Angel in the Maze
Author: 3jane

Chapter 12
Chemin-de-fer

The Order grows. Nothing can stop it, it’s the government now, the state and the church all in one. They take over factory after factory, the new laws oust the corrupt Industrialist Front from the big plants. Thom Petiole leaves for Scripsar and everything implodes from there. People are left without jobs, but Mihan and the Propagandists churn out the rumour that it’s the fault of the IF and not the government, for failing to comply with new laws that meant they had to leave. The unemployed flock to the new worker-hungry Architect factories and plants. Hundreds join the in-house factory at Architect HQ, the warehouse where it all happens. It’s a hive of activity, that place; all day and all night the Architect society-machine turns out its goods. Nagy and Ramir embark on a huge programme of civic and industrial renewal which is so radical and so successful that anyone coming home to Northbridge from a year elsewhere wouldn’t recognise a thing when they got back. The city is one giant construction site. Buildings spring up everywhere, not brick but concrete, tall in the Core but lower and squarer as they move out towards the suburbs. Huge areas of run-down terraced housing has been kicked down and replaced with these utilitarian blocks. Tall posts are going up, all over the place, and they have wires and cables attached to them which supply these new houses with electricity. A lot of the rich houses in Fourth Ward have been cleared to make room for a huge new power station to feed the hungry, fledgling technopolis.

There are teams of grey-clad Architect engineers everywhere, digging up the road or measuring complex transects or assembling tall metal ducts full of wires and water and pneumatised air; the finished areas are forests of silver tubing, some thin as a finger, some thick and round as a tree on its side. It’s a city gone mad; everyone, everywhere, has suddenly decided that this new work is the thing they care about most. All day and night there are people running around building things or beavering away in labs on all kinds of strange inventions, everyone struck by the same technophilia. The whole lazy, laid-back, relaxed Northbridge culture has been overtaken by this scurrying, industrious, driven ant-farm and it’s insane, it’s like a revolution has taken place without anyone knowing. Subconsciously, Northbridgers have been aching for good hard work for decades and this is it, it’s finally here and the atmosphere is absolutely electric. The new park, a huge area of space near the river, is dead flat, with grass frozen in neat, just-clipped state no matter what weather it is. There are no trees save those near the river but it’s festooned with floodlights and over it all the ducts arch sinuously. It’s packed out every evening now the days are long and warm, with happy new Architect workers fresh out of the factories. The dying sun glints off steel and soaks into concrete under a blazing sky pierced by the tall chimneys and posts of the city roofscape, and it’s just like on the posters of the prescient Propagandists: the vision of the future.

How tightly Northbridge embraces its new existence! The mentality of a whole culture is changed by the words and the works of one man, Ramir, the most loved and feared person in the whole of Northbridge. Out goes the old, slack, messy, dissolute way and in comes the efficient, clean, streamlined, precise methods of modernity. You can see it everywhere; alcohol is frowned upon, so pubs and bars close in their thousands, to be replaced with Architect community centres or workshops or food dispensaries. People look different; instead of the elaborate, high-fashion, gothic, decadent dress of ‘old Northbridge’ they’re all dressing for practicality now. Utility clothes, hard-wearing, sensible, plainly coloured, unflattering but strangely beautiful on the trim bodies of workers. The Selenites change their ways to be more in line with the ruling religion, hosting Architect speakers for sermons and addresses. And the things they say are incredible, yet people go away burning with the truth of them. They rule minds, these Propagandists and speakers, with their talk of pointless pleasure, and felony of thought, and thinking, doing, living Architect. The whole city has begun to roll down the Well-Paved Way with its new-forged wheels, and its progress is slow but oh, so sure.

Worrying stories have reached the Musilists in Ethereal House. They’re holed up in there, afraid to leave. No one wants to listen to them any more, now music has been declared a Pointless Pleasure and useless and un-Architect. In fact, the new Architect police, rather ominously called the Redemption Division, came round attempting to take control of Ethereal House so they can turn it into a communications centre; Ithan told them there was no point, the building was full of dry rot. They turned up their noses and went away at that. No one knows what’s going on. Syrus can’t bear it, he can’t concentrate on his music; his angel keeps showing him terrifying pictures of the Cathedral being pulled down stone by stone. He sits, hour after hour, in the corner of the dormitory and broods, hugging his harp and pining for times gone by. He hasn’t eaten in days, hasn’t slept in weeks. His skin is flaking, he’s pale as the grave, he’s thin as wire. He knows something awful is going on out there and he questions his angel again and again for every little detail, but it is always vague, tells him nothing new.

What’s happening? Tell me!

You know what it is, Syrus. This is the terrible thing that you’re going to have to live through, but it will be the making of you if you’re strong enough. They’re looking for you, that Redemption Division.

Don’t say that! I can’t bear it! What have I done that means the police want me?

You are you, Syrus. The Architects want to convert you because you are the fount of pointless pleasure. You are music and they would destroy you if they could.

The Musilists are in stasis. Too afraid to venture out into this weird new world, they sit and wait for something to happen, for the regime to go away or for the police to come crashing in and shoot the lot of them. Theorny is brave enough to get them food when he can, and he steals newspapers. They cluster round him, huddled for warmth even though it’s still early autumn and not cold; from what they can see through the broken skylights, the sky is flawless cyan, peaceful and undisturbed, unlike the city below.

‘They’ve disbanded the Musicians’ Institute,’ Theorny reads. Jaws drop.

‘No way!’ says Kila. Syrus can’t believe it. His dad worked there once, not so long ago. Only three years since he tried to get in there and now it doesn’t exist any more.

‘What is this crazy world we’re living in?’ he wails.

‘God knows. Theo, I’m really scared about this whole thing. You know what this means, right? Those bastards from the God Squad or whatever they’re called who were here the other day, they’re going to be round again. We’d better stay alert,’ Ithan says. Instantly the room seems unsure, wary, full of clicks and darts and threats. Syrus stares around this place he knows so well, clutching his harp tightly, the string-like tendons taut in his neck. Senses dilated. Ears out on stalks, if invisible danger can make any sound.

Relax, Syrus, says his angel’s beautiful, genderless voice. You’re safe in here.

‘We’re safe in here,’ Syrus tells them, feeling instantly much calmer. ‘My angel says so.’

They trust him, they always do. They know he’s right, he’s got an angel to guide him.

‘Let’s ignore what’s going on out there,’ he continues wildly, impulsively. He desperately wants things to go back to how they were. ‘They don’t know we’re here. Forget it’s happening and let’s be how we were before all this started.’

It works, for a while. Syrus finally escapes as his cold fingers dance on his harp-strings and his voice cracks out of its case of disuse, breaks free and spirals round them as they sit there on the floor, cocooned in blankets and clothes and the sweet reek of incense, as the perfect sky floods the roof. It’s like before as Syrus sleeps for the first time in weeks, curled up round his harp. Theorny watches him tenderly. He’s nothing without the rest of them; he’s too needy, hopeless on his own. But he’s their guide; the eyes and ears he shares with his angel are what make them the Musilists, now more than ever. Syrus is their link to the otherworld, where all their creative thought is born in the quiet, luminescent twilight, that calm primeval forest with its bluish glow worms and fireflies flickering in bushes. He can see it the clearest of anyone, and they need him to keep seeing with his sharp grey eyes. Fleeting normality, reinstating itself so carefully in irregular lives, stealing its wispy traces into Ethereal House, brings a smile to pale faces. Syrus is a little ray of sunshine, his music soft and mellow, and the slow chord changes roll out across the room like the dawn when he plays. They feel like they’re safe, they’re surviving and it doesn’t matter if no one wants them outside of their little insulated world. No one gets sick of the place like Negellan did; they all love it more, it’s their refuge as well as their utopia. Atmosphere is settled and calm; everyone is at peace just to see Syrus smile like a child, all innocence, all genuine. When he’s happy they know everything is fine: he’s a barometer, a divining rod, a mirror. Life goes on for the creatives. They don’t know what’s going on outside their horizons. They can’t see it, so it isn’t there.

Somewhere outside the Musilists’ horizons, Negellan Maihew has become a loyal and industrious Architect, one of a construction team who are installing the new electricity grid way down in Third Ward. He’s given up playing the harp; he’s not about to waste valuable Architect time in pointless pleasure. That’s the old, corrupt Northbridge, and it’s got no place here. He’s cracking the old pavement slabs with a sledgehammer; he’s built for this kind of work, and his once-fine harpist’s hands are now rough as the next man’s. He pauses for breath, to wipe the sweat from his face, and he sees a red poster on the wall that was not there yesterday.

Redemption Division need details on the Musilists. All information received in strictest confidence. Enquire at RD Complex, Architect HQ.

Negellan thinks of the Musilists. It was fun for a while, but his duty now is to the Regime, and if he knows something they need to know, he’s got to tell them. He’s one of those people who can divorce their emotions from their actions without thinking, which is what made him a technically brilliant, but musically weak, harpist. No depth of feeling.

When his shift is done, Negellan goes to HQ. He walks through the park, across its beautiful, chill, artificial landscape. He’s struck by how lovely HQ looks, with its new glass extension on top of the old brick building and the evening sun shining through it. The wind is biting in this exposed, open space and he hugs his khaki work jacket round him. His boots ring on the hard new pavement as he approaches HQ and goes inside the front gates, beyond the wire wall across a blasted forecourt. Signs point the way: Propaganda Powerhouse and Administrative Hub, left. Power Station, Workers’ Dormitories, State Industrial Research, right. RD Complex and Detention Centre, straight ahead. Negellan thinks of nothing as he walks smartly across the parade square, past the grey cubes that are the workers’ quarters, to the low building in the far corner, next to the brooding hulk of the power station. It has blue lights outside and white lights inside, and a hard-faced Redeemer at the desk, smoking and typing a report. She doesn’t even look up when he comes in.

‘Name and function,’ she says tonelessly. Negellan draws himself up straight.

‘Unit Maihew, from Construction Team 4B. I’ve got information about the Musilists.’

The woman’s face changes. She smiles like a crocodile, finishes her sentence on the typewriter and comes out from behind the desk. She’s easily as tall as Negellan.

‘Well, well, that is good news. Step right this way, Unit Maihew.’

 

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