Procedure 420-Perinaldo
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“The performance must be live; recordings of the piece have no effect.

SCP-2845 | Special Containment Procedures | Procedure 420-Perinaldo: (120°)

My grandpa dodged Vietnam with a bari sax.

He was en route to report for the draft and ran into a lieutenant carrying an instrument case. He started talking to a fellow musician at the train station and wound up in West Germany instead of Dak To, doing cushy tours with a military band.

I’m sure he’ll appreciate the parallels — if they ever let me tell him. I suspect they won't.

After all, that’s what got me this job in the first place: my discretion. It’s how I got away with corporate embezzlement for thirteen years, though the story of how I avoided jail is much more interesting. It involves a woman named Natalie Burman, who introduced herself as a recruiter and asked me if 13 years is my record for keeping secrets.

Natalie said she worked for a group called the Foundation, a group that wanted to keep the world safe. She said I could stay out of prison time by playing my flute. Then she said I’d never learn any more than that, and if that was a problem, I should save everyone the trouble and serve my 30 years right now instead.

So I’m not about to jeopardize that, even to Grandpa Eldon. Because if there’s one thing the Foundation is, it’s thorough.

Take my schedule for example. I only work for 39 minutes at a time, two or three times a week, but I have to arrive four hours early. I’m greeted at the door with a full-panel drug test. I deposit my phone and join the other musicians on a high-speed train, and we depart. The journey takes about an hour. There are no windows.

The drug tests are done cooking by the time we arrive. In four years I’ve never seen someone fail, but Dilara (oboe/backup clarinet) says it happened once early on, and they fired the guy on the spot. An understudy appeared from nowhere: frazzled, panicked, but she performed flawlessly.

After disembarking, we just wait around. There’s a green room with books and movies, comfortable couches, a big honkin’ digital clock on the wall, counting down to showtime. Our instruments are waiting for us when we arrive. Sometimes we warm up, or play for fun. But we can’t play Perinaldo as a group, not until the time comes.

At T-minus 30 minutes, a wiry man we’ve dubbed “the Stage Manager” checks up on us. Again at 15, then 10. At 5 minutes to go, we exit and walk in silence to our performance chamber. It’s Ring-G today: the Stage Manager leads the way but we’ve all memorized the order.

We take our seats, tune to each other, leaf through our sheet music. I look over the notes, vocalizations, and gestures. My nerves are always fine until the Stage Manager rolls back the covering on the hexagram, and then things get a little surreal. But that’s the 30-second warning, and it’s time to watch Dilara for the downbeat. And then we’re playing.

The piece is 39 minutes long, and utterly alien. There’s no coherent melody. Notes build and then suddenly stop. The dialogue and hand noises interrupt the music rather than accompany it. It’s not just some weird song; I played a lot of John Cage in college, and it doesn’t even compare. The thing is just deliberate enough to be music instead of noise. But only just.

You can memorize anything: we’re living proof. The fingerings and chants are fixed, automatic, and in the routine, my mind drifts. I fixate on the dark gray hexagram on the floor, on the way my stomach drops every time I see it. There’s no audience, but I’ve played to orchestra halls of a thousand and felt less watched than this. I can’t describe it, can’t name it of course. They’ve done their job obfuscating the details. But I’ve seen how the Stage Manager walks more briskly by Ring-A. I’ve heard the tone in his voice, in his clipped fragments of chatter about the other five Procedures. They do worse things than bad music in these steel chambers. And they consider it all absolutely necessary.

But more than anything, I focus on the start of Movement Four, 26 minutes in. Because on April 7th in my first year on the project, I was sick and distracted, and I flubbed six beats all in a row.

A single miss is infrequent but common enough, but then I lost my place. Missed the next two trills and a hand sign. And without warning, the audience in my head multiplied. There were 10,000 people watching and none of them were people, I was sure of it, I just knew, and that’s how I missed the 5th cue, and then suddenly that audience was a hundred thousand.

The others had noticed. They glanced at me, at the red-yellow light now pulsing on the wall. The oboist and timpanist clapped in tempo. My turn again. The stage manager had vanished out the door.

The hundred thousand Not-People stared me down, expectant, unreadable. My next breath had a metallic tang. I swear the lead hexagram began to smoke. The 6th beat came up, and I wish I could say I missed it out of curiosity. Bravery. Some noble scientific need to see what happens next. But I didn’t choose anything. I was weak, and stupid, and panicking. I just missed.

And then it saw me. Really, truly, saw me. And I saw it too, but I know it got more than it gave.

It was a hundred million people: an infinite audience packed into a single, impossible face. I saw — or imagined — antlers and ice and shimmering metal spheres and, behind that, something more. A warped song, a counter-melody, some sort of response that this thing was preparing, just for me.

It tilted its head, and the entire world bent to match.

The timpanist clapped.

The oboist clapped.

I breathed.

50 meters to the northwest, across a shuddering, warping reality, The Stag watched me.

Then muscle memory kicked in and I hit the G♯.

The alarms and lights were off by the time we finished, with only a whiff of ammonia dusting the air. The others covered for me. Then demanded offsite daily practices for three months.

Three years later and I don’t miss any cues, even though my heart races during Movement Four. We coast through to the end, hold the last note, and Dilara cuts us off. The stage manager unfurls the canvas and covers the hexagram. I stand and follow him out of the room.

The Stag watches us go, a hundred million hands applauding. Calling for an encore. Listening for seven more wrong notes.

Waiting for its turn to sing.

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