Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Tonedeaf: Part 3

- - reports of rioting, following mete - - hundreds injured, gunshots being heard from the walls - - citizens are warned to stay in their homes - - do not attempt to - -

++ We are very sorry, but this broadcast has been suspended until further notice. For further information, please contact your Harmonic Broadcast Provider. We apologise for the inconvenience. ++

The Harmony screamed in his ears, pumping out of the helmet speakers like a wounded animal. Neor's hands grasped at the controls, his mind slipping in and out of consciousness, while the lights of the console board flashed at him.

He looked up, he could see the station beyond the glass of the porthole windows. The main solar sail of the Telescope was destroyed, fragments floating like stars around it in a halo. Beyond, was the eclipse. Luna One and Luna Two engaged in an ominous embrace. Only now, he wasn't so sure of what he was seeing.

The meteors had come out of nowhere and had immediately disabled the Shuttle and the Telescope. They'd lost control instantly and were now caught in a fierce battle to control the ship as it lost its orbit.

His teammates were screaming at each other, Neor got on with what he had to do. When he spoke, his voice was calm. They were going to crash, this much was certain; many of them, if not all of them would die, but he didn't feel afraid. His hands worked on auto-pilot, dancing over the panels, readjusting the pitch as they began to accelerate and switching broken components to auxiliary systems.

In his mind, something had been turned on and now it stuck on all his thoughts like a splinter. He couldn't concentrate on his immediate fate because it no longer felt real.

They were only testing the Telescope, lining it up to face the Eclipse. They'd been focusing the lens when they'd noticed something. An imperfection on the surface of Lunar Two. Highlighted by the intensity of the sun's light, it became clear on the printouts of the first test pictures. It didn't so much suggest the radical as it screamed a terrible oversight.

Luna Two wasn't a moon.

Before him the azure curving horizon of Earth surged towards him, the cockpit began to buckle and tongues of flame flickered over the window as they shot into the atmosphere. The Harmony squealed in his ear along with the cries for help from his co-pilots, but he couldn't hear it any more. The Harmony was beginning to sound like bir-


- - contact with the Shuttle - - believed lost in the Wi - - riots still breaking out acro - - Harmonic Insanity is said to be cause of th - - hearing reports of gunshots across the perimeter wall as people try to es - -

++ We are very sorry, but this broadcast has been suspended until further notice. For further information, please contact your Harmonic Broadcast Provider. We apologise for the inconvenience. ++

Kay stepped into the glass strewn hallway of Jon's apartment. Outside, dawn was edging her way inbetween the buildings, casting long shadowy fingers in the low light. The Emergency Harmony was ringing soothingly throughout the city and pheromones were being pumped out to control the masses. It wasn't working. Last night had seen the worst violence and public disorder in recorded history. Fortunately, the meteor shower had stopped, but the chaos that had been left in its wake was only just beginning.

Across the city, the best and worst of society had scrambled into the city; looters and rescuers crawling over burning craters and the shattered husks of buildings, toppled and felled by the bombardment. She shuddered, hoping against hope that her brother had had the sense to stay indoors. It was a shallow, lonely hope.

She scaled the stairs as nimbly as she could, her legs were weak with fatigue after the long night at Mission Control. Half an hour ago they'd sent half the staff home with orders to come back after six hours rest.

Using the spare key, she let herself into his apartment. It was clear that he wasn't here and hadn't been for a few days. From his windows she could see the devastation across the city, columns of smoke rising up into the red morning sky. She slumped onto the sofa and felt herself slipping into sleep, when she noticed a note on the coffee table with her name on it. Suddenly wide awake, she dove forward and tore it open, within was a letter from Jon, it read...


"Natural History Museum."

Sol turned around, beaming.

"Since when can you read hieroglyphics?" Jon asked, standing up. He was standing with the others in a wide clearing. Around him were the remains of several stone buildings now consumed by the forest. Tentacles of vine and blankets of undergrowth covered what would have once been an incredibly large building, if the broken pillars and staircases were anything to go by.

"What do you think I've been doing for the past months?" Sol asked, gazing up at the columns, stroking the moss-eaten stone. "You're worse than Mother."

Jon didn't reply, before him was evidence of a vast and sophisticated civilisation. Family bickering somehow seemed to pale.

"There's something about these long, wavy symbols. It's strange - to think another people walked here. We think this was the foundation stone." Sol looked down at the stone, clearly excited by what he'd learned. Jon thought for a minute of calling him sweet, but now didn't seem to be the time for that either. "We still don't know what the numbers mean - we have no point of reference to our calender. The whole thing could be a thousand years old or ten thousand. We're pretty certain it's over a thousand, but without access to the city's facilities there's only so much we've been able to find out."

Jon nodded. He looked around at his brother's motley friends. Young, wrapped in simple clothes. Dirty, smelly - very un-Harmonic - and all with an odd glow about them.

He'd survived his brother's driving through the forest to the camp about fifteen miles from the city and hidden deep in the next valley. When they arrived, Jon was fascinated to find the structure of the camp was comparatively recent. They were all living in the shelter of the ancient ruins, but their dwellings were made out of a combination of natural materials and modern camping equipment.

All the people who had ever 'gone missing' were gathered here. Some were researchers who'd been reported lost nearly twenty years ago - most of the camp's people were now Jon's age and younger. They had a second generation - children born totally free of the Harmony.

"We were all lured out with Din and the promise of life beyond the Harmony," Sol explained as they'd entered the camp. "It has taken this much time to break my body's need for it - at first, I fainted and felt weak, but as the weeks went by the dizziness and sickness passed. Now it just sounds like buzzing - like birdsong."

Jon listened to the sound of the birds. Sol was right.

"You're very quiet."

"I'm worried - about Kay and the parents."

Sol looked distant for a moment, "I'd forgotten. How are they?"

"They're fine - as far as I know. Mother never gave up on you. She's still harassing the police about your case. Father concentrated on his work. He's suffered the most, I think. Particularly after the way you and him left things before you disappeared."

"I didn't think he'd care."

Jon gave his younger brother a hard look.

"I know - knew that he cared for us. He just had a funny way of showing it."

"Kay and I had each other. I thought you were dead. I think she did too, in her own way. But she was always the mediator. It's hard to tell what they think."

"Funny how things are easier when you forget - then, when you remember, things don't feel the same." Sol said, kicking his feet. He looked ten years younger all of a sudden. Jon looked away, he wanted his family back. He wanted security and normality and all those boring little things you took for granted.

Sol began to walk off. In the distance, food was being prepared. "I'm not going back there. I can't - I belong here." Sol said. Jon nodded, knowing instinctively that this was the case.

"I have to get back."

"I know." And with that, their agreement was reached. No arguments or squabbles. Just a simple statement of the facts.

Jon looked away and saw dark lines of smoke tracing their way into the sky. Being out of the city was possibly the most exhilarating thing that had ever happened to him. He felt like he should have some connection with the place, but he felt nothing.

"There is something you have to see," Sol said, stepping forward, his voice lowered, "It's not something that Walter and the leaders have shared with the others. But I can persuade them to let you see it."


Dear Kay,

Whatever they've told you about where I've gone is probably a lie. I met with Mr Oule after you left the other day and he offered me another job. I've gone beyond the city wall to search for the missing people.

I left letters with the solicitor to be given to you if I don't return, but you deserve a better explanation than the one they're likely to give you. I'm doing this because I think this is the best way of finding out what happened to Sol. For better or worse I believe his fate is connected with Din and the activity they've been trying to hush up in the lower nests. If I return, it wont be without an answer. All those parties he went to, all those 'heretical' books he read - I believe that they are all connected somehow.

I can't express in a letter how much of a friend you've been to me. More than anyone else you have tried to understand my disability and for that I can't thank you enough. All the problems I had with school, finding work, prejudices - all of it - my ability to cope with it has stemmed directly from you. I hope that in my absence your kindness and compassion will enlighten the world.

With love,


Kay sat back in the chair and shook her head. They were both gone.

A dark, knotted ball of dread swelled inside her and she knew that she would not see him again. Before her she could see her reflection in the window. She saw a rag doll in pinks and reds, smartly attuned to convey sophistication and elegance, but reduced by last night's catastrophe to a shadow of herself. Her make-up was running down her cheeks, her hair dishevelled and she smelled awful. It would have been inconceivable yesterday that she could get to this state - but now, looking beyond her reflection to the devastation outside, it didn't seem to matter.

She stood up, put the letter down and wiped her eyes. Her hands were already dirty, but her make-up marked her hands with black stains. Gathering her things she then departed. Below, she walked out into the morning sunlight, the warmth cutting through the early morning mist.

She looked up, a Police Officer was walking down the street carrying a mobile Harmonic Amplifier. Behind it men, women and children were following, huddled together like a flock.

Someone screamed from down the street - the Officer stopped - she tried giving the Amplifier to one of the crowd but they wouldn't take it, forcing it back on her in fear. Kay stepped forward and took the Amplifier, the Officer smiled briefly before darting off in the direction of the scream.

Kay held the Amplifier high, its diminished song playing out intermittently. Each time the service skipped she saw the crowd flinch. They were shaking from the cold, but more so from the withdrawal from the Harmony. Her mind made up, she started to walk, and the people followed.


The off-road beast tore to a halt, tearing up the earth in clods. Walter and Sol leaped out and Jon followed cautiously. They were deeper in the forest; here, the canopy was thicker and the vines were longer.

"This is it," Sol called back to Jon, who was lagging.

Jon scanned the clearing around him. They were out of the valley and in the hills. If it weren't for the dense forest then he was certain they'd be able to see the sea. The forest seemed to end abruptly with a cliff face consumed by vines, blocking the way before them. Sol and Walter led him up to the wall of green and then stopped.

"When the first ones left the city - that is, the researchers looking into forest life, they travelled extensively in these hills." Walter began as he started to pull down the wall of leaves, "They were looking for natural habitats and animal lairs. They thought they'd found a large animal's den here - a bear or wolf pack. When they dared to look closer though-"

He gave the covering one last yank and the loose rock came away, bringing with it the leaves. Underneath, the wall was dark and smooth, with deep bands of different coloured rocks all polished flat. Into it were chipped long and elegant hieroglyphics.

"I recognise these." Jon stepped forward, blinking. They were the same letters he'd found in the cave below the mine. Walter and Sol turned to look at him.

"Where?" Walter asked, sharply.

"In the veins of a mine," Jon explained, Walter looked blank, "I investigate rogue sounds and elements that upset the Harmony. I went down into the mine to sort out an 'Harmonic Discrepancy'."

Jon stroked the surface of the stone. Walter continued to stare at him intently. "Do you mean to say you're a Clash Man? You're Tonedeaf?"

Jon nodded, "Yes. Why?"

"Come with me." Walter said decisively and walked off. Jon looked to Sol, but his brother was watching Walter. They followed.

"When they found this place they immediately started to explore, take notes, pictures - anything to record such an historic discovery." Walter continued as he walked. "No such discovery was ever reported however, because they never returned to the city. They stalled for time and pleaded to stay out longer and longer working on translating the text, desperate to record as much as they could. That's when the accidents started to happen.

"Amplifiers broke, equipment malfunctioned and the whole expedition began to fall apart. they were stranded in the Wilderness, with no way of reaching the City without going out of range of the Harmony. The survivors don't talk about those months much. Suffice it to say they refined a technique for easing people off the Harmony. By this time they'd translated much of the text and, based on their new-found independence and the writings they discovered, they decided to never go back to the City."

Walter led them to a square hole in the wall, a tunnel that led into the darkness. There was a high pitched whine whistling through on the wind, it throbbed like it was alive.

"It sounds like the Harmony." Jon said.

The other two nodded. Walter led them into the tunnel and guided them through the darkness, but it was hardly needed, the sound seemed to guide them. Immediately the Harmonic parody began to give Jon a headache.

"That wall is a record of history. Since the dawn of time until now. Or at least it should be." Walter continued, his voice cutting against the Harmony like flint on steel, "We worked out the time line and it matched our calendar perfectly. It tells of a time when a person who could resist the Great Lullaby would arise from the City and deliver the people unto the Gods. The Gods, according to the wall are great deified birds, which is obviously in keeping with our history and legends. The time of this 'hero' would be marked by the heavens opening with fire and stone - a rain of punishment and chaos, as it is described by the wall - or to give it its full name, The Rain of Fire."

"I've heard that somewhere." Jon muttered.

Sol continued the story, "It was when the Rain began. Arthur let it slip. A theory was formed when the translation was completed, one that wasn't proved right until the Rain actually happened. You see, the time line on the wall matches our calender perfectly - but the ruins near the camp have absolutely no connection to this language or our calender. At first we thought they were two separate civilisations from two different times - but the ruins near the camp predate the wall. Which would make it predate known history and our calendar, which would make a degree of sense. If it weren't for a tiny little detail."

Jon stopped him, "By how much?"

"By at least a thousand years." Sol replied, his voice quiet, "We've tried to establish a connection between them but there simply isn't. We've tried connecting the dots, but they just aren't there - the Wall is younger, far younger than the ruins near the camp. But not only that, the Rain of Fire and the emergence of the 'hero' aren't meant to happen for another hundred years."

The wind picked up, sending a ghastly howl down the dark tunnel. Icicles seemed to form along Jon's spine. A splinter of light appeared at the end of the tunnel and grew until it blinded them. Jon followed the others out into the sunlight.

When his eyes adjusted he blinked - below was the next valley, sweeping out before him. Dotted in amongst the trees were ruins, tall pyramids of stone, crumbling at the sides.

"Wow." Jon muttered.

Sol tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around. Behind him, the other side of the wall was apparent - it was another pyramid. They'd emerged in its ruined belly, all the while the wind whistled down through the cross section of passageways.

"What's that?" He asked, squinting upwards. The other two didn't answer.

A metal frame seemed to be running through the pyramid, a skeleton of black iron. It was strange, he felt like he'd seen them before.

He turned around - it was the same on all of the pyramids, they all seemed to look half-finished.

"How old did you say these were?" Jon asked.

"Well according to the writings, a thousand years old. But according to the same device that measured the ruins near the camp, not even a hundred." Walter replied. Jon felt dizzy.

"Why? - I don't understand-"

"A lie?" Sol said, grinding a toe into the dust, "A fiction? How long has our glorious City been around? Five, six generations? Hardly that. What happened before? Why haven't we left the cities? Why is our architecture designed around birds?"

Jon waved his hands - this was too much. "And we were meant to what? Discover it in a hundred years? Then why now?"

Jon looked to Sol, but his brother was looking down at the ground, flushed. Walter however was staring at Jon, his eyes bright and intent.

"Because Din walks among us."


"The name of the 'hero', the one who can resist the Great Lullaby, is Din. It implies a someone who is Tonedeaf, don't you think?" Walter replied. "Or so the lying wall tells us."

Jon suddenly remembered to breath and life seemed to come flooding back to him.

A sound came from behind, a movement in the grass. Jon turned and saw a great white Bear standing behind him, a bright shining face, carrying another one close to its chest.

He scrambled back as the thing approached like a demon.

From a distance the bear revealed itself to be an astronaut, the white Bear's giant body transformed into skin and a helmet. The figure struggled with the other astronaut in its arms before falling to its knees. Jon, Walter and Sol rushed forward to catch it, and ended up being pulled down too.

Air was escaping from a crack in the visor of the walker. The other's helmet was already smashed. Within was a woman's face.

Walter reached in and checked her pulse quickly. "Help me move her." He said. Jon and Sol dragged her from the walker's arms and laid her out on the ground. The Amplifiers in the woman's helmet were smashed. All they could hear was static.

"She's probably gone into shock." Walter muttered, removing the helmet. Suddenly the other astronaut surged forwards to stop him. Jon and Sol held the figure back, all the strength expended from it in the struggle.

The visor's reflective mask shimmered and changed revealing a drawn, middle-aged man within. His eyes were wide and vacant, his expression desperate. He was screaming at them. Jon and Sol held him as he shook their arms and pleaded with them, but he was losing consciousness. In a staggered slump he too fell to the ground, dead to the world.

As Walter tore at the fabric of the space suits, Sol scarmbled to his feet and walked backwards.

"Sol - I could use your help - Sol?" Walter spat.

"And the Pilot will appear, dressed in white, and bearing in his arms the mother of humanity's future." Sol muttered, pointing at the comatose astronauts.

Jon, frowned and stared at his brother. "Another pearl of wisdom from the lying wall?"

Sol nodded.

"Come on - help us." Jon barked, his mind racing ahead of him. Sol meekly joined them on the ground and proceeded to lose himself in the work.

While they stretchered the unconscious astronauts back to the beast, Jon bit his tongue and thought. All his worst fears seemed to be coming true. He'd always wondered whether he was truly able, while everyone else was disabled. Looking down at the limp figures between them, it certainly felt that way.

As they tore off back towards the camp, the sun set behind them, beams of light fractured through the fake ruins and highlighting the wiry hieroglyphics. Jon watched as they faded out of sight.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Tonedeaf: Part 2

And now this evening's headlines: After evidence of a pre-historic civilisation was found in Mineral Mine X2 by local Clash Investigator Jon Card, major archaeological initiatives are said to be underway to document and record the discovery, however, Aves Passer from the museum of natural history has spoken of the difficulties of operating in such a hostile environment. Organisers of the bi-lunar eclipse party in Avian Square are promising the largest firework display ever seen, the light show may be seen and heard as far away as Avian 3. The orbital mission to repair the BBL Telescope is in its fourth day and repairs are said to be going well, the Telescope should be ready in time for the Eclipse on the weekend. A raid was carried out on a rave last night in the lower nests. Believed to be in connection with the illegal stimulant Din, several organisers were arrested and two known drug dealers are now in custody. Police have issued missing reports for several youths who have not been seen since the rave. The weather today will be bright again with humidity rising throughout the day, Global Harmony will be strong today with reports of over thirty decibels. Thank you for liste----

Kay knocked on the door to her brother's office and sat down opposite him, his earphones were in and his eyes were closed. After a while he opened his eyes and smiled, not in the least bit surprised or worried that someone had walked into his office.

"What brings you here?" He asked, pulling out his earphones.

"Mum wanted me to drop these off," She passed a folder across the table. Jon sighed.

"She couldn't face coming to see me herself then?"

Kay smiled forcefully, "Well it's not like you've got the courage to see her either." Jon nodded, opening the folder and pulling out photographs, he slid them onto the table - the face of a bright seventeen year old in a formal school uniform. "She wants you to look over the whole thing again and see if there's anything you can do."

"The Screech couldn't find anything - how she expects me to find something, I don't know." He shook his head sadly.

"I think she saw your moment of fame on the Harmony and had a flash of hope. If you can find evidence of a lost civilisation then maybe you could find your baby brother." Kay shrugged.

"You know where I stand on this." Jon replied quietly.

"I know. Just indulge her." Kay said, "Look, I have to go. See you soon."

She gathered her things and left quietly, leaving Jon pondering over the clinical print-offs describing his brother. 'Tall for his age, a wide smile and sparrow's eyes.' Read one description. Further down, 'possibly heretical thoughts. May have taken Din. Dealer?'. Jon tossed the pages onto the table and exhaled sharply. Fascist Screech bastards, the thought, cathartically.

"Am I disturbing you?"

Mr Oule was standing in the doorway. Jon stood up and extended his hand. Oule strode across the room and shook it eagerly. Jon smiled.

"You washed your hands."

"Yes, a small concession I'm afraid. I contemplated wearing mis-matching clothes and leaving the cologne, but..." He shuddered.

"I appreciate the gesture, thank you." Jon said, "Now, what can I do for you?"

"Well, mostly I'd like to congratulate you on your discovery. We didn't get much time to talk. My people settled your fee, with a little extra."

"Thank you - you're too generous."

"Not at all - we owe you Mr Card. In fact, we have another task for you. Now that we understand the extent of your talents, there's a small task that we'd like you to attend to." Mr Oule was watching Jon, gauging his reactions. "You're aware of the recent disappearances and murders that have crippled the lower nests. There's been little coverage of it on the Harmony, you understand that we're trying to keep the noise on this down to a minimum. If the public were aware of our suspicions there would be mass panic." He paused.

"You've also heard of the designer narcotic "Din", yes?" Jon nodded, "Good. We believe that this drug is coming into the city from the Wilderness."

Jon nodded again.

"You understand the significance of this?" Oule asked with a note of uncertainty, as if Jon had misheard him.

"Of course, it implies that there are people living beyond the city, in the Silence. It's not totally beyond comprehension." Jon replied.

"Yes - I suppose, to you it might be different."

"I know."

"Well, my department was wondering whether you'd be able to assist in the investigation."

"By going beyond the wall to find out whether or not there are people supplying the city with Din."

"Yes, partly, but we're also concerned about the reports of missing people. We'd like you to explore deep into the Wilderness to ascertain whether or not people are escaping the city, or being aided to escape."

Jon looked down at the pictures on the desk. His brother smiled back at him.

"I'll do it."


That night Jon wrote two letters and left them with his solicitor with instructions to deliver them to his parents and his sister should something happen. At midnight he met Mr Oule outside and got into his car. He'd packed a few odd things, but Wilderness survival was something that no one had considered before, so it was difficult to ordain what might be needed. Luckily, Mr Oule had prepared something for him.

"We're meeting some people from another department at the site to finalise your prep, then, with any luck you'll be released into the Wilderness."

"Where exactly are we going?"

"There are warehouses that run flush with the perimeter wall which belong to the government. If there are people escaping the city then we don't know how they are doing it. It was assumed a long time ago that no one would actively wish to leave the city - so there have never been armed guards along the perimeter, just a friendly watchman who could shy away the morbidly curious. But these days..."

Jon had heard the conspiracy theories about the government hiding things beyond the wall; the fact that no one could survive without the Harmony was a lie to control the masses. The Harmony itself was alive with such nonsense in certain circles. Jon knew that with a population of just over three million people there was only so 'secret' the government could get.

The means of getting to the warehouse proved to be extensive. They had to check in at several different checkpoints and verify themselves time and again of their identities. Finally they were ushered to a series of long buildings that ran against the fifty foot concrete wall. Dotted around were Harmonic Amplifiers which enhanced the broadcast - there was a fear that the Silence would interfere with the Harmony and drive the people working on the wall mad.

In the distance, the city glowed. Its high feather-like sky-scrapers stroking the sky, the domed, egg-shaped flats and apartments filling in all the spaces around them. Jon shuddered and turned away to face the cold, imposing wall.

Inside the warehouse a team of men and women were preparing a vehicle for him. It was an open top, roll-caged monstrosity that looked more like a feral animal from an illustration than a vehicle. They were busy piecing together the last of his equipment. The team all shook Jon heartily by the hand, they, if anything appeared more nervous than he was. After a brief period of instruction it was decided that Jon would leave through a purpose built driveway that led out under the wall and into the Wilderness. The soft hum of the nighttime Harmonic broadcast was meant to be soothing, and certainly the others found it a small comfort, but Jon found the high pitched buzzing distracting. At the appointed hour he was ushered out of the hangar-like warehouse, the engines of the off road beast filling the air with raw sound; down the ramp, into a short tunnel that led under the wall and out towards the Wild beyond.


Six months ago...

Day One:

Sol's eyes burst open and for a moment he thought he was blind. Around him he heard the indistinct sound of the Harmony. Several times, he flinched at the echoes and imperfections in the broadcast. It was as if he was hearing it from far away, then again, it might just be the hangover from the Din.

He didn't recognise his surroundings. He was in a dark, low ceilinged room with a dirt floor and, what looked like straw walls. He sat up quickly and all the blood rushed to his head. He was sitting on a bed, but around it in a circle were four poles dug into the ground, each supported a small Harmonic Amplifier. They were old, so old, they didn't even give off pheromones.

Suddenly, a door opened in the wall - a tall man walked in, dressed in overalls. His skin was bronze and his eyes dark. He was holding a plate of food. Purposefully, the man put the food down on the floor and smiled, he then walked out of the room without a word.

Sol stood up and went to walk beyond the boundary of the Harmony then stopped...

What would happen? Would it extend beyond the bed? He frowned, the Harmony is an exaggeration, he thought without much conviction, even my dullard of a brother can survive without it. But as he stepped beyond the circle he began to get dizzy, his head fuzzed up and the lack of stimulation in his ears threatened to topple him.

Determined, scared and starving he pressed on - -

Day Three:

Sol's eyes opened. He was back in the low, straw room. He felt awful; his stomach was crying out for food and his mind crying out for the Harmony, which was becoming ever more indistinct. He looked around the room - the first thing he noticed was the the circle of Amplifiers had widened, but the sounds and sensations were more quiet. For the first time in his life Sol began to grasp how the Harmony had to be maintained and how much he had taken it for granted.

The door opened again, the tall man in overalls was back. This time he was holding a flask. He tossed it into the circle and Sol dove on it instantly.

"I'd sip if I were you," the man said, his accent indistinct, "The Din has left you weak."

Sol looked up.

"Where am I?"

"If I told you that, you might believe me and you might not - it all depends on how well adjusted you are."

Sol thought back over the past few months, the disappearances, the murders and the raves. All tied in with Din - or so the authorities wanted everyone to think.

"There is a story, from something I like to call the Old World, which tells of a man who played a very sweet music. He was employed by the folk to rid their poor town of rats. They promised to pay him a large sum of money, so he played his music and drew the rats away to a river where they drowned. However, the people went back on their promise and refused to pay him - angry and vengeful the piper returned to the village and played a different tune, this one lured all the children away, never to be seen again."

Sol looked down.

"I'm not in the City, am I?"

The man smiled.

"No. You are not."

Sol took a deep breath and began to see the completeness of his capture, the walls of his prison weren't built like the walls of the city, they were built with ideas and fear. He wrung his hands around the neck of the flask.

"Where is everyone else? The other people you've kidnapped?"

"They aren't kidnapped. They are free."

Day Seven:

Sol found that he could move the Amplifiers around. By doing so he could move around the room and stretch his legs. If he moved them too far then he'd start to feel faint, but it meant he could walk around as far as they would extend. Unfortunately they didn't extend as far as the door. On the seventh day the man in overalls was surprised when he walked in with Sol's breakfast to find him standing almost in front of it.

"Good morning," Sol said.

"Ah, I see you've figured out how to manipulate our little cage."

"How can I be free if I am caged?" Sol asked, he was beginning to enjoy the conversations with the tall bronze man.

"A good question. Do you want us to take away the Amplifiers?" Sol looked away. "We didn't make the walls of your little prison."

"They don't work very well." Sol muttered, kicking the stem of the amplifier. The Harmony buzzed with static.

The man considered this, "They are old, yes, but have you thought about how we might be trying to ween you off the Harmony?"

"Yes, but at the same time you're keeping me drugged. I know what Din tastes like." He kicked one of his old plates across the dirt to the man's feet.

"Your addiction to the Din is a necessary step in the process of removing you from the city. We will also ween you off that eventually, but for now it aids in the readjustment of your perception."

The man looked up to the ceiling, adjusted a pair of protective ear covers over his ears and nodded - suddenly the Harmony became louder and louder, roaring out of the speakers until the Sol was forced to the floor with the volume, his hands covering his ears in pain.

After the Harmony receded, the man pulled off his ear muffs and Sol looked up from the floor.

"I never knew," he managed to utter, shakily.

"Knew what?"

"My brother - he has lived with constant ringing in his ears, headaches, rashes. But I never knew what it felt like." His hands were shaking and his mind felt like it had been cooked.

The man smiled, "All I hear these days is the twittering and chirping - like birdsong."


"Yes, you will hear it too. My name was Harpia, when I lived in the city. Now my name is Walter." The man in overalls introduced himself, offering his hand in aid. Sol took it and stood up.

There was a pause.



Midday - Day of the Lunar Eclipse.

Kay was staring at the screen of read-outs, the Harmony was whispering its commentary in her ears and through her finger tips.

She was looking at an image of the Shuttle docked to the BBL Telescope. Beyond, she could see the Luna 1, the closest moon to Earth, beyond, its orbit shadowing the first was Luna 2. She shuddered. In space, there was no Harmony - it was just another Wilderness. Somehow, that excited her.

To most of her colleagues, the space programme was a scientific oddity. The most radical of them spoke of extending the Global Harmony beyond that of the major cities using satellites. They dreamed of re-taming the Wilderness through space travel. Pipe dreams, for the most part, their ideas were beyond the realms of modern technology, science fiction fodder.

"The second solar panel arm is repaired," A voice spoke over the Harmony from the Shuttle. It was Neor Nithes speaking, the leader of the mission. One of Avian 1's famous faces, it was he who went up on the famous space flights in the twenties, ten years on he was one of the City's greatest living assets.

"Received Captain Nithes - you may begin the first test pictures."

"Understood Mission Control."

Gallie, one of Kay's colleagues leaned in closer to her from another console.

"So, what are you wearing to the Party?"

"Haven't decided - I was thinking of trying a variation on the Elation Harmony."

"I'm going with Up! - it promises to keep you and those around you high for six hours."

Kay looked away, wondering what her brother was up to - they hadn't spoken in a couple of days and he hadn't returned any of her calls. This wasn't anything new though.

"Is your brother coming?" Gallie asked, like everyone else since his discovery she was keen to meet the flavour of the moment. Kay was glad that the buzz on the Harmony mostly went over his head.

"I doubt it, he isn't really the party type. Although, if we could get him some Din then he might join."

"Don't joke about that stuff - I heard it makes your hair fall out. Besides, think of all those murderous raves." Gallie shuddered and Kay frowned. "No, he's better off without that stuff, even if he is Tonedeaf."

Kay was about to make a sharp comment when an alarm began to cry out over the Harmony. She looked down at her console - there was static coming from the Amplifiers and her screen was blank.

"We've lost contact with the Shuttle!" Came a cry from across the Mission Control hall. There was a palpable gasp that echoed across the Harmony. Kay's heart turned to ice.

It was then that the explosions started.


On a hill overlooking Avian 1 Jon's off road beast ground to a halt. The jolting monstrosity was beginning to make him feel ill; parking on the edge of a clearing, he decided to take a rest.

There was a continuous stream of Harmony coming from the truck, but Jon was more interested in sampling the Silence he'd been promised. Grabbing some field rations he began to wade through the undergrowth, out of the shade and into the fading evening light. He'd been out for three days and sleeping, sitting, eating and living in the truck was driving him mad. So far he'd found nothing, and for want of conversation and company, not to mention the sore rear, he decided to claim some downtime.

The city looked incredible from the hill. He'd always wondered what it would look like from afar, though he'd never imagined it looking so small. The forest and landscape beyond looked as though it was pushing the city out into the sea.

He looked down at his watch. The Eclipse should be starting soon, he thought.


It was a strange thing; mostly, because it wasn't that silent. There was the constant sound of buzzing, chirping and general chatter from the animal life that plagued the Wilderness. It was irritating, far more than he expected it to be because it just sounded like the Harmony. All chirps and twitters.

The bird life he'd come across were by far the loudest and prominent of the animals. He watched them move and thought of the architecture of the city - it did look like one big nest. Briefly, he wondered who'd actually decided to design the city around this one idea -

He turned suddenly - there were three figures standing in the high grass. They were masked and dressed in strange cloaks. They were poised, waiting to attack when there came a cry from one of them.


The stranger pulled off his hood to reveal a bronzed face - it was longer than Jon remembered, the hair dustier and longer, but it was still Sol.

"Hello brother," Sol said confidently, striding forward and clasping him by the shoulder in a hug. Dimly Jon noticed that his brother was now taller than him. He laughed.

"I thought you were dead."

"I know..." Sol replied, his face wide for grinning, "I'd hoped you'd find me. If anyone could - I knew it would be you."

Sol was quieter, more reserved. His gait was disciplined, unlike the slouchy adolescent he'd known. The days of rebellious Din parties were clearly over. His little brother had become a man.

In the distance came a roll of thunder. They looked into the distance and saw smoke coming from Avian 1.

"The city..."

In the evening light the city was burning - the sky above was streaked with lines of smoke tearing towards the city. A moment later and it was clear, balls of flame were thundering through the sky and hitting the city in waves.

"The Rain of Fire!" One of the strangers gasped. Sol was watching the display intently. Out at sea and across the Wilderness too, balls of burning rock were peppering the landscape.

"Meteors," Sol said gravely, "Come on Jon, we have to go."

"What's happening?"

"I'll explain later. We have to get underground. Quickly. How fast is that truck?"

"Fast enough. But the undergrowth is too thick-"

"Don't worry, I'll drive."

They ran from the clearing as the Eclipse began - the sky dimming slightly as Luna 1 passed ominusly in front of its sister Luna 2.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Tonedeaf: Part 1

In the News this morning - Preparations for the Bi-lunar eclipse are underway in Avian Square this week and organisers are promising the party of the century; the investigation into the anti-Harmonic drug Din and its connection to a spate of murders in the lower nests has run dry according to senior Police officials, they are now pursuing 'other avenues'; the Orbital mission to repair the BBL Telescope is in its second day and a spokesman for the programme told us that everything was going well. In the weather today, skies will be clear with a chance of showers in the late afternoon; Global Harmonics will be below twenty-five decibels throughout the day, with a slight increase in the Nasal Count, from three to five at midday. Thank you for liteni - - -

Kay looked up from her notes and around the cafe - he was coming. She could feel the waves of disapproval wafting her way. Then she saw him. She leaped across the cafe and banged the window, waving like a lunatic until her brother finally noticed. Typically, his white headphones were dangling from his ears and around his neck like noose. He turned to her and smiled, waving like they were the only two there, casually unaware of the stares and frowns they were receiving from the cafe's patrons.

Only when he sat down from her did he pull out the earphones, she watched his smile falter as his ears grew accustomed to the noise beyond his private world. She pushed over a small mug of coffee and swept aside her work. He was looking ill again, his clothes ragged and unwashed, his face unshaven and eyes glassy. He nodded his thanks for the coffee and took a sip. Her hand moved across the table to his and squeezed.

"How's business?" She asked, casually.

He smiled, "Awful. As ever, but the ongoing mysteries keep me going. Creaks under the floorboards and whistling drafts - you know, the ones that take weeks to find."

She nodded, "And you?"

"I'm good." He lied, smiling. He looked across at her spread of paperwork, the colours on the different sheets, the pheromones they were giving off. Already the noise around him was giving him a headache. He took out some pills and washed them down with coffee, burning his tongue.

Kay was looking smart, dressed in one of her tailored suits, her make-up and perfume were sending him confusing signals - in anyone else the overall effect would, no doubt, have conveyed elegance, beauty and professionalism.

"How are the parents?" He asked.

"They're fine, wondering when you're going to sum up the courage to call them." Kay replied.

He nodded, and changed the subject. "You look good. I can't quite tell what the Harmony is trying to tell me, but I assume it's something nice."

"'Chirpy'," She replied, blushing, "Someone at work suggested I combine my perfume with a different shampoo and change the tone of my clothes."


She nodded, sipping her coffee, avoiding his gaze.

"And how is the Space Agency? Still with its head in the stars?"

"Haha," She replied glibly, "It's going well - the mission is underway, safe and sound."

"Working late again?"

"We both work late, so you can't throw that one at me."

They were silent for a time. Jon was beginning to attract attention. His inability to Harmonize his appearance always put him at odds with his surroundings. People were turning away from him, staring in disgust or pity and generally conveying their annoyance by signals he simply couldn't pick up. Kay, on the other hand, was wriggling uncomfortably as the inevitable waiter crossed the floor, shoulders raised in preparation.

"Well, it was fun while it lasted." Jon said, finally noticing the waiter. Kay crossed the name of a cafe off on a list she kept in her diary. "Where are we meeting next week?"

"The Bird Flew - it's on the other side of the Branch." She replied, gathering her things together. Their coats were on before the waiter arrived and the odd couple left the cafe, arms linked and smiling.


Jon waved goodbye to his sister and immediately put his earphones back in. He smiled as the music drowned out the sounds around him and the threat of a headache receded. It was time for some work, he decided, or at least, time to pretend there was some work to do. He began to walk back towards the office, his legs on auto-pilot and his mind drifting away to wherever the music took him. These were his favourite moments of the day, the mechanical process of getting from A to B transformed into a journey into the unknown.

The white lettering on his door read 'Jon Card, Clash Investigator', the man who'd installed the letters had told him that anyone passing would get a strong sense of relief and satisfaction from reading the words. Jon had nodded, grateful but guessing it would probably make his eyes water.

He opened the door, pushing the pile of letters across the floor and into the corner, to be ignored and opened at a later date. The office was an absolute mess - papers strewn everywhere, old clothes piled head height on chairs and sofas, decaying food clinging to forgotten plates and crockery. Jon smiled - next to the ordered world around him, this was paradise.

A man sat up from one of the chairs in front of Jon's desk and turned to face him. He was tall, smartly attired in a long black coat and had a perfectly crafted face - long nose, yellowing eyes and hair slicked back and feathered. In short, he was Jon's exact opposite.

"Mr Card," the man offered his hand in greeting, "How nice to finally meet you."

Jon shook the man's hand - he was wearing a greeting pheromone, his hand started to tingle.

"I'm so sorry - I meant to wash my hands before coming."

"It's fine," Jon replied, "It tickles."

The man was gleefully excited, he cast a look around the office, "May I congratulate you on your office - it's sublimely awful. It's almost as if you'd designed it to be intolerable - I can barely keep my dinner down. Your reputation as the best Clash Investigator in town is well deserved."

"Thank you." Jon replied, not sure whether to be insulted or complimented, yet another difficulty his condition left him with - the struggle to read emotion.

"I'll get to the point Mr card, I'm sure you're a very busy man, (may I call you Jon?) - I'm here with a request from the government. I work with the department of complaints and we have a particular difficulty which needs a professional's attention."

Jon gestured for the guest to sit down as he waded around his desk, undoing his coat.

"We've had reports of an incident in the Mine near the perimeter wall - the one which supplies the city with its basic minerals. Apparently, there have been reports of a disturbance deep within the lower shafts, beyond the range of the mechanised equipment. Obviously it'd be impossible, what with all the noise that the machines make, for someone apart from yourself to investigate the matter. We're willing to pay quite handsomely."

Jon sat down, the earnest man's owl-like eyes regarding him with warmth and anticipation. "Why not?"


The industrial areas of the city were built in such a way that they didn't interfere with the Harmony. Even one loose noise, or interfering smell could upset an entire neighbourhood so, precautions were made to keep the factories and mines as enclosed and separate as possible. The young man from the government, whose name was Oule, drove Jon out along the outer Branch and into the Industrial Zone.

Mr Oule parked the car and they got out, the government man walked towards the main office with Jon hanging back. Oule emerged from the office with a young woman around Jon's age, wearing overalls and a hard hat. She walked over and shook his hand, her smile faltering slightly at his appearance. "My name's Teos - you must be the Clash Man."

"I prefer Clash Investigator," Jon replied, Teos looked away sheepishly but Mr Oule laughed, clapping him on the back. Jon failed to see the humour as did Teos, they shared a look of mutual bewilderment, an unusual occurrence for Jon who was usually on the receiving end.

Mr Oule left them, preferring to take care of other business, he promised to return in a couple of hours.

"So, how long have you been a Clash Investigator, Mr Card?"

"Going on five years."

"And do you enjoy it?"

"After a fashion - there are not many things people like me can do."

"People like you?"

"I'm Tonedeaf."

"Oh." Teos looked away, blushing furiously, "I'm so sorry - I didn't mean to intrude, I thought that Clash Investigators were born with an immunity."

Jon shook his head. "Anyway - what exactly is wrong with your mine?"

Teos led Jon into the office. Before them, laid out in a holographic image was a cross-section of the Mine. The colours and twittering sounds made Jon wince. Teos began calling up different windows.

"I noticed it about a week ago - in the lower shafts, there was a sharp note coming from the processing centre on that level. I thought I was hearing things for a while but it became obvious that something was wrong. Look." She showed him some graphs and figures. The pitch was fluttering into the red in several places.

He nodded. "Okay, I'll take a look."


Jon stood in the maintenance shaft elevator, its reinforced walls designed to be totally sound-proof, but they weren't much use against the cacophony coming from below. Jon smiled, this kind of noise he could deal with - there was something quite soothing about natural, everyday sounds. Teos had politely declined to come with him, Jon knew that there was no way she could come down here, the lack of Harmony would send her into shock.

Tonedeaf. The word rolled in his mouth like a curse, he rarely had to say it out loud because normally people would guess, but sometimes someone would have to be reminded. Luckily, he'd never really thought of it as a disability, it was just something you had to live around. He remembered his sister telling him that it wasn't the disabled person who had problems with the disability - it was the able who had to truly learn to cope.

The elevator ground to a halt and a red light flashed. 'Ensure your ears are protected.' The warning above the door told him. He ignored it and opened the doors. The noise that greeted him was incredible - a vast chamber of mechanically carved stone was filled floor to ceiling with incredible machines, all automated down to the repair units scattered around, so that potentially a human being would never have to set foot down here. He was truly alone, Jon thought, in a place that no one else would dear to tread.

The map Teos had given him led him down a series of carefully mined tunnels, following a network of conveyor belts and strategically placed mining units, drilling away at the polished walls.

He could hear distinctly the high pitched sound above the din, and on a Harmonic Display in his hand he watched as the readings bounced increasingly into the red. He was getting closer.

At the end of the current branch of tunnels he came to a stop. There, before him were three new branches that had been cut but hadn't been installed with belts and mining units yet. It was down the longest of these that the alien sound was coming. Carefully he began to walk down the tunnel, following the wall in the gloom with his hand. Before long there was only the light of the Harmonic Display to light his way.

At the end of the tunnel he found a small chink of light, it was here that the sound became clear - it was the whistle of wind coming from a chamber beyond this wall. Carefully, he peered into the gap and squinted. The chamber was tall and indistinct, the shadows marked out strange shapes but this was nothing next to the smell - it was unlike anything he had ever smelled before. Earthy, smokey and wholly alien to the Harmonic balance - anyone else would gag and pass out.

Suddenly the wall seemed to move, he stepped away and watched as the hole became bigger, the stone falling away and opening to reveal the chamber beyond. The Harmonic Display whined its disapproval, flashing danger signs at him and giving off a stimulant pheromone. He dropped it in the dirt and crouched down through the hole into the room beyond.

The light was coming from a distant hole in the ceiling. A shiver ran through him as he imagined that he was beyond the limits of the city. Above him was the Wasteland, a forbidden land of absolute silence where people feared to tread. The thought was exciting - would it be possible for him to venture beyond, where no one else could tread?

Another stone moved behind him and Jon was brought back from his reverie to the chamber. On closer inspection the irregular shaped walls channelled the draft from above creating a spectrum of different sounds. He laughed - it was an incredible feeling, to hear a totally natural sound, not one that had been crafted to appeal to the human being's higher senses. He leaned in and looked at the rock formations, it was then that he noticed that the shape of the stone wasn't entirely natural. He brushed away the loose stone and squinted - ancient words, carved into the walls with crude tools, below the lines of text were images - men, tools and enormous winged creatures. The men were bent in supplication to the moons and the skies were full of giant birds.
Jon's heart began to beat faster and faster - this was incredible - he'd found evidence of an ancient civilisation. He laughed, the sound bouncing off the walls, rising in an echo higher and higher until it sounded indistinguishable from the raucous cry of an eagle.


Later, armed with pictures and an incredible story, Jon stood before the Harmonic cameras, telling the entire city of what he'd found. Overnight he became the centre of attention - suddenly everyone wanted to know about the Tonedeaf misfit and his historic discovery.

Deep in the chamber, the wind whistled down the rock face to the floor below and out into the mine. The wall, with its story, written in an unintelligible writing stood patiently waiting the return of the people, armed with their learning to decipher its secrets.

In the dark recesses of the cave, something moved. Jon's discarded Harmonic Display peaked again - the pattern changing as the sound grew louder. Into the light a pearly blue object rolled out from the darkness. Its uneven surface shimmered in the soft light -the pattern cracked, splitting into fragments as it moved. A new sound emerged, one that the Harmonic Display simply couldn't read - its cry was soft and even, like water over stone - the Display changed, the red spikes diminished and softened until the hard line of equilibrium was restored. All other sounds were gone - the wind and clamour of the Mine diminished until there was only the gentle, rhythmic song from the egg.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Once upon a weary wasteland there lived a hermit. Amidst clouds of swirling dust and sand sat his shack. Erected under the eave of an obliging outcrop of stone, he was relatively sheltered from the storms which ravaged the plains around his home.

Nibbled at by decay's ceaseless gastric enterprise, his shack is seen to be constructed of corrugated iron, mostly, with wings and addendums of wood, plasterboard and lost scraps of material gathered from the wasteland. Within, he keeps his precious things; thimbles, kisses, lightbulbs, soil samples, SIM cards, iron keys, compliment slips, flower pressings, initialed handkerchiefs, things called Flash Drives and pages of ancient texts bound together in leather leaves. It is in this 'book', which he treasures above all other things, that he collects his stories, written in a thousand languages and found amongst the dunes, under rocks, in caves and sitting on velvet cushions in many a mirage.

He sits, back cramped and eyes squeezed into focus under the inconsistent light of a gas burner. He undoes the willow twine from around his hallowed tome, peels away the protective leaves of ancient skin and pours over the forgotten words, the woven patterns of consciousness wrought in ancient inks and committed to the precious paper to be remembered forever. He smiles his crooked, rotten smile and loses himself in the words, slipping away to a time and place that may never have existed, to spend time with people who may never have lived, doing things that might never have happened...