Teaser 24 - Songs Without Words (2nd excerpt)

We felt like we just had to include a little more of the fantastic short story written by Steve Townshend. It really is one of the highlights of the book. Enjoy! 

It happened on a scalding Tuesday afternoon when the whole of Virginia City lay covered in a cloud of brown dust. Smiley was playing at the Washoe Club when the news came about the collapse—fifteen miners and a squad of digger toms trapped behind a wall of rock. Smiley sat at the piano in his fine clothes, swift metal fingers dancing across the keys while all around him the wealthy, bearded millionaires of the Washoe Club smoked their cigars and drank their whiskey and played their cards. 

But when the news of the collapse reached the club, the club emptied into the street and the street flowed on down to the mine. Once word got around, everyone wanted to be there, to have a look or send a prayer; everyone wanted to be involved in the miracle or tragedy—whichever it turned out to be—unfolding before them. 

When Smiley arrived at the mine a multitude had already gathered, the story abuzz on everyone's lips: a digger tom had tunneled in the wrong direction into a pocket of soft silver ore. As the rock above gave way, the mine rats started to run—a few at first, and then all of them, scurrying up the rocky passages one after another in a panicked stampede. 

Smiley had seen his share of cave-ins, the big bass boom of collapsing rock like the desperate pounding notes that began Schumann's "Aufschwung." The digger toms never responded to the noise. The big machines always went right on digging, cumbersome mechanical bodies moving with the weary alacrity of beaten slaves. A human foreman had to shout at them, or beat them with shovels or picks to get their attention. Even when Smiley warned them what was about to happen they only stared at him with their wide lantern eyes, decision engines churning like ponderous mill wheels. And yet Smiley understood them, and in the end they always obeyed Smiley, for the automatons were of a kind. If there was anyone who could convince the big machines to turn around, it was Smiley.

Jacobson, the crew foreman for the next shift, seized him by the arm. "Smiley," he said, "you've got to get those digger toms out. If they get buried, we're ruined. It'll be back to picks and shovels for the entire claim." 

Smiley cocked his head inquisitively. He walked two fingers across the palm of his white-gloved hand. The foreman understood. "Walker." He shook his head. "Smiley… those boys are dead, and if they're not, they may as well be without the digger toms to get them out. You can't save them, but you can save the whole damn claim if you get those mechanical sons of bitches digging in the right direction!" 

The crowd held its breath as Smiley considered. No one would enter the mines while a rogue digger tom tunneled through the soft earth around an ore deposit. Further cave-ins, torrents of scalding water, and toxic damps all lurked within the rock, waiting to be released. Smiley stood before the people, glass eyes taking in the faces of the miners' families and all the faces of the crowd gathered around the mine entrance. Familiar faces. Faces that opened in song when he accompanied them in the saloons and taverns and brothels of this town. Smiley took all of them in, and his advanced decision engine weighed their desperation and measured their worry. Then he nodded to no one in particular, removed his bowler cap and his jacket, and entered the mine.