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Canterwood Academy in Haaretz provided the best primary education in the universe to lifeforms based on chemistry. There El Shaddai and Yeshua Bat-El mixed the chemicals together to see what they would get, hopefully without dropping the test tubes. The children knew their classmates came from a wide variety of geographical regions across three worlds.

The only knowledge that was withheld from the children was how they were also selected from a variety of epochs in time. The only children who knew this were of the B’nei Elohim, but they had strong inhibitions built into them against speaking anything of it.

This year from House Sala, young Prince Nelchael and hyz sister Princess Bikol from the royal household were permitted by Talishi to attend the Academy. They were brought east by steamship over Thalury and up the River Sabik directly to Canterwood, in what was perhaps the most comfortable journey for any of the children.

Abdiel Larund, heir to the Black Beard throne, was enrolled as well, together with a young Larund commoner named Muran. They had been flown west by aircraft, which involved a heart-stopping drop over the four mile Wall of God, buffetted by much turbulence.

From House Antero, Talishi selected Telan, son of Count Nerio, and also a commoner from among the Red Beards named Inanna, and they too had been flown in. But none of the children of the Brown Beards, or of House Gerash who occupied them, were invited to attend.

From the land of Haaretz at the foot of the Wall of God Yeshua chose a girl named Dafla Firegem from Nath and the tribes that had remained loyal to El Shaddai alone. And he chose a boy named Kishar Stronghammer from Hamar, from among those tribes that had embraced Bat-El as the offspring of El Shaddai. And these children were brought to Canterwood Academy by horseless carriage, but this was over difficult unpaved roads.

Yeshua Bat-El also chose two humans from Earth who had made their way to Haaretz quite by accident, having chosen to swim in the Earth end of the Sacred Pool. One of these visitors was named Shy Bear, a member of what he knew only as “The People”. This boy found the pond in the Green River Gorge and dove in on a whim, trying to find the bottom. What he found instead was Yeshua, who used sign language and much food to entice Shy Bear into staying for a while. Yeshua and his priestesses set about trying to teach him English, but the kid was already eight before he was ready to start school.

The second visitor, and the youngest, was a white girl named Inge Lange, who was part of a wagon train passing by soon after the American Civil War. Like Shy Bear, Inge came to the Land via the Sacred Pool, but unlike the boy, Inge’s family saw her enter the pond, and immediately grew concerned when she did not rise again.

Yeshua had to close the wormhole tunnel for a time, lest the rest of her family followed her through one-by-one. He knew they would be grieved for a time, but it would be very short. He planned to return Inge after only a few hours of her family’s elapsed time later, but several years of Inge’s time later. And Shy Bear would experience the same thing. Yeshua knew that if he returned the children immediately, in absolute time, it would dilute the miracle.

Inge was three years old when she slipped into the water, and she began to attend the Academy at the age of five.

From among the B’nei Elohim another two children were chosen. The first was a very gifted boy named Edgar Shybear, who actually was a distant descendant of the boy with the name Shy Bear, although the similarity in names was shrugged off by his teachers as a coincidence. Edgar was the pinnacle of El Shaddai’s long labors, a brilliant dagger pointed directly at the heart of Mastema. It only remained for that blade to be sharpened.

The second child was Hope Felton, the daughter of a very famous man named Mark Felton who had invented the Micro and created the Swarm. Hope was not an extraordinary thinker like Edgar, but her “power” (for each of the B’nei Elohim had a unique and remarkable power) seemed to be the ability to produce any sound, like a human parakeet perhaps. This was considered to be a relatively weak power, but Hope admitted she was just a half-breed. Her father was not B’nei Elohim. Her mother Victoria, however, could fly even without strap-on wings, something that Hope revealed with obvious pride.

The last two children, Murmi and Asael, didn’t come from anywhere on Earth or Barbelo at all. They spoke of a world with many moons, and how they had often traveled between them floating inside ships that plied the darkness rather than the sea. Edgar and Hope already knew of such things, but the human children were filled with wonder at the stories of Murmi and Asael. Yet they did not become good friends with the two, for the children of the moons were very thin and too weak to run and play with the others.

Early in the first semester Yeshua, Talishi, and a number of Fallen Angels delivered a wide variety of musical instruments for the children to play, looking for talent in pretty much the same manner as throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what stuck.

Telan Antero liked the physicality of the drum kit. Shy Bear eventually settled on the electric guitar, which was very strange to him. Kishar found he could play a keyboard rather well with almost no instruction. Bikol Sala discovered that she liked the electric bass. Everyone else tried the other instruments and learned they had no talent for playing them at all, including Hope, but Hope soon demonstrated that her real talent lay in her own voice. She could mimic any singer that she heard, and indeed any sound at all, which the others found to be surpassingly strange.

So Hope became the lead singer for a band that formed more-or-less spontaneously. Talishi asked them to think of a name. They eventually settled on Bite the Wax Tadpole.

In the place where Edgar Shybear and Hope Felton came from, everyone used Micros to swap music for free through the Swarm, and so music as a business had collapsed into ruins, leaving only those enthusiasts willing to perform for free. On Barbelo and in the moons spoken of by Asael and Murmi, however, people bought analog recordings on spools of thread made from a plant native to Barbelo called deathsilk, which was as thin as the silk from a spider but somehow as strong as steel. It could cut anything except other strands of deathsilk, which must be cut with a very hot flame. Deathsilk was also used in blades, which resembled violin bows. These swords were used only for slashing, not piercing.

The music of Barbelo, however, occupied a very narrow range between solemn hymns to Mastema to operatic post-battle lamentations. No one, in the entire history of Gorpai and its off-world colonies, had ever made music just for the sheer joy of it. Such a thing would be subversive in a way Mastema would be ill-equipped to counter. So Yeshua laid a challenge before the twelve children of Canterwood Academy: Introduce the people of Barbelo and the Jovian system to fun music.

Of the fourteen children, only Edgar and Hope had heard the kind of “fun” music Yeshua was looking for, and fun it was indeed. There were melodies running around in Edgar’s head but to get the other children to play them he had to invent a system of notation entirely from scratch. And that was precisely what the academy was for, not only to teach existing facts, but to teach the children how to think.

Seven of the children weren’t performers in Bite the Wax Tadpole, but Nelchael was a budding poet and stepped in with song lyrics to go with Edgar’s melodies. The lyrics ranged from nursery rhymes to the brainless fun of Larund hill country bumpkins to the sweaty energy of Talishite revival music.

But the thing that really brought the band together was a “field trip” to Earth, escorted by Hope’s parents Victoria and Mark Felton. After emerging from the pond (the very same one found by Inge and Shy Bear) everyone went to a mountain lodge at Stampede Pass about a half hour east of the Green River Gorge area. Some of the more adventurous children put on skis and hit the slopes, while Asael, Murmi, and most of the girls contented themselves with riding on inner tubes.

All of them had a memorably great time, but the outing inspired Kishar to write a song titled “Skiin’ USA” which would serve as a template for a flood of other songs.

With Telan keeping time and Bikol stitching the song together harmonically on bass, Shy Bear carried the main melody line on guitar and Kishar kept the whole thing chugging along with improvised chords on his piano. Hope sang Nelchael’s lyrics with a voice that was girlish but with rich undertones that belied her age. Other children made costumes or painted cover art. Abdiel learned to operate a micro to record and edit their songs. So they all worked to meet Talishi’s challenge.

Drivin’ all night on the leg from Amarillo Hubby at home is he dreamin’ on his pillow? Musta kilt me a half-dozen Armadillos Racin’ home to find him in bed with a fellow

So begins Far Country on the first spool by Bite the Wax Tadpole titled Stampede after the place where the children went skiing, a title which described the wild proceedings to a T.

The spool was recorded live at a concert at Canterwood Academy, attended by Yeshua, Talishi, the Sala queen, most of the B’nei Elohim, and perhaps five hundred others were all there to see a child of about seven singing in a grown-up girl’s voice about grown-up girl things.

The Whole Town’s a Rollin’ was the second song, and it was the best one. After the silliness of the first song the band wanted to hook the listener and show them right up front they were getting some serious energy and fun, which was focused mostly on Kishar tickling the ivory. Abdiel ran the soundboard while Nelchael, Abdiel, Muran, and Inge stood off to the side and supplied backup vocals.

Snow Bunny was a naughty ditty about a girl with loose morals hanging around the lodge that would have earned a quick ban on Barbelo had not Hope snarled some of the words to the song unintelligibly to deliberately mislead censors.

In the middle of the set the band played the first song they ever recorded, Skiin’ USA, which featured Bikol’s bass pushed way forward in the mix plus a sixteen bar call-and-response “duet” between Kishar on piano and Malekwa on guitar. Like most of their songs, it was an AABA pattern.

To balance the dumb but fun songs like Far Country there were smart, important songs like Responsibility Boundaries:

Can a dream bleed until it dies Drained of all hope through skeptic floors? Shall the living cut their losses? Bow to merchants with empty stores? How artistic is our healing To grow hard crusts on shameful sores?

For the instrumental title Seven Humps Telan’s drumming was as organic and improvisational as usual, but swooshed up and down in pitch as he hit the skins near the rim and moved to the center. Hope was idled, but she stood there dancing in place and swung her microphone in a circle.

Before the final song, which was a slow ballad, Victoria approached Hope very closely so she could be heard over the noise. “Honey, you know you’re adopted, right?”

Hope nodded her head. Adopted, as all children inwardly suspect.

“It was because Robyn has the very heavy responsibility of leading the B’nei Elohim now that Lilith is gone. There she is in the third row. That’s your mother. That’s Robyn. The beautiful blonde woman in the yellow dress. Do you see her?”

Hope did see her, but it was time to sing the last song, Mom-Shaped Hole, which was supposed to be about Hope’s longing for Victoria while she was in school, but now it took on a much deeper resonance for her.

I hope you can hear me Nobody else can take your role How can I go on now? All I have is a mom shaped hole

Hope sang the entire song with her eyes locked on Robyn, but she saw that Robyn never once looked directly back at her. Robyn seemed to be having a good time, but she only seemed to look at the other children, or the people in the seats around her. And after the concert when the audience started to filter out of the amphitheater Hope drifted off the stage trying to catch up to her, but too many people got in the way, and Robyn was gone.


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