? And what if the only way to save the future was to relive the past? But which past holds the key to survival? That's the life-and-death question faced by three desperate people separated by the past, present, and future but who share a single terrifying reality. A tortured soul, brain-damaged in a motorcycle accident, issues a pirate broadcast out of a van in near-future California. In Depression-era San Francisco an architect with an inoperable brain tumor seeks a mystical cure. A post-human space traveler caught in a cosmic accident searches for a way to reconstruct himself and the future. In Mark Budz's spellbinding narrative, their lives-and deaths-are drawn together by a force even more powerful than destiny.
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July 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Till Human Voices Wake Us by Mark Budz
Santa Cruz, September 12
The singing was back.
Rudi Lauchman paused on the sidewalk, trying to isolate the precise source of the sound. The voice was soft, melodic. He couldn't make out any words. It was more like humming, vaguely choral. And not, he felt reasonably sure, coming from inside his head.
He had been hearing the voice around town, off and on, for a week. Close to the Cafe Pergolesi one day, the library the next. Elusive. More imagined than real.
This time it seemed to be coming from a recessed doorway partly concealed by a juniper bush dotted with small blue-purple berries. A FOR LEASE sign hung in one window of the small office building.
Rudi found himself standing next to it, his hands thrust into his pockets, unable to remember how he got there. He couldn't recall turning onto the walkway, or making his way up the path. Another lapse.
He shut his eyes. He'd heard the song before, he was sure of it. Church, possibly. But maybe not. He got confused. Sometimes, voices didn't match faces. He heard one person talking and saw another.
The music could be the accident talking . . . his old life--before the crash--bleeding into this one. But this song wasn't the one he was running from. This full-bodied contralto was different from the sinuous soprano that slithered into his head and spoke to him in a flicking, unintelligible whisper, raspy as scales against dry grass.
The singing stopped. Rudi opened his eyes.
"What are you doing here? Peeping on me?" A large woman with a metal cane and a blue knitted cap stood in the doorway. She glared at Rudi with bloodshot eyes before cutting a glance at his hands. Rudi jerked his hands from his pockets. "I wasn't--"
The woman sniffed. "Why don't you play with yourself someplace else? Before I call the cops." Rudi adjusted his baseball cap, careful not to disturb the lining. In the doorway behind her, he could make out a shopping cart, blanket, and scuffed black boom box. "I heard you singing. That's all." The woman leaned forward, her forehead creased by a frown. "What have you got under there? Reynolds Wrap?"
"You've been drinking," Rudi said. His scalp prickled.
The woman chuckled. Her shoulders rocked like two sofa cushions jiggling in an earthquake. "Not enough."
"I've been hearing you a lot. Do you always sing when you're drunk?"
"Singing's cheap. It don't cost nothin'. Which is exactly what I got right now. In case you were wondering."
"Except for a broken heart," he said. "Or an empty soul."
The crease in the woman's brow deepened briefly, then relaxed, as if overcome by sudden weariness. "You're crazy," she said.
"Rudi." He held out his hand, then snatched it back when it looked like she might whack it with the cane.
"Get a move on. Before you get any wrong ideas." She wavered, eerily insubstantial despite her size. "You hear?"
Rudi tilted his head. Barely audible music from the boom box scratched at the air. The woman followed his lopsided gaze. "Aretha," she said. " 'This Bitter Earth.' Now, leave me be." She shifted her weight. "My knees are givin' me hell."
"I have a radio show," Rudi said. "I play music sometimes and talk about stuff. I always do one Sunday mornings." He told her the A.M. frequency. "It's for people who can't make it to church."
"I'll be sure to listen. Now get outta here." She waved him on with the cane then hobbled into the shadows of her makeshift cave.
The next morning, at six-thirty, Rudi was transmitting from behind the Safeway on Mission Street.
Radio Baptiste. That was how he thought of himself: baptizing anyone who would listen with radio waves instead of water.
Sitting at the console in the back of the sound van, Rudi's skull felt like a pressure cooker ready to explode. He'd kicked off the hour-long program, The Rod of God, with a classic Greg Brown tune, "Lord, I Have Made You a Place in My Heart." It had been a favorite of his before the motorcycle accident, and like everything else associated with his old life he kept it around as a reminder of history not to repeat. From whiskey and bare-naked women, he launched into a rambling sermon that equated faith to the sound of one hand clapping.
"Belief can't be explained," Rudi said, winding down. "You don't have to see the tree to hear the sound it makes when it falls."
That was what he clung to since being released from the Lakeshore Foundation facility in Birmingham. Back in the apartment he'd been renting before the accident, he had found several joss sticks that had once belonged to his sister, a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and a book called The Blue Cliff Record, with the Zen koans circled like points on a map he couldn't remember. Linnea. He hadn't thought about her for years. That part of his life was like an old well sitting in the back of his head. One misstep, and he'd fall in. Never see light again.
As usual, he wrapped up with a confessional, beamed out to the world via the dish atop the van.