Angel in the Maze
Author: 3jane

Chapter 13
Destroy and reconstruct

The Musilists have no idea really, what’s going on in their city. Mostly they ignore the knocks on the door. They’ve taken down the sign that says ‘All welcome’ because they’re afraid people might use it against them. They have no idea that a fierce argument is raging over what to do with them, between the two most powerful people in the new Architect Republic of Northbridge, Seneschal Murat and Leader Ramir. Nagy is convinced that the recalcitrant Musilists can still be persuaded by humane methods to give up their time-wasting and become a useful part of Architect society. Ramir is all for piling into Ethereal House and capturing the lot of them, now he knows where they’re hiding out. They Reconstructed that idiot Maihew, of course, in case he had any ideas about betraying Ramir’s plans back to the Musilists. He’s one of the new Reconstructs they’ve made using much-refined technology, thanks to Karel and Cephall collaborating. He’s a beautiful Reconstruct, not at all disfigured by the process – and, much more significantly, he can talk in simple but complete sentences and obey verbal commands that render the clunky encrypters they need with the earlier models totally superfluous. Ramir has no idea how they managed it, but it’s amazing.

‘But Leader, we are supposed to be progressive, aren’t we? Surely we can make them see sense without having to mind-wipe them,’ Nagy says yet again. Ramir glares at him.

‘Nagy, I refuse to accept that you are going to treat them like innocents when they have clearly broken the new laws – which you made, incidentally – no, I’m not having it, Nagy! This is my regime and I decide what happens in it!’ Ramir barks. He’s lost his temper again, and it irritates him that Nagy never loses his cool, never even raises his voice.

‘Leader, I genuinely do not see the case for rendering them unable to do anything but the most simple, menial jobs, without considering the other options. We have more than enough Reconstructs as it is, and until Cephall gets a move on with his intelligence-enhancement research, we can’t use all of them. There is no point in having them sitting disconnected, when we’ve got a real shortage of more intelligent workers who Mihan and Karel are absolutely desperate for. They’re snowed under, and we can’t send them Reconstructs because they’re not able to work unsupervised.’

‘I know! Don’t tell me how to run my regime, I’m the one with the visions! Ignorant upstart! You know nothing, you are no one, I put you where you are now and I can take you down again any time I like, so you’d better comply, or you’ll be on the Reconstruction list yourself!’ Ramir shouts wildly, his face an inch from Nagy’s. Nagy, still ice-calm, wipes Ramir’s spit out of his eye.

‘You cannot justify the Reconstruction of all those people when it’s proper human brains we need. You’d be crippling your own regime, Leader, and as Seneschal I still hold the power in this city. Therefore I refuse to let you do that. The Musilists are my affair, Leader, so leave them to me.’

Ramir says nothing; he’s seething. The Creator is boiling his brain, dark thoughts of killing this annoying, smooth-talking politician who is in the way of him getting total control of Northbridge. All he needs is a reason. He’ll dig around until he finds something, or he can twist Mihan’s arm into fabricating something. Mihan would do anything for him, still, absolutely anything. Ramir stalks from Nagy’s office, leaving Nagy very, very confused, and rather frightened.

How can he want to cripple his own regime so early on? Has he really been deluded by grandeur?

Nagy knows Ramir is always going to hold that against him, the fact that he has to abide by the official laws of Northbridge, even though he technically controls the person who is top of the constitutional tree. It’s crazy, this set-up, and Nagy doesn’t know how long it can go on without getting really messy. He doesn’t want to get in a fight with Ramir, he’s not that stupid. He wishes yet again that this had never happened to him. Wonders why Ramir put him in this position, rather than taking the Assembly seat himself in the first place. That would have made a hell of a lot more sense than this stupid power battle.

But then you’d be obliterated. You’re what’s stopping Ramir steamrollering everyone into Reconstruct-shaped blobs.

Hold out.

As Nagy reads the new Architect newspaper from the Propaganda Powerhouse, Construction Journal, his spirits sink even lower. Arrest of Larken for the suspected poisoning of Calvinus, he reads with a pang. He flicks over the page. Accounts of the public burning of opera scores from the ex-Musicians’ Institute, the members of which are now mostly in the detention block of HQ being ‘redeemed’. Big raids on Third Ward by the Redemption Division, resulting in the seizure of ‘heretics’ caught drinking and taking drugs. Lithographs of the new message units in First Ward, monstrous many-armed creations, giant rectangular squids with typewriters. An article about how to increase your efficiency at work by taking Vigour Pills instead of having lunch break. Work through the idle hour and finish your quota early! Free samples for all!

Has everyone gone totally mad except me?

‘I need to get rid of Nagy,’ Ramir tells Mihan, Einor, Karel, Rufilla, Tyndell and Cephall as soon as they’re in the door of Ramir’s big new office, in the glass extension of HQ. They sit down round the steel table and it feels like before, only the room’s empty of funny little models and bits of machinery. What he’s got in there now is just a typewriter and stacks of documents, hundreds of books, rolls of test paper. He’s been blueprinting.

‘He has become insupportable. Standing in the way. You all know what the issue is with the Musilists, don’t you?’

‘That lot in Ethereal House who won’t leave?’

‘Correct, Mihan. Nagy is refusing to let me send the RD in to extract them and bring them here. They’re not going to cooperate with their own minds, but he won’t let me Reconstruct them. I know we have a shortage of autonomous workers in Engineering and Propaganda  – ’

Both Mihan and Karel nod vigorously and Ramir looks unsympathetically at them.

‘Well, I’m sorry about this, but it might be that you get transfers from Labour Management, and Einor, you might end up with more Reconstructs – but it is arguably less of a problem if they’re there than if they’re in Propaganda or E and M. I’m sorry, but you must make do, Units, and the Creator will reward you for your perseverance in difficult situations.’

There’s a long silence in which Mihan and Karel share a resigned look. Neither of them has had a proper off-shift for weeks, they haven’t had the chance. If it goes on like this they’ll have to stop sleeping to get it all done.

‘How will you get round Nagy?’ asks Mihan.

‘Well, I was hoping that someone has some evidence I can use against him, you know, that he’s broken Architect law in some way and should therefore not be ruling – something like that. Failing that, Mihan, I want you and your senior workers to fabricate a piece of evidence for me, in strict confidence of course.’

Einor’s eyes have gone round behind his glasses.

‘Leader, I have the very thing! Let me go and get it,’ he says eagerly, barely waiting for Ramir’s nod before he sprints off. He’s back in minutes, breathless, he’s run all the way to his office in the bowels of HQ and back. He’s got an old piece of carbon paper, curling at the edges. Ramir stretches out his hand.

‘What’s this, Einor?’

‘Evidence, Leader. Nagy’s been rebelling in his head for ages, he just hasn’t made a move yet. Here’s the proof,’ Einor pants, opening the paper with trembling hands and pointing at the faint comments all over it. Mihan reads it upside down, and realises with a funny jolt that he’s seen it before, or he’s seen the original, years ago when they were new and small and struggling. The campaign instructions… yes, that’s what it is. He remembers how afraid he was when he mislaid that very same bit of paper. Imagine if Einor still thought it was his! He’d be out of his job and in RD’s detention cells before he could say ‘Treachery’; thank the Creator it’s Nagy getting in trouble and not him. And that Einor was smart enough to make a copy of it.

‘Well, well, who would have thought it? He always used to work so hard,’ Ramir says mock-disappointed. ‘He’s really let us down this time, hasn’t he?’

He bares his teeth in a smile and Karel, watching him in dismay, is afraid. He doesn’t like the way this is going. He’s glad he never let it slip to anyone that he supports Nagy on the Musilist affair.

‘Oh, Nagy, you’ve really messed this one up. You’ve broken Architect law: the Leader is the medium of the Creator, thus subversion against him is sacrilege against the Creator,’ giggles Ramir. Mihan shoots Karel a worried look, and Karel shrugs. He wants to get back to his machines, get away from this madman who they’re meant to follow to the letter. When old morals start kicking in, just concentrate on technology and all your problems disappear like magic.

‘Well, that’s decided. The Musilists are to be redeemed, Cave: I want the operation ready to go by tomorrow at 2000 hours. Understood?’

‘Yes, Leader,’ rasps Cave. He’s been itching to bust the Musilists for weeks.

‘Good. Meeting is closed with the Creator’s blessing. Dismissed.’

The Musilists are sitting in a big circle on the floor round the brazier. They do it every night after eating, they sit there and talk for hours. The air smells of cigarettes and joss sticks and the fragrant soup Arfe cooked. They’re talking about music, of course.

‘How can they deny an entire city the right to hear lovely things? It’s ridiculous!’

Theorny is enraged about the whole thing. He’s usually the most laid-back person around but there are some things that really get him going, and deprivation is one of them. Syrus is just frightened. He can’t imagine a world without music; it would be like someone took his voice away – sure, he could still communicate but it would be so much harder, and so unnatural.

‘It’s repression, Theo. That’s why it’s wise to stay out of politics, cause everyone in it is mad and dangerous,’ Kila replies, lighting a new incense stick and putting it in the holder. ‘They can’t take it that we’re better than they are at music, so if they abolish the thing we’re good at it makes them feel superior again. It’s just one giant complex.’

‘But why are people happy to be ruled by these maniacs? I don’t understand it!’

‘I can’t communicate. I’ll be mute,’ Syrus says desolately. He can’t get over the fact that people have been silenced like this, by the law.

‘We’ll all be mute, Sy. It’s like birds having their wings clipped and stuck in a cage instead of being able to fly. What kind of life is that?’ Cassel replies angrily.

Syrus shakes his head. His sleep has gone again, after those first blissful days once he lost his fear, once the Redemption Division hadn’t come back. Since they’ve heard the anti-music laws he’s been awake night after night with the same vision, of someone bald and strong and frightening setting fire to his harp. He can’t sleep with the picture printed on his eyelids like that, and when he tries to sing himself to sleep it gets worse, because he knows he’s not going to be able to do that any more, once they find him.

‘Let’s hide them,’ he blurts.

‘Hide what?’

‘Instruments. They’re going to burn them if they find them, like they burnt all the pianos in the Institute and they bricked up the organ in the Cathedral. But they won’t be able to find them if we bury them in the garden,’ he gabbles, desperate to say it before, before he doesn’t know what, but the words spill out with a reckless, deranged urgency like a waterfall. Ithan glances searchingly at him.

‘How do you know?’

‘I’ve seen it. Trust me,’ he says softly. They look at him and there’s an animal fear in his eyes, a hunted look. ‘Someone help me dig a big hole and we’ll bury them.’

They’re outside now in the overgrown, tangled fairy-tale garden under the red sky, it’s twilight and Theorny, Ithan and Syrus are frantically digging a deep, narrow hole. Arfe, Kila, Tona and Lionise are waiting next to a pile of instruments spread on a blanket, while the others, led by Cassel, are busy dragging out anything that resembles a case or a box and packing the instruments into them carefully. Syrus scrambles out from the bottom of the hole. He’s covered in dirt, there’s leaves in his hair and he’s dreading the moment where he has to bury his harp like a Selenite corpse, down in the mud with the worms. Ithan is tight-lipped; there’s no way they’ll get the piano down there. He’s going to have to lose it. Theorny stays in the pit.

‘Alright, start passing them down. Heavy things first, please.’

Tona’s cello in its wooden box gets handed down and she lets out a sob. Cassel puts his arms round her.

‘Will I ever see it again?’ she says into his shoulder.

‘Course you will. This won’t last long, if anyone in this city has any sense,’ Theorny replies confidently. Someone passes him his violin and his face sort of crumples, but he says nothing as he lays it down. Arfe’s horn goes down.

‘See you, mate,’ Arfe says heavily as Theorny puts it carefully on top of the cello. Syrus goes to the pile and picks up his harp in its black bag, holding it tightly for the last time. The angel weeps in his head, its face stricken, and he fights down his own tears. He feels as raw as if someone ripped half his soul out and chucked it in the hole.

‘Goodbye,’ he says to his harp as Theorny rests it next to his violin. ‘I’ll always miss you.’

He can’t look at the place where it disappeared into the earth; he hands over boxes and crates with his eyes tight shut. At last the sad heap has gone and all that is left is the blanket and a few stray bow-hairs. Theorny climbs out of the hole and they begin covering the cases up softly with the thick, rich earth. It looks like a huge fresh grave, but they comb stray branches and leaves over it so it’s just another scrubby patch of garden. Most of them are crying as they sing the funeral mass over it, and as the four-part homophony washes over them, the piercing height of the sopranos, the altos’ loving murmur, the yearning tenors and the calm, steady basses, there’s a massive explosion behind the wall and a sheet of orange light, a smell of apocalypse. The tree at the bottom of the garden catches fire, and from nowhere, from inside the warehouse, from out of the sky, hundreds of grey-clothed people charge towards them. Shouts, bangs. The grey people have guns and they’re firing randomly. Syrus has flung himself to the floor and he sees Arfe fall. Everyone’s screaming, the world’s spinning out of control and people are grabbing him, the angel is going crazy, screeching and beating its wings against the insides of his head. He gets up, slips over again, sees the warehouse on fire and yells, trying to stand up, scrabbling crazily across the long grass. Someone whacks him in the head and his vision goes all red and blotchy, but he carries on. All he knows is, get away from these people. He staggers to his feet at last, his eyes clearing, and there’s another deafening gunshot and Theorny reels backwards, face suddenly vacant, clutching at his chest where there’s an enormous dark stain slowly getting wider and wider. Syrus’s world grinds to a halt.

‘No!’

Syrus runs back across the bloodied lawn through the screams and the fighting and the fire, to where Theorny is on his knees. Syrus grabs him and holds onto him but the red wetness makes him slippery, he falls and the blood’s coming up in his mouth already. His eyes are seeing somewhere else and there’s a terrible, final serenity on his face. Syrus can’t think; he launches himself at the nearest grey person and clings to them like a limpet, screaming and cursing and whacking them as hard as he can, senselessly, puny arms no use, sinewy hands clawing for eyes and twisting hair and punching anything, everything, just as long as they hurt as much as Theorny hurt, just as long as they scream and bleed and beg for mercy. But he’s being dragged down into a hell that is all tangled bodies and blood. Someone grabs his arm and twists it behind his back and it’s intolerably painful; he falls to his knees, howling, and they’re not letting go and the angel’s doing its damnedest to break right through his skull and then it all goes still and cold and dark.

Is this death?
His eyes stop working and he crumples on the stained ground.

 

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