"Coherent image out of this thing, can I get? Don't know. Since fishing for methane squid in the Outer Colonies, I was, not in my hands one of these is. Back then, pretty well this I could play." The sack fell away, and Leo sucked his breath between his teeth. "It pretty is!"
On his lap in crumpled leather, It might have been a harp, it might have been a computer. With inductance surfaces like a theremin, with frets like a guitar, down one side were short drones as on a sitar. On the other were the extended bass drones of a guitarina. Parts were carved from rosewood. Parts were cast from stainless steel. It had insets of black plastic, and was cushioned with plush.
Leo turned it.
The clouds had torn even further.
Sunlight ran the polished grain, flashed in the steel.
At the table the workmen tapped their conis, then squinted. Leo nodded to them. They put the money on the greasy boards and puzzled, left the boat.
Leo did something with the controls. There was a clear ringing; the air shivered; and cutting out the old odor of wet rope and tar was the scent of ... orchids? A long time ago, perhaps at five or six, the Mouse had smelled them wild in the fields edging a road. (Then, there had been a big woman in a print skirt who may have been Mamma, and three barefoot, heavily mustachioed men, one of whom he had been told to call Papa; but that was in some other country...) Yes, orchids.
Leo's hand moved; shivering became shimmering. Brightness fell from the air, coalesced in blue light whose source was somewhere between them. The odor moistened to roses.
"It works!" rasped the Mouse.
Leo nodded. "Better than the one I used to have. The Illyrion battery almost brand-new is. Those things I on the boat used to play, can still play, I wonder." His face furrowed. "Not too good going to be is. Out of practice am." Embarrassment rearranged Leo's features into an expression the Mouse had never seen. Leo's hand closed to the tuning haft.
Where light had filled the air, illumination shaped to her, till she turned and stared at them over her shoulder.
The Mouse blinked.
She was translucent; yet so much realer by the concentration he needed to define her chin, her shoulder, her foot, her face, till she spun, laughing, and tossed surprising flowers at him. Under the petals the Mouse ducked and closed his eyes. He'd been breathing naturally, but on this inhalation, he just didn't stop. He opened his mouth to the odors, prolonging the breath till his diaphragm stretched sharply from the bottom of his ribs. Then pain arched beneath his sternum and he had to let the breath out. Fast. Then began the slow return-
He opened his eyes.
Oil, the yellow water of the Horn, sludge; but the air was empty of blossoms. Leo, his single boot on the bottom rung of the rail, was fiddling with a knob.
She was gone.
"But ..." The Mouse took a step, stopped, balancing on his toes, his throat working. "How ...?"
Leo looked up. "Rusty, I am! I once pretty good was. But it a long time is. Long time. Once, once, this thing I truly could play."