Canterwood Academy in Haaretz provides the best primary education in the universe to lifeforms based on chemistry. There Chokhmah and Binah mix the chemicals together to see what they get, hopefully without dropping the test tubes. The children know their classmates come from a wide variety of geographical regions across three worlds.
The only knowledge that is withheld from the children is how they are also selected from a variety of epochs in time. The only children who know this are of the b’nei elohim, but as with all the demigods in Chokhmah’s project they have strong inhibitions built into them against revealing anything about it.
This year from House Sala, young Prince Nelchael and hyz sister Princess Bikol from the royal household are permitted by Lilith to attend the Academy. They are brought east by steamship over Thalury and up the River Sabik directly to Canterwood, in what is perhaps the most comfortable journey for any of the children.
Abdiel Larund, heir to the Black Beard throne, is enrolled as well, together with a young Larund commoner named Muran. They had flown west by aircraft, which involved a heart-stopping drop over the four mile high Wall of God, buffetted by much turbulence.
From House Antero, Lilith selects Telan, son of Count Nerio, and also a commoner from among the Red Beards named Inanna, and they too had flown in. But none of the children of the Brown Beards, nor of House Gerash who occupied them, are invited to attend.
From the land of Haaretz at the foot of the Wall of God Yeshua chooses a girl named Dafla Elkana from Nath and the tribes that remain loyal to Chohkmah alone. And che chooses a boy named Kishar Tullis from Hamar, from among those tribes that had embrace Binah as the offspring of Chokhmah. And these children are brought to Canterwood Academy by horseless carriage, but this is over difficult unpaved roads.
From among the b’nei elohim another two children are chosen. The first was a very gifted boy named Edgar Shybear, the son of Jerry and Robyn Shybear. His special power is an extraordinary intelligence. Edgar is the pinnacle of Chokhmah’s long labors, a brilliant dagger to be pointed directly at the heart of Thaumiel. It only remains for that blade to be sharpened.
The second child is Hope Felton, the daughter of a very famous man named Mark Felton who had invented the Micro and created the Swarm. Hope is not an extraordinary thinker like Edgar, but her “power” (for each of the b’nei elohim had a unique and remarkable talen) seems to be the ability to produce any sound, as though she were a human parakeet perhaps. This is considered to be a relatively weak power, but Hope admits she is just a half-breed. Her father is not b’nei elohim. Her mother Victoria, however, can fly even without strap-on wings, something that Hope reveals with obvious pride.
The last two children, the jists named Murmi and Asael, don’t come from anywhere on Earth or Barbelo at all. They speak of a world with many moons, and how they 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 from Haaretz are filled with wonder at the stories of Murmi and Asael. Yet they do not become good friends with the two, for the children of the moons are very thin and too weak to run and play with the others.
Early in the first semester Yeshua, Lilith, and a number of Fallen Angels deliver 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 sticks.
Telan Antero likes the physicality of the drum kit. Edgar eventually settles on the electric guitar, knowing it is capable of an astonishing array of sound. Kishar finds he can play a keyboard rather well with almost no instruction. Bikol Sala discovers that sha likes the electric bass. Everyone else tries the other instruments and learns they have no talent for playing them at all, including Hope, but Hope soon demonstrates that her real talent lies in her own voice. She can mimic any singer that she hears, and indeed any sound at all, which the others find to be surpassingly strange.
So Hope becomes the lead singer for a band that forms more-or-less spontaneously. Lilith asks them to think of a name. They eventually settle on Bite the Wax Tadpole.
In the place and time where Hope Felton comes from, everyone uses Micros to swap music for free through the Swarm, and so popular music as a business has 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 is as thin as the silk from a spider but somehow as strong as steel. It can cut anything except other strands of deathsilk, which must be cut with a very hot flame. Deathsilk is also used in blades which resemble violin bows. These swords are used only for slashing, not piercing.
The music of Barbelo, however, occupies a very narrow range between solemn hymns of Thaumiel to operatic post-battle lamentations. No one, in the entire history of Barbelo and its off-world colonies, has ever made music just for the sheer joy of it. Such a thing would be subversive in a way Thaumiel would be ill-equipped to counter. So Yeshua lays a challenge before the twelve children of Canterwood Academy: Introduce the people of Barbelo and the Jovian system to fun music.
Of the twelve children, only Edgar and Hope have heard the kind of “fun” music Yeshua is looking for, and fun it was indeed. There are melodies running around in Edgar’s head but to get the other children to play them he must invent a system of notation entirely from scratch. And that is precisely what the academy is for, not only to teach existing facts, but to teach the children how to think.
Seven of the children aren’t performers in Bite the Wax Tadpole, but Nelchael is a budding poet and hy steps in with song lyrics to go with Edgar’s melodies. The lyrics range from nursery rhymes to the brainless fun of Larund hill country bumpkins to the sweaty energy of Hazielite revival music.
But the thing that really brings the band together is a “field trip” to Earth, escorted by Hope’s parents Victoria and Mark Felton. After emerging from that forest pond with the earthen “C” berm everyone goes 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 females content themselves with riding on inner tubes.
All of them have a great time, but the outing inspires Kishar to write a song titled “Skiin’ USA” which serves as a template for a flood of other songs.
With Telan keeping time and Bikol stitching the song together harmonically on bass, Edgar carries the main melody line on guitar and Kishar keeps the whole thing chugging along with improvised chords on his piano. Hope sings Nelchael’s lyrics with a voice that is girlish but with rich undertones that belied her age. Other children makee costumes or paint cover art. Abdiel learns to operate a micro to record and edit their songs. So they all work to meet Lilith’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 describes the wild proceedings to a T.
The spool is recorded live at a concert at Canterwood Academy. The concert is attended by Yeshua, Lilith, the Sala queen, most of the b’nei elohim, and perhaps five hundred others who are all there to see a child of seven singing in a grown-up girl’s voice about grown-up girl things.
The Whole Town’s a Rollin’ is the second song, and it’s the best one. After the silliness of the first song the band wants to hook the listener and show them right up front they are getting some serious energy and fun, which is focused mostly on Kishar tickling the ivory. Abdiel runs the soundboard while Nelchael, Inanna, and Muran stand off to the side and supply backup vocals.
Snow Bunny is 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 plays the first song they ever recorded, Skiin’ USA, which features 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 is an AABA 32 bar pattern with an eight bar bridge.
To balance the dumb but fun songs like Far Country there are 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 is as organic and improvisational as usual, but swooshes up and down in pitch as he hits the skins near the rim and moved to the center. Hope is idled for this song, but she stands there dancing in place and swings her microphone in a circle.
Before the final song, which is a slow ballad, Victoria approaches Hope very closely so she can be heard over the noise. “Honey, you know you’re adopted, right?”
Hope nods her head. Adopted. No surprise. All children inwardly suspect that. Tell me something I don’t know, Mom.
“I adopted you because Robyn has a very heavy responsibility leading the b’nei elohim after Lilith is gone. There sha is in the third row. That’s your real mother. That’s the one and only Robyn Shybear. The beautiful yin wearing the yellow dress with dark brown-red hair. Do you see har?”
Hope does see har, but now it is 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 takes 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 sings the entire song with her eyes locked on Robyn, but she sees that Robyn never once looks directly back at her. Robyn seems to be having a good time, but sha only seems to look at the other children, or the people in the seats around har. And after the concert when the audience starts to filter out of the amphitheater Hope drifts off the stage trying to catch up to har, but too many people get in the way, and Robyn is gone.