Clarke didn’t know when solitary became too much. It wasn’t as if she had been surrounded by a lot of people all her life, but she had had her parents, Wells, even his dad and the Kanes and that had made a close warm bubble that she was content with.
But now her bubble had been busted. Her dad was dead, she was separated from her mother, Wells had sold out her father and his father had floated hers and the Kanes hadn’t stopped it. And here she was in a cold cell, with only a few stumps of charcoal and a tiny piece of metal she had scavenged from her shoe. She was alone, something she had never been before and the frigid coldness of the feeling had seeped into her bones and settled into a sharp ache.
Solitary had become too much.
She knew that was true when she pressed her ear up to her door, when the others were let out for the occasional walk around the Skybox, or whenever someone passed her cell when they had a visitor, on their way to the meeting rooms.
She knew it was true when she strained to hear the voices of the other prisoners an even the voices of her guards. She knew it when she could identify the guards by their footsteps and she definitely knew it when she began to have imaginary conversations with them and her fellow prisoners.
She drew to take her mind off everything. But sometimes even drawing couldn’t cover the loneliness and then she found herself curled up by the door wishing she could hear another human being.
It was in one of those times when it began. It was an accident, kind of. Her knuckles had just begun to tap on the door, something to do, to while away the time, while she just breathed around the ache in her chest. She didn’t know how long she’d been doing it when she remembered something her dad had taught her: Morse code. And she realized that even if the others here couldn’t talk to her, she could talk to them, even if they didn’t know it.
So she started tapping on her door with her knuckles, rapping out her message. Hey, ‘sup, this sucks. How are you guys? Enjoying the Skybox life? I’m not. I’m tired of seeing gray walls.
She hadn’t expected an answer.
‘Me too.’ It said. ‘I hate this place.’
And then from another part of the prison another set of rapping began.
‘Who actually likes this place? We’re in prison. Unless you’re completely psycho, you wouldn’t want to be here.’
Clarke had let out a disbelieving laugh, eyes beginning to water as she realized that she was talking to people, that she wasn’t alone.
‘True,’ she answered the second rapper, ‘So what do you guys for fun in a place like this?’
‘Dismember my lights,’ the first person replied.
‘That’s the best you can come up with Solitary? I lay back and count sheep.’
‘Do they do little sheep dances for you?’ a new voice broke it.
‘Ballet,’ the second voice replied, sarcasm somehow present in its rapping.
‘You lack imagination my friend,’ The first voice answered.
And that’s how it began. With a strange conversation and four people who knew Morse code. It was only when they had all finally stopped to go to sleep that Clarke had realized that the rest of the Skybox was strangely quiet. She wondered for a moment why, before realizing that it was because the others were listening to all of them, not knowing what they said, but knowing g that they were indeed talking to each other. And communication, she soon came to realize, was precious inside the Skybox.
She and the three other people spoke the next night as there were fewer guards around then. And they spoke the night after that and the third night they tried to teach the others. Of course teaching someone something when they had no idea you were trying to teach them, was challenging.
But the children of the Ark were descendents of astronauts and scientists, brilliant people, and they had inherited their intelligence. Most of the Skybox caught on that first night. The rest caught on the next night. By the end of the third night, most of them had at least half the alphabet down. By the end of the fourth night, everyone but a few knew the alphabet. On night five they started sending small messages to each other.
Slowly but surely over the next month, they increased in fluency. There were many laughs in that first month especially when someone made a mistake and said unintentionally said something they didn’t mean. They were all teased mercilessly for their mistakes but it was all in good form.
And Clarke wasn’t alone then. She soon got to know the other ninety-eight other people in the Sky-box. She didn’t know their names, because names were something they never said, but she knew them by their knocking patterns, by what they said and from where they were knocking from.
They soon forgot about the guards, or rather decided not to care about the guards. The Skybox, once a silent waiting room of judgment, became alive with the slow and staccato beats of Morse code, came alive with the voices of it’s prisoners, speaking out in the only way they knew how to.
It was like an orchestra of drums, one that beat almost every hour of the day, carrying in its music a message.
It was like a demented drumline, no real music, but filled with rhythm. And that matched them because if it’s one thing Clarke realized, it was that the ninety-nine prisoners in here were crazy, brilliant, but crazy. And oh so alive.
It was like a heartbeat that would never fall silent. It was them, living and breathing and beating.
They spoke, they sang, they talked about things they had done, things they had seen, tricks they had played, tragedies that had fallen. They spoke because they wanted to be heard. They spoke because when they turned eighteen, some of them would never reenter the Ark, they would never speak again.
And Clark would sit and sketch sometimes, just listening to the conversations going on around her and smile. And when she wasn’t sketching, she would be knocking on her door, rapping till her knuckles turned bloody and left red stains on the door. And when that happened she’d use her other hand and once even had to switch to her feet, lying on her back, banging with her heels. She had made the most mistakes that day. The others had teased her for a full week after for saying she wanted to eat a mop. But she had also gotten the best leg workout she’d had in ages.
But then she and the others had been sent down to the ground and it seemed like everyone had forgotten. Besides everything that had happened in the Skybox, stayed in the Skybox and they had their voices now. At any rate there were other things to think about, like survival.
So it wasn’t until, after everything that had happened in Mt. Weather, that they rediscovered it. The forty-four, Raven, Wick and Lincoln inclusive had a habit of meeting around a campfire at least once a week. They wouldn’t say much, some nights they didn’t say anything, just drank Monty’s moonshine and existed next to each other.
It was Monty who heard it first, a soft tapping, coming from far away. He frowned, listened some more and then shushed the others. Everyone frowned at him but he said urgently,
They quieted and soon they picked up what he was talking about. Bellamy frowned.
“That’s knocking. Why would somebody be knocking?” He looked about ready to get up and start a search, obviously suspecting grounders. But the others hushed him.
“No you idiot,” Monty said, straining to hear.
“That’s Morse code,” said Raven surprised.
“Yes!” Jasper hissed, waving his hand for her to be quiet.
“What is it?!” said Bellamy obviously frustrated and surprised that Octavia obviously knew what was going on.
“That’s Clarke,” said Monroe. “It has to be.”
“Clarke?!” said Bellamy startled, “How do you know?”
“It’s the only person it could be,” said Octavia repressively. Then she translated. “My heart tears in two, I bear it so you don’t have too. I wish you could hear me my friends. I miss the drumbeats of your voices. I know you can’t hear me. But I wish I could hear you.”
“How…?” Bellamy began.
“The Skybox,” said Miller, “We talked through Morse code in the Skybox. Clarke started it actually. It sounds like her tapbeat.”
“It sounds like her tapbeat?” Bellamy repeated. “What’s a tapbeat?”
“It’s a like a fingerprint,” said Monty, “Or an ID chip. We never used names but we could tell who was talking by the way they beat out the Morse code.”
“Can we find her?” asked Bellamy.
“I don’t think she wants to be found,” said Raven, “If she did she’d be here.”
“But we can’t leave her out there,” Bellamy said.
“Yes we can,” said Octavia, laying a hand on his arm. “Clarke’s a big girl, she’ll come back when she means to.”
“But it doesn’t mean we can’t do anything,” said Monty. “She said she wanted to hear us right? Well she can, if we find something hollow enough to beat and make enough noise.”
The others caught on immediately. They soon appropriated a metal canister and with Wick’s help, stretched a piece of rubber over the top to form a crude drum. Then, they climbed up as high as they could and Monty beat against it as hard as he could.
‘We can hear you, we miss you. Here we are. We’re okay. Can you hear us?’
There was a moment of breathless silence and the then the knocking came, slightly louder this time.
‘I hear you. You’re okay?’
‘Yes. This is Monty. We’re all here, listening.’
‘This is Clarke. Enjoying the ground life?’
‘I should ask you that.’ Just then Markus and Abby came demanding to find out what they were doing. ’Got to go, your mom’s here. Keep in touch. We’ll be listening.’
And Clarke, far away, rapping on a hollow tree log, smiled and kept smiling through her tears. She had started rapping on it, because she was lonely and the grief inside her was twisting its knife in more than usual. She hadn’t expected to get an answer, hadn’t expected to be heard. But she had, and like that first time, it was magical. She wasn’t alone. They heard her and she, she could hear them, her people, who she had given up so much for. She could hear their voice. And it sounded like a heartbeat. Her heartbeat. Her reason to live.
She wasn’t ready to go back, to see them, but she could hear them, and that was one step closer to home. She wiped her tears away and smiled. One day she’d walk in the gates and see them but for now she was content.
The others, sitting in camp Jaha, sat around the fire, smiling, laughing as they taught Bellamy, Lincoln and Wick Morse Code. They had a way to reach Clarke now, a line open to coax her home as gently as they knew how. It would take awhile, they knew, but one day she’d walk back in through those gates. For now they were content to hear her voice, to know that she was okay, to know she could and would hear them. It was one step, one leap, to bringing her home.