"What are you doing, Andres?"
"What I'm supposed to do." Andres turns his curly-haired, slightly too large head and meets my eyes with a brown-eyed challenge.
"Apple is paying you a not inconsiderable amount of money to get the bugs out of this new translation sub-system for the iPhone nine. We need it for the special order by next month. You've shown me zip for a couple of weeks. How's it going?"
Andres shrugs. "I finished the codes a week or so ago.
"A week ago? A week ago!"
"I'll get them to you, Harvey."
I grit my teeth. "Sooner would be better. Now would be perfect."
"Right." He grins nonchalantly. "I'll get them in the mail."
I turn to leave before I say something immoderate.
I turn back.
"Working on that sub-system - I discovered something interesting. I thought I'd check it out some and then tell you about it."
"I picked up a signal."
"Isn't that what phones do."
"This is different."
"It might not be of human origin."
"You're crazy! Are you saying aliens are messing with our phones?"
Andres shrugged. "Not at all. I think this might be a super-natural signal."
"Vampires? Zombies? Ghosts?"
"More like from life - the seas, the forests, everything."
I looked at Andres. Slender, dark, straight out of East Oakland by way of a full ride at Cal Tech - for sure not a Berkeley tree-hugger. "What BS are you trying to hand me? This is a joke, right?"
I sighed. "What have you been smoking?"
Andres just looked at me.
"So what is this signal? What's the content?"
"Do you like music?"
I shifted my feet. "Sure."
"I mean something other than Merle Haggard?"
"What's wrong with country?"
"Give me a break, man."
"Okay, what's this about?"
He looks at me. "You know about Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak and all those other composers? "
"I've heard of them - some of them."
"Well I think they might have been naturally tuned in to the signal I found - something in their DNA, maybe. Here - "Andres hands me ear-buds plugged into a phone on his work counter. "Listen to this."
"I take them with reluctance." "What's supposed to happen?"
"Do you sing?"
Andres grins. "You will.
Violins and violas sound softly, sonorously. An oboe's clear note enters and drifts above all. A piano offers a melody as pure as a mountain stream. I've never heard such beauty.
Music swells around me, sensuous and warm. A cello begins to play. I relax and feel moved to plunge in among the instruments, to sing. My normal voice is a baritone seasoned by strong coffee, Irish whiskey and the odd cigar. It is well larded with playground gravel from pick-up basketball games. Still I can't stop myself. I breathe deeply, open my mouth and fearlessly join the orchestra.
My voice soars high, clear and golden as honey. I'm dimly aware that I should fall over in astonishment, but the music is too compelling to allow any distractions. I advance a phrase in my supple tenor voice. The orchestra supports me and we weave our singing together like moonlight stroking leaves, or the myriad voices of a stream flowing over rocks. Other players gradually fall away. Only my voice and the cello's remain until my line fades into a whisper. The final vibrations rise from the cello's strings - a last Grecian curve of melody, a last caress of sound lingering above us. My head is bowed. Tears of joy course down my cheeks. I close my eyes.
Andres pats my shoulder. I open my eyes. My tears have ceased flowing, but I taste salt on my lips. "What happened?"
"Something that shouldn't happen without the Hadron particle accelerator."
I take a deep breath. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that the phone drops you into a new place. Somebody with more math than I've got will have to figure out if it's another dimension, another universe, or what. Anyway, it's a musical place and you perceive the music that's there. The act of perceiving it arranges it to your liking and pulls you in. It wants to please you and it wants you to sing with it. I call it quantum harmony."
"Yeah, quantum harmony. You just sang a quantum duet." Andres smirks. "I think quite a few others tapped in, too, musicians who created music that won't ever go away - John Lennon, James Brown? They did it without even knowing."
"What - what are you going to do with it?"
"It should be a killer phone app!" He shrugs. "Of course, you better not drive while you're using it. It's got to be worse than texting."
"Can I keep this?"
"Well . . . "
"I don't mean forever, just for a couple of days."
Andres nods. "Okay. I've got a more refined one almost done. Have fun with it and check back with me on Monday."
Andres grins. "Not while driving!"
Quantum harmony - it leaves a hangover. The beauty is gone and you want it back. My mood plunges into deeper mud when I plow into the 101 slowdown between Palo Alto and Mountain View. Smog fuzzes the horizon and I sit stranded in a hot car on baking pavement. Some jerk turns on his brights and flirts with my rear bumper. I tap my brake lights. He swerves to the left, pulls up beside me and his window slides down.
"There's three other lanes, stupid!"
"Yeah and at least four empty ones in your head, bozo!"
He pulls ahead and starts crowding my right fender. My car is new; his isn't. I pull onto the shoulder and slow. He's out of his car before I can stop. Road rage - it's now a perfect day. His red face hangs in my window like a bad moon in a smoggy sky. He shouts and spittle flies out of his mouth like little meteors. One hits my nose and another my eyebrow. Something snaps in my head.
I fling open my door. He leaps back. I scramble out of my car and raise my right fist for a punch. Damn! I'm still holding my iPhone!
A gap-toothed grin splits the ugly mug's face. He steps close to deliver a punch of his own. I fumble my phone, slide it behind my back and prepare to fight left-handed. A huge brass chord erupts from the phone and swallows us both.
Quantum music - I turned it on by accident. Red Face's fist falters. His eyes go wide and his mouth sags. Beauty judst slugged him. I'm a little used to it now. He looks at his fist as if it's an alien appendage. Then his fingers uncurl and he looks at me.
I look at him. He's young, in his twenties, and wearing white slacks and a white shirt. An In-n-Out uniform? He's late for work?
Brass fades and strings swell, an aching, throbbing melody - like Tschaikovsky - embraces us in fervent arms of sound. Tears in his eyes, his arms enfold me. Mine wrap around him in a hug of unrestrained forgiveness, a caress of peace.
Back in the car, both hands on the wheel, I slump in my sweaty seat. What just happened?
More to the point, what am I? A thirty-eight year old mid-level manager, the world's most endangered species. Think outside the box, chum. Break open the box. Crawl out. Now. Quantum music equals quantum peace. Nobody else knows this.
Andres's the genius, not me. Will he work on the side? I check my bank account balances: $81,000 total. I can round up $81,000. Traffic started to lurch forward again. Leave out $6,000 for expenses and I can offer Andres $75,000.
"Yeah. I forgot to ask you a couple of questions. Got a minute?"
"Would it take you long to modify a hundred phones, fix them up with that quantum app?"
Andres thinks about this. "Four, maybe five days."
"Is it hard make them network?"
"Not at all - why?"
"This would be between you and me. I can pay you $50,000 for the job. I'd need it done by the end of the month."
"$50,000? How about $100,000?"
"How about $75,000 - in cash?"
I lean back in my plush seat and study the great gold seal hung in the front of the United Nations General Assembly Hall. It is impressive even from my perch in the rear of the right balcony. I feel pretty calm. If my little plan doesn't work, no one will be the wiser - I hope.
Chancellor Merkel is already sitting near the Security Council Circle. Germans are on time. Others filter in. Putin strides across the room like a dwarf bull and takes his seat. President Trump, orange as ever and grinning from ear to ear, schmoozes in. Erdogan, Xi Jinping, Hollande, Theresa May and dozens more find their seats. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon calls the meeting to order. All the world leaders pick up their new iPhone nines, provided to them especially for this event. They all turn on the new translation app created by my friend Andres. Silence chops through the room's chatter like a guillotine's blade.
Music swells from speakers like a spring in April. Flutes and muted strings pass a burbling melody between them. Saudi King Salman, holding his phone to his ear, sings first, a clear tenor solo. Others join him. The melody becomes a river with multiple currents and the currents wind together to become duets. Ayatollah Khamenei takes Netanyahu's hand and their voices soar through the hall. Turkey's Erdogan and Greece's Pavlopoulos hold hands and join them. The music's currents flow together. Pakistan's Sharif and India's Modi turn the currents into a surge. Putin and Trump step into the center of the Security Council Circle. Brass suddenly blares - trumpets, horns, trombones and tubas. Their voices ride on cathedral chords, great chords of consummation and reconciliation.
Ringing silence drops upon the hall. All stand stunned. Tears well in Trump's eyes. Putin takes his face gently in his hands and kisses him on the lips.
I study the New York Times' lead story: "Tears and Hugs at UN! Scenes of unprecedented amity between world leaders marked yesterday's arms control meeting at the UN. President Putin, tears streaming down his cheeks, vowed "Total nuclear disarmament will take place tomorrow!"
I mentally award myself the Nobel Peace Prize, sip coffee and start to take a bite of my onion bagel. My phone chimes. I put the bagel down. It's Andres.
"Well, let's make some money out of world peace."
x x x
Those who know me know that my main hobby these days-other than Anotherealm, of course-is barbershop quartet singing. There, you got four parts blending in pleasant, harmonious accord. Don't know if that'll help world peace, but it couldn't hurt. Much like this story, in fact. Thanks to newcomer Robert Walton. Keep singing and, please, keep writing . . . GM