I give you facts,
Open and unadorned,
And let you weave your own strange fantasies.
There was a message from Drachensblut waiting on Astor's home fax machine when he crawled out of bed at the end of Sunday morning. The German band had some music ready to record and they were eager to get started. Astor returned a message to tell them to get their equipment ready and send him an e.t.a., then he went downstairs in search of brunch and any bits of the Sunday papers that Wendy had consumed.
Padraig M'Cracken arrived at three-thirty, a little later than he had planned due to taking a couple of wrong turnings. Map-reading was not one of his strong points. He was looking forward to meeting Pete Astor, having followed his adventures with Intoxicant and beyond with keen interest via the music press and the national newspapers.
M'Cracken had attended two of Intoxicant's gigs before Astor had been fired and he had become sure that someone in the band had bought the grimoire at the sale in Stockport. Having experienced the mind-expanding effects of The Portal, and having recognized them for what they were, he was knew that the words came from the grimoire. He also knew that someone in Intoxicant had formed an involuntary but working magical combination with those words – magic being a convenient label for exotic natural effects.
He had assumed initially that vocalist and front-man Syd Melchior was the trigger for the strange sensations that the number created. He had concluded later that Pete Astor, who had been fired from the band for creating a more accessible form of that particular spell in the grimoire, had put it into a form that Melchior could use.
M'Cracken now believed that Melchior was a natural focal channel for the combined effect of the words and music. They would achieve their effect no matter who performed them, but Syd Melchior acted as a natural amplifier for the combination. M'Cracken's current aim was to get closer to Astor to study him and try to work out what made the combination work. He had also realized would be a good idea to try to protect Astor.
M'Cracken was sure that the Vances had exerted their considerable influence to have Astor fired from Intoxicant in an attempt to divert him from toying with forces that they considered dangerous. Astor did not seem to be the sort to take a hint and keep his head down.
His research had turned Pete Astor into a familiar figure. When a tall, fortyish man with pale blond hair opened the front door, M'Cracken knew that he had found the right house. It was a small blow to his vanity to realize that Astor knew who he was because he was expecting him in the middle of the afternoon, not because he had recognized a famous authority on magic, who was well known through television appearances internationally.
M'Cracken's ego received a small amount of massage when Astor took him into the front room, where Wendy was waiting to meet him. She had seen him on television in the United States and she seemed to know enough about his views to be able to give him an argument, given half a chance. Astor provided his guest with a chair, coffee and a slice of the chocolate cake that Wendy had bought. Then he invited him to talk about his archive and explain why he wanted to site it in England rather than the United States.
"To be closer to a lot of source material," M'Cracken told him. "England is the natural collecting point for it because the country was free of an oppressive Catholic regime during a period of prolonged research into ancient wisdoms, unlike most of Europe. There's a huge amount of it in this country, either direct source material, or first or second-generation copies of material from Europe and the East."
"And you're aiming to do what with it?" said Astor. "Collect it, conserve it, make it available to proper scholars?"
"Collect what we can and try to copy the rest," nodded M'Cracken. "High quality scans stored on computer provide a very convenient means of studying fragile source material."
"And you'd charge for access? Or would that be free? How much of a business would it be?"
"That depends very much on the level of support we can command. Naturally, we would try to minimize subsidies, but I think large subsidies may well be necessary initially."
"And what's the point of it all?"
"I've explained that to you at least once," scoffed Wendy. "Dr. M'Cracken's library would be a repository for documents that will be lost if someone doesn't collect them and conserve them. And they might contain knowledge that you technocrats will need some day."
"What, how to make new generations of computer chips by alchemy and seventeenth century magic in your local church when the vicar's not looking?" scoffed Astor.
"One thing you have to realize," said M'Cracken, "is magic is far older and far broader in scope than Christianity. It exists in places where Christianity is unknown, such as the last wilderness areas of South America, or where religion is officially ignored, such as Communist China. What the archive would hope to do is bring all that information together and clean it up."
"Clean it up how?" frowned Astor.
"The problem with texts on magic in Western Europe is that, as well as the usual layers of concealment built in by the adepts, we have heavy pollution by educated Christians, who translated them from the original Latin, the language of the educated man in earlier times."
"How do you spot the pollution in what could be just a load of old rubbish designed to impress gullible people, though?"
"The most obvious pollutant is this nonsense about black magic being the reverse of Christianity. Saying the Lord's Prayer backwards and holding a black mass with stolen communion wafers. All the Christian strap-ons are totally irrelevant to the real magical tradition."
"Even though Christianity has its own 'conjuring tricks with bones' and ritual cannibalism every Sunday?"
"Like all more recent religions, Christianity has borrowed heavily from the past. Placing major festivals to coincide with pagan ones, for instance. The tradition that the king must die to enrich the land is there in the symbolism of Easter. But going right back to its purest roots, real magic is based on exploitation of natural laws that are very dimly understood, if at all. Mainly because of all the secrecy and disinformation surrounding what's known about them. Because this knowledge is power – and power that's graspable by very ordinary people if they know what to do. The humble peasant living in a hovel can acquire more power over certain events than his or her king. And as few people want to share that sort of power in their own lifetime, you get the codes and layers of disinformation, and so on."
"So what you want to do is establish a serious archive and strip away all the disinformation? And make the information available to anyone who asks for it?"
"No, available to anyone who can be trusted to use it."
"So you're not saying Power To The People, then?" grinned Astor.
"No more than you would give a loaded gun to a young child."
"And you would decide who can be trusted?"
"I think I'm well qualified to judge, yes. Or would you prefer some sort of selection committee?"
"No, I don't have a problem with it particularly. I'm just getting it straight in my mind. You're not the sort of guy who'd be embarrassed about deciding who gets to consult your archive?"
"No, I don't think so. I think freedom of information is all very well but if we're going to all the trouble of sifting out a lot of junk, I think we should be entitled to pass on the fruits of the work to people who can use it constructively."
"So if they want it to use your knowledge to destroy the universe or hold everyone to ransom, hard Cheddar?"
"I think that's reasonable, yes."
"Sounds good to me, too." Astor reversed his opinion to take the superior look off Wendy's face. She had been mocking him silently for having a closed mind.
"And as a practical example of what the archive would achieve, let me show you this." M'Cracken took an A5-size booklet from his inside pocket. "These are photocopies of pages from an American reprint of the second edition of Hallan's Registry. I'm sure you'll spot the difference between them and your Rixborough edition right away."
Astor flicked through the pages, not sure what he was looking for. Wendy, looking over his shoulder, soon started to nod thoughtfully.
"What?" said Astor.
"The most obvious difference is there's none of the cross symbols in the spells in your edition," said Wendy. "This is all things like: ASTAROTH +, LUCIFER +, CIMERON +, and like that. Peppered with crosses."
"And you won't find a single AMEN in the Rixborough edition," added M'Cracken.
"But you reckon that's got a layer of obscurity even if the Christian influences have been stripped out?" said Astor.
"Inevitably," nodded M'Cracken.
"So what's the bottom line of all this?" said Astor. "Buy in on the ground floor, get all the spells cleaned up and take your slice of the world domination to come?"
"Hardly," smiled M'Cracken. "I see the archive's true value as giving us an insight into the way people were thinking when they made some quite fundamental discoveries about the way the world works. We're talking about the time of the great philosophers in the Arab world, and the time of Newton, Galileo, people like that."
"So you're hoping to launch a new age of discovery using tried and tested methods?" frowned Astor.
"What I hope to do first is collect and conserve," M'Cracken told him. "It would be very nice if something truly wonderful came out of the process but I can't offer any guarantees."
"I think this is very interesting," said Wendy. "I think we should support it."
"So how much are you going to put into it?" said Astor.
"Depends how much Dr. M'Cracken has got and how much he needs," said Wendy.
"The best way to find out is to ask him to shove something on paper that we potential investors can study," said Astor. "Are you up for that, Doc?"
M'Cracken nodded. "Yes, I can provide you with information on pledges to date and several scenarios for the archive. Of course, we're not planning something as monstrous as the new British Library but we have our eye on a couple of buildings that we could pick up relatively cheaply and adapt at reasonable cost."
"Okay, if you get some details together," Astor glanced at Wendy, "my expert on mysticism will give it the once-over."
"You're interested in the subject, Wendy?" M'Cracken offered encouragement to an potential investor.
Astor poured more coffee and grinned to himself as Wendy proceeded to give the visitor the benefit of her personal experience in the Far East in search of spiritual enlightenment. He felt confident that Wendy would be able to spot the difference between a genuine investigator of the occult and someone just after a quick buck.
Astor was more or less sold on the project himself, if only for its potential for making trouble when Christian groups started to claim that it was scholarship in an evil direction and something to be banned.
It would be interesting to see if Wendy was deflected from trying to prevent local environmental change for the sake of it to her old stamping round in the field of metaphysics, Astor told himself. He expected to see a lot more of Padraig M'Cracken over the next few weeks. He felt confident that the good doctor had a persuasive set of accounts to show them.
Drachensblut arrived to begin recording at the beginning of the next week. The four musicians and three actors seemed impressed by their hotel –they had obviously been expecting something very basic – and they were delighted to find that Astor had been able to fixed them up with some gigs locally. They were essentially a performance band, which refined its act through showing it to an audience. Astor had provided the band with photocopied pages of his grimoire as a source of inspiration. He was also planning to put them in touch with Padraig M'Cracken to see if anything productive came out of the encounter.
Walter caught up with Astor as he was showing the band where to find the offices of Kiron Sounds in case they had any problems. Astor was pleased to hear that Walter was close to fixing the terms for a take-over of Melody Studios. Owning his own recording studio had been a personal dream that had never looked like being fulfilled. Finding that it was coming true only underlined the value of having lots and lots of ready money.
It was somewhat ironical that his own attempts at recording music were making very little progress. He had reached the third draft of his piece for five pianos and he had been trying to create a demo tape as a basis for discussion with the staff at Melody Studios. Unfortunately, given the limitations of his own piano-playing, creating the demo was proving to be a long and frustrating job.
Later in the week, Astor received a fax from HellBridge to tell him that the Danish band was still working on some new numbers but they hoped to be rehearsed and ready in a couple of weeks. Astor passed the news on to Nick and Caroline over a lunch to discuss publicity for new bands, including Internet news, and the plans for a mail-order sales unit based at Melody Studios. Walter had arranged a grand signing ceremony at the Astoria on Friday morning.
The luncheon meeting was intended to keep Nick up to speed with wider developments in the Kiron organization. As the visible interface with a non-existent higher tier of management, whose position was 100% secure, Astor had no qualms about letting others know what was going on. Nick managed to last until the coffee stage before Mandy called him back to the office to deal with an urgent matter.
"That's one way of getting out of paying the bloody bill," Astor remarked as his PR man put his mobile phone away.
"Bet you wish you'd thought of it," laughed Nick. "One last thing before I disappear, we have a journalist wanting to do a day in the life of Pete Astor..."
"How much?" Astor interrupted.
"How much what?" frowned Nick.
"How much is he or she paying for a day of my time?"
"It doesn't work like that, Pete," said Nick. "You're supposed to keep her entertained, and buy her a good lunch and a posh dinner. Then she writes nice things about you in her paper, and lots of people buy it and make her bosses lots of dosh. And all you get out of it is a cutting for your scrap book. No, not even a shag," he added in response to Astor's shocked expression. "If you'll pardon my French, Caroline."
"Well!" said Astor scornfully.
"I think we'd better just send her a form-fax saying the company doesn't want journalists looking over Mr. Astor's shoulder while he makes commercially sensitive decisions," Nick added.
"Only if you're going to be polite about it," said Astor.
"Courtesy is always well worth the investment," said Nick. "Anyway, must dash. See you both."
"I don't think I fancy his job at all," remarked Caroline. "Too much rushing about."
"It must suit a certain kind of person, otherwise they'd do something else," said Astor. "Is that a hint you're not up for a strenuous afternoon?"
"Why, what did you have in mind?"
"A wander round the record shops to see what's new."
"Is this where you buy CDs if they've got an interesting cover? And use them as coasters if they're rubbish?"
"Does abuse of expensive CDs offend your sense of values?" laughed Astor.
"A bit," Caroline admitted.
"You can't do it with cassettes, even if they are cheaper. Your mug keeps falling off them. You mean you're not using your free copies of my CDs as coasters?"
"Certainly not. Talking about your CDs, I've been playing a tape Wendy lent me of some things you did on an American tour years ago. I particularly liked The Other Side Of The Morning. It reminds me of the album of John Betjeman poems set to music, and An American Prayer by The Doors. You should do that as a CD. I'm sure it'd sell."
"You've got that? The American Prayer?"
"Oh, yes. On CD, though. I suppose you've got it on vinyl?"
"And the first American CD. And the one with the bonus tracks they released over here twenty years after the album So I've managed to turn you on to The Doors? The greatest rock band of all time?"
"Enough to buy all their CDs. I didn't think much of that film, though, even though I got the soundtrack album."
"Me neither." Astor pulled a face. "Oliver Stone has got a real talent for making boring movies. Yeah, I switched his Doors film off after about an hour when it was on telly. And I think Platoon, that one about Vietnam? I'd had enough of that after about three-quarters of an hour. Nothing was happening in it!"
"Did you watch the one about the Kennedy Assassination?"
"I saved myself the bother of switching it off by never switching it on."
"Some people were saying it was quite good."
"Obviously people with a high threshold of boredom."
"So about the poetry, Pete. I really think you should put that out on a CD. I really like the stuff on that tape."
"It's a thought. If I can sort out all the copyrights. I don't think I composed all the music on that particular tape. I'd have to check but I think some of it was a joint effort with the other guys I was out touring with."
"It's definitely worth doing, Pete. Wendy says it's one of her favourites, too."
"She's never told me that."
"She doesn't tell you things like that in case you get an over-inflated ego, she says."
"She also likes that bootleg. With the really weird track."
"So do I," nodded Astor. "In fact, I like it so much I think I might even bootleg the bootleg myself. Why should a bunch of bloody Eyeties be making money out of us, I ask myself?"
"What about your ex-record company?"
"I suppose if I have my own bootleg of the bootleg made in Italy or Germany, they'll be able to do as much to stop it as they did about the original bootleg. Or we could even make them here but put Made in Italy on them. Counterfeit bootlegs. Yes, that's a great idea, Caroline. Remind me to mention that to Syd and the guys to get them in on the deal."
"Are you going to ring them?"
"We'll be seeing them on Thursday of next week."
"Yes, me and my driver. If you're up for a free night out?"
"Definitely," nodded Caroline.
"I'll have to remember to mention it, then. Anyway, are you ready to hit the shops?"
Caroline took the hint and signalled to the waiter with her credit card, asking for a bill. "Don't you ever feel guilty about going shopping in the firm's time?" she added.
"Ah, but this isn't just shopping, is it? It's research. Seeing what good ideas we can nick from other people's CDs."
"I hadn't thought of that," Caroline admitted. "I suppose that makes it all right."
"Besides, being in charge of everything has to have its perks."
Astor had used recreational drugs mainly for just that purpose in the past. They had been a source of diversion when he had run out of more entertaining pursuits and, occasionally, a means of altering his perspective on life when he felt in need of a radical change to dig himself out of a rut. Now, Charm served the new purpose of allowing him to contact his benefactor.
Being in charge of a growing business empire consumed a great deal of his time, despite his determined efforts to delegate the work. His contacts with Kiron were less frequent than they could have been, given his past record with recreational drugs, and even though time seemed to matter little to Kiron, Astor always felt that he had left it too long when he settled down with a pipe of Charm and tried to put himself into a totally relaxed frame of mind.
Kiron Sounds had been the owner of Melody Studios for a full day when he reported to the company's inspiration on a quiet Saturday afternoon. The geometric shapes seemed to have more and more colours but never any shades of green, which Astor found surprising. He was hunting for greens when he became aware of the dark shape outlined against the shifting, luminous background.
"Yo, Pete, how's it going?" said the voice in his head.
"Yo, Kiron, it's going great at this end. How's it looking to you?"
"I'm seeing a definite and welcome increase in the useful energy generated in your area."
"And one of the energy sources seems to have changed its output slightly."
"Is that good or bad?" Astor asked cautiously.
"The change seems to be in a way that doesn't affect us. All we can tell is that there has been a change of some sort."
"A band I spotted in Germany is over here in England now, recording at my recording studio. That could be it. I hope you don't find this an offensive question, but do you know where Germany and England are? Or is geography irrelevant to you?"
"Yes and yes, seems to be an appropriate answer," Kiron replied with a hint of amusement. "Although it would be interesting to find out if any more such geographical shifts have significant effects. Such as a shift to America."
"You want me to get a band on tour there?"
"It would be an interesting experiment, Pete."
"Okay, I'll see what I can do."
"I look forward to receiving even more useful energy from you," added Kiron. "Until the next time."
The colours began to bleed into one another as the shapes lost their form. Astor felt threatened and uncertain at the same time. Kiron was such a huge unknown that Astor had no way of knowing what was a harmless remark and what was a demand, which had to be met without fail. And at the back of his mind, there lingered the thought that he might just be terrifying himself with messages from his own subconscious via a vivid and persistent, drug-induced fantasy.
Life, for the taker of recreational drugs, could be a pretty uncertain business.