Part One: Inception

~.~.~

Koryu Genjo glanced at the time display on the wall for the umpteenth time and scowled. Three hours. He'd been sitting here, outside his father's office, for three fucking hours.

"When are you going to tell me what's going on?" he demanded of the secretary who sat placidly at the desk in front of Koumyou's inner office. "Since when do I receive an official summons to report here? And for that matter, since when do I have to wait like this to see my father?"

The woman shook her head. "I'm sorry, Genjo, but he insisted that that you wait out here."

"And when am I getting back my score? And my notes?" That still rankled; his best score—the one that got him his Koryu rank—taken from him at the end of his Ranking exam like it had been an overdue school assignment.

She shook her head again.

Genjo returned to fuming. He stared out the reception room's window, and when he saw the simulated sky begin to darken he checked the time once more. At this rate he was going to be late for the evening's concert. He didn't have to worry about the goon squad coming after him—a summons from a Sanzo was not to be ignored, and it superseded a Musician's regular performance requirements. But tonight one of his other scores was being performed for the first time, and it irked him that he would miss out on hearing his music fill the temple's concert auditorium, and miss feeling the magic rise from him, through him, and permeate every inch of the room while he and the others played.

Magic was part of the other performances that he played in, of course, but the energy that came from his own music felt incredible, and it made the whole shitty thing worthwhile.

An intercom on the secretary's desk buzzed. "Ellora? You can send Genjo in."

"Yes, sir," she said. She then rose from her chair and walked to the inner office's door and faced Genjo. "Koryu Genjo. Sanzo Koumyou will see you now. You may proceed." She opened the door.

What the hell with all the formality? Genjo thought. He had never seen the woman act this way before, in all the years she had worked for his father. He rose from his seat and stomped into the office. "Dad, what the hell—"

He stopped in the doorway. Before him, the ghostly outlines of a miniature town flickered, rising from the glowing spells that were scribed into the score that lay unfurled on Koumyou's desk.

His score.

"Hello, Genjo," Koumyou said. "This is exquisite work."

Genjo plopped down in the chair opposite the desk. "Thanks," he said. "Dad, what the hell is going on?"

"I wanted to see it again for myself, before the Triumvirate appears—they're going to be here any minute now. This is the work you submitted two weeks ago for your Ranking, was it not?"

"Yes." Genjo frowned; the old man was taking the long way. The mention of the Triumvirate had him even more puzzled; weren't they the people his father reported to?

"No wonder you were the only Composer in your class to make Koryu rank." Koumyou traced the translucent edges of a tapering spire, and then he got up to make some tea.

Genjo watched him prepare two cups; as always, Koumyou made it the old-fashioned way, ignoring the foodsynth station that was installed in the corner of the room. "I had a good teacher," he said. He thought it odd that Koumyou was only making two cups; maybe the Triumvirate people preferred coffee.

Koumyou smiled. "I had a good student."

"Dad." Genjo leaned forward in his chair. "If you wanted to see this you could have just asked. Why did I get a formal summons, and why wasn't my score returned when everyone else's was?"

"We have to do this one by the numbers, my boy," Koumyou said, and after he handed Genjo a cup of tea he sat back down in his chair. "I don't want any accusations of favoritism, and I want this evaluation to go in our favor."

"Favoritism? For what? You had nothing to do with my achieving Koryu rank." Genjo sipped at the steaming brew. "And what evaluation?"

Koumyou smiled. "I'm very proud of what you have done, and even prouder that you have accomplished it on your own. But while a Sanzo can make a Composer a Conductor, they must petition the Triumvirate to elevate a Conductor to Sanzo rank."

Conductor? Sanzo rank? Genjo's mouth dropped open.

"That got your attention, didn't it?" Koumyou grinned widely at him.

"But…" Genjo frowned. "It takes years before a Composer can even think about applying to rise to Conductor—and there are only what, a handful of Sanzo-rank Conductors?"

"There are only five authorized Sanzo Conductors at any given time," Koumyou replied.

"And you want to make me one of them?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because of this," Koumyou said, waving a hand at the shimmering score on his desk. "Tell me, what made you choose this particular project? Most new Composers score the 'New Dome Expansion,' or the always-popular 'Luxury Resort Dome.' Some choose the 'Revitalization' project, creating a score to revamp a dome that has fallen into neglect and decay." He pointed at Genjo. "But you… you chose to build a city outside of the domes. Very, very few Composers take on the 'Out of the Domes' project. Why did you?"

Genjo glanced around the room. "Can we be overheard here?"

"I'd like to see someone try," Koumyou said, with a small smile.

Genjo turned the cup around in his hands and studied the pale liquid within. "I chose that project because even though it's impossible, it's the only one that's important." He took another drink of his tea; he had to admit, it tasted better than what came out of any foodsynth. "On the surface, it seems like Musicians live a privileged life; we are exempt from the Personal Tax, and we are housed for free in the Temples—and fed, too, if you like foodsynth fare." He stared at a tiny leaf that had floated to the surface of his tea. "Depending on their status, they can earn a very good living from contract work."

"But?" Koumyou watched him intently.

"But… we're not allowed to leave the Temples, are we? Not for any great length of time. Most Musicians have what, five mandatory performances a week? Even as a Composer I have to show up and play at three, and I have mandatory quotas for how many scores I have to produce a week. If a Musician fails to show up for those mandatory performances, they are tracked down and brought back, and I've seen the way a few of those people look." He held up his wrist, and the light from Koumyou's lamp played over the lines of his barcode tattoo. "This makes people very easy to find, since you can't do much or go very far without scanning it."

"Yes," Koumyou agreed, and there was a flicker of something dark in his normally affable expression. "Go on."

"We are essentially slaves," Genjo said. "From the time our musical ability is discovered, we are forced to play, to perform, to create magic to power projects in the central Domes. My magic is used to make ridiculous luxury getaways and play-houses for the rich people of Central Dome, while people in the outermost domes live in houses that are falling apart around them." He gestured at the glowing scroll. "This is a way out—not just for us, but for those people, too. Or would be, if it was possible to live outside the domes."

Koumyou leaned back in his chair. "What if it were possible?"

"To live Outside?"

"Yes."

Genjo frowned at him. "If it's possible, then why aren't we making it happen?"

Koumyou steepled his fingers together and rested his chin on them. "Something like that must be done with care. Changing the status quo could be considered subversion, and there are many birds here who like their gilded cage."

This was a different side of Genjo's father, one he never knew existed. He stared at the man across from him. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked.

"I love you, son, but I couldn't be completely sure of you. Until this."

Genjo's gaze was drawn back to the ghostly town, and a great many things suddenly became clear. "You added this to the Kouryu test."

His father grinned. "Not just me. And not just the Koryu test. A version of this exists in every one of the major Musician rank exams."

"Like a secret password."

"Exactly. Only someone with true interest would choose that option in the exams." Koumyou rose and picked up his cup.

Genjo handed him his empty cup. "So you're sure of me now?"

Koumyou took it and ruffled his hair. "I hoped you would end up here, and you did not disappoint me."

Genjo watched him take the cups to the tiny sink that was built into the foodsynth unit. "Dad, about going Outside—"

He was interrupted by the jangling of many bells, and a flash of light that made him raise a hand to shield his eyes.

"WE ARE HERE TO EVALUATE YOUR PETITION, SANZO KOUMYOU."

Genjo slowly lowered his hand. Standing in front of Koumyou's desk was a hologram, clad in long robes. The shimmering figure flickered every few seconds, cycling through three different appearances—one male, one female, and one that appeared androgynous. Was that the Triumvirate? The approval process for high-level scores was a convoluted one, with several different levels of access depending on a Composer's rank. The Triumvirate was the interface of the highest level of the Tenkai computer system, and only Sanzo-ranked Conductors had access to present the scores they deemed worthy of review.

They were here to see his score, Genjo realized, and the thought made it suddenly a little more difficult to breathe.

Koumyou inclined his head in a bow. "Thank you for coming." He gestured toward Genjo. "This is Koryu Genjo," he said, and then he pointed at his desk. "This is the score he created for his Koryu rank test. I feel that his talent is worthy of not only changing his position to Conductor, but to make him Sanzo rank as well."

"THAT IS QUITE A JUMP, SANZO KOUMYOU. GENJO IS YOUNG, AND HAS JUST ATTAINED KORYU COMPOSER RANK." Even as it spoke, the hologram glided over to Koumyou's desk and began to study Genjo's scroll.

"He chose the 'Outside the Domes' scenario," Koumyou said. "And his reasoning for his choice resonates with our goal."

A now-female face peered at Koumyou, and then focused on Genjo. "INTERESTING. THE GODDESS KNOWS OF THIS?"

"Yes, and I mentioned the possibility of Genjo's elevation to her. The timing is perfect."

The face flickered and became a haughty male. "WE DO NOT ELEVATE BASED ON TIMING. WE ELEVATE THOSE WHO ARE WORTHY OF DIRECT ACCESS TO THE TENKAI SYSTEM, AS WELL AS ACCESS TO THE GOKU POWER LOCUS."

Genjo didn't know that computer interfaces could be snitty.

Koumyou waved his hands. "I would never waste your time with an unworthy candidate."

"ALSO, IT HAS NOT ESCAPED OUR ATTENTION THAT GENJO IS YOUR FOSTER SON."

Genjo bit his lip in an effort to suppress a snort. Now, some of grumbling comments his father had made over the years about the 'talking heads' made complete sense.

"He is," Koumyou replied, "but I would not put him forward for this position if his talent was insufficient. Look at what he has made! Look at this town!" Koumyou walked back to his desk and stood next to the translucent figure. "It takes full advantage of the site we chose, and allows for efficient, yet comfortable living spaces." He pointed at several places in the score. "Both wind and solar capture for energy here, and it takes full advantage of the valley's river. And it is beautiful."

"THIS IS AN AMBITIOUS PROJECT. IT WILL REQUIRE THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF MUSICIANS."

Koumyou rolled open a smaller scroll that contained Genjo's project notes, and touched a number of spots on the crisp, white notation stock. Several digitized portraits appeared and hovered above the scroll.

"This is Hakkai, Cho rank. His specialty is stringed instruments, and he is not only proficient in handling architectural scores, but he is able to play healing music as well. He is highly organized and will make a superb Concertmaster. Gojyo, Sha rank, is very skilled in all percussion and has a reputation for solid infrastructure. Goujun here is Haku rank and is a genius with woodwind instruments; I have worked with him in some of the restoration projects in the Southern Dome. And over there is Kougaiji, Gyu rank—I've never heard anyone play brass instruments like he does. Those are the section leaders; Genjo has chosen other very competent Musicians to fill out the sections of his Orchestra."

"Wait a minute," Genjo said, rising from his chair, "those people are real?

"Yes," Koumyou said.

The hologram switched to the androgynous aspect, and they carefully examined the glowing portraits. After a few minutes, they drifted over to where Genjo stood. "YOU MADE EXCELLENT CHOICES IN YOUR MUSICIANS, AND WE HAVE NOTED THAT YOUR WORK HAS BOTH BEAUTY AND POWER IN IT." The face became female, and she tilted her head and regarded Genjo. "WE APPROVE THE CHANGE OF YOUR STATION AND RANK. DO YOU AGREE TO THIS ELEVATION?"

Genjo felt Koumyou's gaze on him. "Yes," he said.

"SANZO RANK GIVES YOU DIRECT ACCESS TO THE SPIRITUAL ENERGY OF THE GOKU LOCUS, AND WILL INCREASE YOUR POWER. DO YOU ACCEPT THIS ACCESS, AND AGREE TO NOT ABUSE THE POWER IT GIVES YOU?"

Genjo glanced at Koumyou, at the small ruby receptor that had been implanted in his forehead. His father was the most powerful Musician Genjo had ever encountered, and it was no small thrill to think that Koumyou thought him worthy of joining his rank. "I do," he said.

"VERY WELL. WE HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE YOU AS SANZO GENJO." A ghostly finger reached out and touched the center of his forehead.

The pain was unexpected, and excruciating. Genjo managed to not cry out, but it was a struggle to stay on his feet as power surged through him, seeking out every nerve ending and magical loci in his body. He blindly cast out for something to lean on, hold on to, and he was glad of Koumyou's warm hand closing around his. The center of his forehead burned, making his eyes water, and when Genjo forced his eyes open he saw the visage of the Triumvirate in front of him, their faces flickering and switching so fast that they seemed to spin. Three pairs of eyes bored into his, even as the receptor seemed to be boring through to his brain.

Something touched his mind, curious, cautious, and Genjo had the strange sensation of being examined by an entirely different entity.

Just as suddenly as it came, the pain was gone. Genjo let go of Koumyou's hand and wiped at his face with his shirt sleeve while the form of the Triumvirate returned to Koumyou's desk. They touched the score, and for a few seconds it glowed with a blindingly bright light.

"WE ACCEPT AND VALIDATE THIS SCORE, AND THE MUSICIANS CHOSEN TO CREATE IT." The face became stern and masculine, and he looked over at Koumyou. "YOU REALIZE HIS REGISTRATION WILL BE INITIATED WHEN WE LOG BACK INTO THE MAIN SYSTEM. HE HAS BEEN ACCEPTED BY THE LOCUS, BUT THERE WILL BE A PROBLEM WITH ADDING HIM TO THE TENKAI SYSTEM."

"I know," Koumyou said. "The Goddess has spoken to her nephew about delaying the registration."

"KONZEN IS SKILLED WITH SUCH THINGS, BUT HE CANNOT BUY YOU VERY MUCH TIME."

Genjo frowned at the exchange. Delay his registration? Why? He decided not to think too hard about it, because although the pain of implanting the receptor was gone, his head was still throbbing and there was an unpleasant buzz in the back of his head that refused to go away.

"We'll just have to do our best," Koumyou said.

The Triumvirate flashed into its androgynous form. "WE WILL WAIT TO LOG IN UNTIL WE HAVE COMPLETED VISITING THE OTHER SANZOS AND REVIEWING THE REMAINING SUBMISSIONS ON OUR TASK LIST. WE ESTIMATE THAT WE CAN DELAY OUR UPLOAD TO THE MAIN SYSTEM UNTIL TOMORROW EVENING."

"Excellent!" Koumyou made a deep, formal bow. "I thank you for your swift answer to my petition." He kicked Genjo in the shin.

Genjo grimaced and swiftly executed a similar bow. "Thank you," he said.

"WE WISH YOU LUCK WITH YOUR ENDEAVOR, SANZO KOUMYOU." The shimmering form switched to its female aspect and glanced at Genjo. "AND GOOD LUCK TO YOU AS WELL, SANZO GENJO."

Another jangling of bells, another flash of light, and they were gone.

Genjo sank back into his chair. "Dad," he said, pressing the heel of his hand against his throbbing forehead, "give me something to drink—and it needs to be stronger than tea."

"Certainly," Koumyou said, and he pulled a small bottle of whiskey out of the bottom drawer of his desk.