He felt he had been walking around the Beetleburn dome for way, way too long, even by the standards of how much time he had to deal with. Indeed, his throat was parched, and he took a sip of water from the canister across his shoulder. He didn't realize it until now, but he was afraid of going back. Several weeks ago, several months ago, when he had heard that knock on the door, and put down his old history books, he decided it was time to do something. But the truth was, his options were limited. He could make speeches all he wanted, but tens of thousands of lightyears were tens of thousands of lightyears. Even at 99% of c, even with time dilation, even though it was, on the outside, possible to live a thousand years, there was no way to get back to the true galaxies any more. A world ship the size of a small moon, sent hurling for generations was the only way to get around that, but despite their high level of technology, Icechalk could not quite make one of those.
And thus he was walking around in circles, when he heard the noise, from somewhere around him. The echoes echoed. He didn't know where the sound was coming from: in the dark, featureless grid of Beetleburn dome, there were no landmarks where someone should be playing a guitar. And yet they were. He didn't know who they were, or where they were, or why they would be playing it here, but he recognized the song.
It was a story that no historian would believe, except it was so well documented. It was during the last war, the final war, when the Magellanics and the Beetleburns were facing down an entire Milky Way galaxy that had, insidiously, been transformed into a death cult, a circular system of belief that allowed no one to get a word or thought in edgewise, and was arming to the teeth against the much smaller clouds, and it moved in slow motion over the gigantic time scales of intergalactic conflict. And so the people of the clouds studied music, and put together a single song. It was a compelling, moving song, full of bombast and excitement. It got, they said, the blood pumping. But somewhere in the fourth verse was a section with something else. A few notes in the wrong place, and a note played backwards. Before resuming and finishing in the fifth verse, the fourth verse put the listener just a little off-kilter. But the people loved the song. They tried to ignore the fourth verse, but they could not. The notes in the wrong place introduced a quantum of uncertainty, of doubt, of wanting to know more. And just from this, and from the hordes of people playing the song and imitating it on countless worlds, a small shaft of light was introduced. Of course many things happened after that, but even the most serious of historians agreed that the song was the turning point.
And this was the story that Theophyllis recounted to himself as he walked around Beetleburn dome, trying to hear in stereo to see where the sound was coming from, in-between wondering who could play that difficult fourth verse so well. The song's insistence must have moved him, because when he knew he had the answer, he started running, almost skipping down the dark streets, ignoring the dark buildings on either side. Suddenly, he was in the middle of a parade ground, one with a small light, and he was face to face with the musician. And, it was quite a surprise: it was someone he had known, back on Tiger's Claw.
A short dialogue of mutual astonishment followed, in which he and his friend ascertained that they were both here by coincidence. Although not totally coincidental: they were both thinking about the past, and the future, and had come here to do just that.