In the near darkness of natural night, stars and moon overhead, this stadium was occupied well beyond its original capacity of beings--living and yearning. There may be one-hundred thousand yearning souls here tonight, but they were as quiet as the breeze which blew across the open venue. Those assembled here could not merely be spectators. Nor were they to be called fans, short for fanatics. Filled with near-ravaging desire as they were, they nevertheless behaved.
Not fanatics, not spectators, those who sought to be audience for this performer were called witnesses. One does not passively sit or stand for her performance. One experiences her. And above all else, a live experience with her was best. Seeing and hearing her as digitized, encoded, broadcasted, three-dimensional sound in home-theater setups worth thousands of credits or three-dee movie theaters, that could not be enough.
There was a signal. The human sea of witnesses, all held their breath. Yes, this was the time. A low glow of lights illuminated the center of the circular stage. A shifting light breeze caressed the open air of the massive night-time stadium. The performance was to begin.
One spotlight came to appear at the center of the stage—one wide pool of soft glow. They could not see her yet, but they could almost feel her. Yes, the girl was coming. If the crowd had held its breath before, now it was as if they could will their hearts to stop, anything to hear her all the more better.
Then fell silence. One could almost feel the air itself change. They waited lifetimes to be with her in person. A moment, the culmination of a dream. This dream had a name. This dream lived.
The small slip of a female strode to the center-stage with the grace of royalty, her dark gown caressing her slender figure. Her moonlight-pale skin, face and hands exposed, was a contrast to her dark silken vestments and her long, long hair of midnight silk. The girl could very well have been barefooted beneath the long skirting garment with all the silence of her passage. Some say that the girl floated. With her, anything seemed possible.
Known and renown throughout the colonized worlds, her presence on one fortunate planet was declared a blessing by political and religious leaders alike. Even the most repressive and traditionalist regimes were in praise of her. Without regard to the various political, social, religious, economic, artistic, academic, or geographical differences, the world was united in the belief in her art. Belief in her. Priceless was not high enough a word. A name. Shadowflower...
A sound of gentle instruments rose up and filled this atmosphere. Nothing less than multiple corporate fortunes went into engineering a multidimensional quantum-sound delivery system. This brought much in the way of depth and beauty to each and every seat. The engineers used all the paraphernalia possible—be it the traditional analog electromagnetic diaphragms to resonating tensor plates embedded within the crystalline structure of the auditoria itself.
The physical and aural stages were set. This instrumental backdrop only fueled anticipation. Then, like a blossoming sunrise after the darkest night of the soul, Shadowflower sang.
Her light sweet voice was a dream--flowed through air and into their minds. Liquid musical bliss. People lost sense of themselves as the voice of the girl took hold of them all and took them away. It was like being lifted beyond the sky and into the stars. Indeed, the wordless song invoked ideas of another world steeped in memory and happiness. This felt like a world of gentle summer winds in a land of lost sunsets found again. All the ease and happiness of childhood, or times with friends and beloved family, or a place of hope and good, it did not matter. Everything is good within the world of her music.
An hour had just passed. But, it merely seemed like a moment. No one hear wanted this time to end. Just an hour. If they were told that sixty minutes had elapsed, they would shout for it back to be experienced again.
For that reason, the time signal was only sent to Shadowflower. The girl began to relinquish her control. Another momentary hour passed.
Slowly, oh-so-slowly, it was best to not release them all at once. Such a thing would be traumatic. A jarring and sudden release from the auditory spell of the girl’s singing could bring tears of pain, harmful distress which actually could have physical results. Like being quickly pulled from a womb and into a freezing empty room of hard harsh surfaces.
Lowering slender arms and closing lips, the girl went quiet. The spotlight went out, the girl seeming to vanish. A summer-soft breeze marked her passage. Shadowflower had performed this night of nights.
No more than two hours of immersion in her music, that was what the people of science and health declared. The people of government were adamant in stating it was not a decision lightly taken. Beyond two hours, and witnesses to the power of her music began to experience anomalous changes to their autonomic nervous systems. Even so, squadrons of flying emergency vehicles were always available at every performance—cursed with having to wear electronic headsets that blocked out all sound save spoken communication. During performances by Shadowflower, some people have at times forgotten to breathe. Lost as their minds were in the caress of her singing, have forgotten their own bodies.
Ah, but art and beauty always have a price. Be it the broken toes of a ballerina in silken slippers or the stunted growth of a young championship gymnast, excellence comes at the cost of severe savagery. It is the counterpoint to growth and awe. And for the astounding, world-clasping beauty of Shadowflower’s voice, there was all the more cost to pay. Shadowflower may have paid more than anyone before in the history of the art.
The backstage area was a place of temporary retreat. Of course, backstage is only the vague label. Its true location was hidden well away from the prying public—especially given the soul-deep yearning the world has for Shadowflower. Perhaps it was in a secure location nearing the backmost parking lot. Or perhaps it was beneath, far beneath the stadium. Indeed, underground would be appropriate given the Faustian bargain made by the girl for her greatness.
At the moment, Shadowflower sat before a mirror-and-drawer set which resembled most any performer’s setup of centuries past and past worlds—an otherwise dimly lit room with a place to sit before a mirror, lights flanking. But in place of canisters and brushes for adding various powders and such to one’s visage, this was something beyond skin-deep artifice.
Sitting prim and upright, Shadowflower pinned her long dark hair up and back, flowing from the back of her head and pooling at the foot of the seat. The girl then unbuckled her bodice--exposing her ethereal-pale skin from neck to sternum. Her fingers went to her own throat and pressed for a predetermined moment before shifting downward. There seemed to be nothing for a moment—just a girl with delicate fingers at the base of her own neck. Then a split appeared, a sharp straight vertical stream.
The girl unfastened her skin as easily as one would a garment. But instead of the parting of silk, the flesh of her neck had separated to expose a silver-segmented windpipe. There was no blood, of course. Her body was born of with machinery, not of humanity. Machines do not bleed. Shadowflower's beauty was beyond human because the girl was not.
With the clinical stare of a physician, the synthetic-bodied female reached inside of her opened neck and pressed again, then shifted her grip. Her windpipe came free with a mechanical cli-click of intricate yet sturdy metal parts. Much in the way of a small fortune went into making every part of the girl—especially this part. It would be unacceptable to have any of her components be subject to damage from mere handling.
The girl placed her throat on the computerized table. A shimmering field of highly electrified energy enclosed the disembodied part. A flickering of light, and a digital computerized readout appeared. That mirror before her was actually a three-dimensional computer display, the makeup table itself a series of integrated devices created exactly for the purpose of designation, diagnosis, and analysis. No longer merely a reflective surface, various glowing lines and numbers came into view.
Tonight’s performance was as enthralling as usual, but microscopic variations in the harmonics of her metallic vocal cords—all three sets of them—tended to build if proper tuning did not take place. The girl pulled a dark data cord from a pocket in her silken garment and attached one end to a socket in the table. The other end of the cord went into a hidden socket at the back of her neck.
This way, Shadowflower was able to interface directly with the very devices which would perform diagnostics and the maintenance of her choice body part—the part the world valued most. Her doll-perfect beauty was one thing, but there were far too many beautiful people in this world. Tap anything pertaining to females into the internet, and a great many pictures—such images ranging from exquisitely graceful to grossly pornographic—would appear. Many more could act. But, no one could sing like the one and only Shadowflower—the girl with the platinum voice. Little did the world know that the metaphor was truly the case.
With her mind directly linked to the machines, a part of her body laid out like a mere mechanical component, Shadowflower felt more like a machine herself, hating herself. Not a being, but being a thing of beauty. A thing. For all the love and care in the world, there were some dark emotional corners which could not be illuminated.
Concentrating on aspects of her art made such things easy to ignore for the moment. Shadowflower used her direct mind-to-machine connection, commanded the machinery to perform microtuning upon her voice. The subharmonics fared especially well. Complimentary frequencies were diminishing. These things were easily corrected.
The door whipped open, testing the integrity of its hinges, then slammed shut again. Brute anger now had a physical presence in this quiet space.
In walked an angular pale man in business suit. Striding quickly into the room, he stood at one side of the table and brushed his hand over a corner. A separate holographic computer interface glowed into view.
"No, let the complimentary frequencies mesh," he said, no greeting or pre-emptive statement. "I hate what you are doing."
Possessively gripping one of her shoulders, he reached over and began to rapidly type in a series of computer commands, undoing exactly what Shadowflower was doing.
"People always want more of the same," he declared. "You will give exactly that." A pause. "More of the same."
Shadowflower was physically unable to answer. Her throat was not inside of her neck at the moment. This was always how the pale man in dark suit preferred to do things. He liked to have her compromised. Talent agent was not a strong enough word to describe him. He went beyond being a talent agent. Owners of pets and toys treat their possessions with more reverence. At the least, owners of playthings handle their property with some kind of respect—only with respect and care as far as the object served its purpose to its owner’s wishes. The pale man in dark suit did no such thing as respect. He dominated. He commanded. He owned.
Shadowflower bowed her head. Still-loose strands of long dark hair curtained the sides of her face, also hiding the vertical void in her neck.
Her owner continued tapping away, reconfiguring her windpipe to suit his interpretations of art. "This needs to be changed back… And this… And this. Really, what were you thinking? Were you thinking? Maybe you need something like this to happen." He decidedly tapped a few more keys elsewhere on the integration console.
Pain. Since the girl was connected mind and body to the machine, her body a synthetic machine itself, signals sent directly to her brain, such signals could include suffering and agony. The murderous agony slammed directly into her mind. Her vision hazed over with a static display of her own personal Hell. Pain and suffering was everything. Pain became her world.
An unknown amount of time later, her vision cleared. Shadowflower was looking up at the ceiling. More people were here. These men and women were dressed in the like coveralls and hats of skilled engineers. They had already removed her outer clothing. Now they began to remove her limbs.
There was no pain now, only a computerized numbness as the skin at her joints was separated, then each limb detached from her torso. These were put in a case for transport. They always began with her arms. Perhaps the technicians were afraid that the girl would strike out, that they failed to activate the paralysis subroutines. Then they took her legs, removing them from her hips, placing them within the same rectangle of parts. When they were absolutely sure that all machinery met their checks to satisfaction, they detached her head.
Darkness began to close over as the machinery within her neck began to send the drugs to her brain, inducing an artificial coma. It did not come soon enough, because the girl was able to see the case close over her face. In that Shadowflower was dollishly perfect, it was probably only appropriate that they disassemble her like any other object of crafted beauty. For Shadowflower, there was nothing appropriate about it at all—just the recurring nightmare moments of her reality.
Shadowflower was not only beautiful, the girl was impossibly beautiful. No human being alive was considered to be her match. Such was exactly the point. The girl was something other than human.
Her original body was dead and gone, her brain implanted into this incarnation. Her current physical existence was now owed to machinery, keeping her warm and wet brain alive in a synthetic body—laboratory-created skin and artificial flesh over a silvery metal skeleton, a source of energy like that of the sun but contained within a magnetically reinforced sphere. In other words, the centuries-past talk of objectifying women has come to pass in a very literal sense. Shadowflower’s body was a thing. And to the pale man in angular suit, that made her a thing.
Shadowflower was the only one on this planet legally allowed in this situation—complete body replacement. Doctors and technicians were known to replace limbs and individual organs. However, never before has there been a complete replacement of everything. Controversial issues of going beyond nature and playing with what the gods created would prevent like procedures from being done.
Because the endeavor was so advanced and so experimental, so controversial, the people of science and technology had to be doubly sure every day that her synthetic physiology performed flawlessly. A living body has millions of years of evolution in the creation of natural systems that function on their own. The best efforts of science and technology could only craft a basic simulacrum. Teams of designers did what they could to assure that safeguards and sturdiness went into the creation of her body, yet their efforts were still limited, the very edges of human technological capabilities at that point in history. It therefore required much in the way of oversight to be sure that nothing went wrong. Controlled, overseen, and owned.
So went the perception of the pale man in the angular black suit. To his mind, he created her. Never mind if hundreds of technicians, building upon the work of thousands of scientists, were the ones who performed the actual craftwork. Shadowflower belonged to him.
Given the precious value of the guest, studio attendance was only allowed by lottery. Planet-wide lottery. One would have a better chance of winning the billion-credit cash-prize contest rather than becoming part of this exclusive group. There were forever the rumors of the audience lotteries being fixed. So went the claims, those sitting in audience were only of a certain privileged sort. As in, those in attendance themselves tended to be friends and relatives of international celebrities—if not disguised celebrities themselves. Jealousy prompted many men and women of wealth and celebrity to avoid admiring her in public.
The show’s generic, deliberately inoffensive and insipid theme sounds filled the small studio. Smaller still, every seat was occupied, and it was standing-room only the back. They would stand for a day in that position if it meant doing so in waiting to see her live and in person for a moment.
At the front of the studio itself, a floating cameras took in sight of the stage itself—a sofa next to a desk. The image of a daytime city made for the backdrop.
A smartly dressed classic celebrity, known for her past cinema roles but more current social dialogue, now made her entrance. The crowd’s cheering was usually piped in and amplified to make the crowd seem more enthusiastic than they sometimes were. This time, the enthusiasm was not feigned. Shadowflower would be here. That prospect alone had them nearly set to burst with joy.
"Welcome, friends!" shouted the show host. Shouting was necessary, given the intensity of the noise they made. Waving her hands as much in greeting as trying to get them to calm down, her shouts continued. "Welcome, welcome…!" They kept it up for a little while longer… Finally, they hushed. "As you well know, we have a very special guest today. Some of you might say, the most special of all guests."
Angry stares. The crowd burned with an inner fury. They would rend her apart if they did not have the guest star appear soon.
"Actually, make her the most special guest in the known world. Everyone give a big round of applause to the unique, the beautiful…Shadowflower!"
Sudden silence. The petite girl stepped out from the side entrance with that flawless grace of movement. Today her outfit consisted of a long dark skirt belted at her slender waist, combined with a form-fitting chemise, her long dark hair fluttering in her passage. Shadowflower gave a bow to the audience and sat down. Some of the audience fainted with joy. As it stood, the show host herself had taken a series of calming drugs prior to meeting this guest.
Shadowflower even sat herself beautifully--lowering herself to the guest sofa, then folding her skirted legs beneath her, hands gently in her lap. Only then did the show host sit at the desk.
"Hello. What shall we speak of this morning?" came Shadowflower’s gentle greeting, said like a breeze from paradise. Hearing her voice in person…
The crowd of witnesses gave a collective sigh. Get on with it, came the tele-transmitted voice of the man in angular black suit, talking to the show host—his voice dark and invasive in the woman’s earpiece.
The show host pursed her lips for a moment. What followed was an unleashed torrent. "We… I mean… I was… I was with some friends at your concert last week. The doctors told me to take it easy. When I was a kid, I did a lot of things that kids shouldn’t have done. Coke, right? What’s the harm? It’s just an old-fashioned drug people have been taking since forever. Then somebody told me that if coke was okay, then crimson powder wasn’t a problem either. They just put regulations in place to keep people from having a good time. That’s what I thought. Go to the parties, do what everyone else is doing, that’s how it goes, right? If you don’t, you’re not doing what everyone wants…"
When the show host reached a certain point in this rant, Shadowflower raised both hands. Only then did the woman fall silent.
The girl then tilted her head to a side in sympathetic understanding. If her greeting was like the bliss of paradise, her voice came with the beauty of the thousand golden sunsets to follow afterward.
"At times in life, we may be weak when we think ourselves empowered. We fly with reckless abandon into self-abasement. For what? For, why? Only with the dawning light of reason do we see errors in our ways. The hope goes that such comes to pass before it is too late to salvage the wounded pieces of our existence."
Everyone in the crowd edged to the borders of their seats to consume her every delicious word, to perchance breathe her in. More, they wanted to hear more. Anything that Shadowflower could say to them, anything to make their lives better, any of the smallest scraps of wisdom from her presence would be welcome. Not only were multiple high-resolution three-dimensional cameras trained on her to detail her every movement, every wise word, every delicate syllable, trillions the multiple worlds were recording, perusing, analyzing, all of those trillions of people in front of holograph-monitors with nano-computers had every millisecond recorded.
Shadowflower spoke on. "The light of hope and reason, these blessed things come from the same place. We may be healed enough that our sicknesses come to pass. Hope and reason light the way through the darkness of despair and ignorance. Desires of ill will may lead us astray, but the golden light shines on. It shines for us all."
As for the talk show host, her own orbs of sight took on a sheen—wide-eyed with bittersweet happiness. The woman smiled through tears.
For this diagnostics session, there was the privilege of retaining her synthetic body intact. Her limbs, but not her clothing. The girl undressed and lied down upon the cold machine-table. This was done so many times before and without regard to modesty. After all, Shadowflower was merely a thing. Things are not supposed to have feelings.
Self-motorized cables inserted themselves into her upper back, the back of her neck, into her—electrical and chemical cables meshing with the systems of her body. Of course, signals from the data cables disabled her mobility systems. The paralysis was total.
It was as so the physical analysis could be total. Her body was to remain at flawless levels of performance. And to assure that was taking place, the tests were invasive. Not that they cared about the mind living within the body. It was simply that losing her would be the loss of an investment by the very wealthiest among the worlds—those who would see the technology tested on a living subject. This, before having cybernetic immortality bestowed upon themselves. Ticket sales to her performances had recouped investments three years ago, but enthusiasm for the walking, breathing, singing experimental specimen continued.
The pale man in angular black suit stood behind scientists in white coats, the glow of holographic computer monitors giving their bright garments of science an extra glow. However, his clothing remained a thing of darkness.
Though he could not interpret the data scrolling across the screen, he did not reveal that fact. Hiding ignorance was a skill he practiced, maintaining his dominance over scientists and technicians. He could not understand the neurological signals scanned from her sleeping brain. That is, if her brain was truly sleeping. Or secretly planning. The light of reason...
The very next night, the girl would take the stage yet again. Public performances of Shadowflower always took place at night. With sunset giving way to night and stars, people gathered as witnesses. Of course the stadium was packed to its legal limit and then some. Some have died during her performances, those of frail health, those who willingly chose to stand for hours in waiting to hear her. And die happily they did, their lives nearing a natural end regardless. There was no blame to the performer. In a world of billions of people, almost no one hated Shadowflower. There are nevertheless the isolated insane few who would look for any reason to hate. Perhaps the pale man in angular black suit was secretly among that number—exactly the reason why he had been hired to oversee her. Her manager could not behave the way that he did with any sort of love to Shadowflower.
The audience stood in waiting for the girl. Ninety thousand witnesses sat in the semi-darkness. They breathed, and their hearts beat, but it was otherwise as if they were not there. The wind was louder than this crowd.
And it was as if Shadowflower arrived on the air itself. A breeze filled the air of the stadium. Stage lights glowed into existence on the edge of the stage, pools of illumination in the darkness of night. Shadowflower… The ninety-thousand witnesses held their breath.
A flowing dark gown clung to her torso at the bodice and waist yet flowed at the skirting portion, long sleeves like wings belonging to an angel of night. Shadowflower took to the center of the stage. Lips parted, and her song flowed.
So did the minds of the witnesses as well. Being lost in the depths of her song happened quickly. The people lost sense of themselves. They wanted to get lost. Everyone partook of her music for the same reason that they take to a lover or take to a pilgrimage. They lost themselves to find what they wanted. Once lost in the swathing melody of the girl’s music, there was no willingness to go back.
Being away from everyday life and within the worlds of her music was where they wanted to be as long as possible. The ninety thousand beings of the audience did not want to go back. And neither did Shadowflower.
The girl paused. Breathing stopped within the crowd. Some hearts did so as well, briefly, waiting. The night seemed to close in. Panic began to swell. Of all the wondrous nights of performances by Shadowflower, this one was different.
When Shadowflower began singing again, the song was…different now. More strident, infused with more energy. Instead of taking them away to other worlds, her ultra-soprano melody took them back to this place. All the pain and suffering of her existence thus far was transformed into something they could hear and feel. They could just… No, now they had to…
The foremost ranks of witnesses were among the most privileged of this planet’s society. Rulers of nations, owners of multiple corporations, and the offspring of that social elite, they heeded the commands of her music. They then did the unthinkable and seemingly impossible. They stood and approached her stage.
Of course, harsh deterrents had been put in place to prevent this otherwise unthinkable and undoable act. No one was to approach the stage. Even so, the manager had placed electrostatic induction fields that would incapacitate those who could come to the raised platform at the center of the stadium. So claimed the designers of these machinations, the voltages were said to induce unconsciousness in seconds. Deaths were a possibility but not overtly mentioned for legal reasons.
Though some fell, others kept coming. Their bodies rigid with induced electrocution by invisible panels and fields, they still approached. There was to be no denying the call of her song.
Shadowflower knelt, her lips still parted in song, her silver throat still pouring out her song. Tears came to her eyes. The girl had a synthetic body, but her tears were real. Her suffering was real, and the witnesses felt it with her, closing over her. Shadowflower was such a small person otherwise. Having her disappear was all too easy.
And disappear, the girl did. The crowd upon the stage had separated. The girl was gone from that raised platform. A breeze carried away the last of her music this night.
The pale man in the angular black suit was shouting before anything else happened. Under his command, guards with shields and rapid-fire shotguns landed on the stage on fiery pillars—rocket packs blazing. Given the physical qualities of Shadowflower’s body, the girl would not have been harmed with such an arrival. The burning backwash alone would cook anyone close to where they landed, the fumes choking those somewhat farther away. Even so, their dark-scan eyewear could see through smoke, see through bodies and even through metal. They could see for hundreds of miles. Even with the best of their scanning equipment, they could not find Shadowflower. And the pale man in angular suit shouted on.
Society is an engine—a machine which contains, controls, and utilizes energy for useful purposes. It is when energy becomes uncontrolled that danger comes into play. Society is an engine, its people having energy. When controlled, its energy can be for the benefit of its inhabitants. Uncontrolled energy can be damaging, the harm marked by fire.
And yes, a city burns rather easily. It would not seem readily so, given the amount of solid roads and sleek glass, flat gray surfaces of geometrically simple shapes. Nevertheless, flames can come to even this place. Centuries of fire codes and then a century of corporate concerns made it as so flammable cities should not exist.
Nevertheless, people made cities. People can also unmake cities. If they want cities to burn, then burn they shall.
Urban centers throughout this planet were alight in fury over the disappearance of Shadowflower, but this one in particular was worthy of attention. The proud and gleaming towers stood amidst the smoky streets. And there was noise, so much noise, for the energy of this society was out of control—emotional energy, the energy of unleashed fury, the societal controls over them being broken.
Of course, the more simple-minded authorities sent in a basic attempt to impose control by way of brute force. Clad in armored dark blue made traditional throughout the worlds by corporate training efforts, armed with electroshock guns and tensor-reinforced shields, they attempted to put out the fires of riotous unrest, to control the energy of society. Intimidation could perhaps replace the fury.
Of course, it did not work. The anger of the people would not be quenched. That which they so desired was gone from their lives. A central focus to their existence was removed. Without that being present, it let loose the moorings of their psyches. And so came the riot, the fire of the angered masses.
High within of the towers was a corporate meeting place—high up and glassed off from the fiery chaos below. Sunset glowed through the tall window walls at one side of this room, sunset shining through smoke. Fire below and fire in the sky. Even as blue-armored personnel of safety and control battled on the streets, those within here sat in comfort.
But there was another kind of conflagration here. Men and women in dark suits growled and shouted their answers to solution rather than speak them. No questions, they all had their own answers for the problem. Among people of this sort, it was how things are said rather than what is said. To be among the rulers of this society, one had to be vicious and unscrupulous.
Some wanted corporate security to continue the street-level crackdown regardless of the casualties. They were not using lethal force as of yet. They broke bones and cracked skulls, but such body parts were easily repaired with the level of technology in this society. Break the people now, and they will not cause problems later.
Sinomen bombs were already loaded onto flitters in orbit. All that needed doing was a command vote from this city’s board of directors. Once the board was evacuated, the flitters would descend everywhere upon this planet. The released airborne sedatives would put everyone in every urban center to sleep. Unrest would be stopped, even if some of the people would not awaken ever again.
Why stop with sedation? Why not simply destroy the worst of the cities? To allow the broken cities and their shattered people to perpetuate their actions was just the same as allowing a disease to spread. In times of old, before the advent of nanotechnology, diseased flesh was cut away and destroyed with radiation.
Amidst all the talk, the pale man in angular black suit seethed with such anger that he was incapable of speech. Killing a butler the previous night did nothing to satisfy the crimson fire of anger within. Killing men, killing women, so long as he killed, it did not matter who or what he killed. The only thing keeping him from reaching over and breaking a neck was the fact that he would in turn be killed by anyone else present, if not everyone else. Never mind if the heirs in line to receive the boons of inheritances would be grateful for deaths of their wealthier older relatives. As with the courts of nobility on Medieval Earth, the nobility of this world were not above a little court intrigue. Poisoning, arranged accidents, and outright assassinations were not uncommon.
He saw those under him as just things, not peoples. Things, like Shadowflower. He clenched his fingers, imagined using his grip to crush her delicate slender neck. Silence her forevermore. Never mind if Shadowflower’s windpipe was crafted of alloys beyond human strength’s ability to damage. He would have her entire body redone with fragile materials. And then he would break her, piece by piece. Or perhaps he would save her throat for last as so he could hear her screams until her life ended.
Reports came in from various parts of the city. Shadowflower was to appear atop the tallest of the towers. Could that be true? Just as the streets burned with the fury of the angered masses, the news stations began to burn with the frenzy of what just might be true. They spent as much time trying to find out who spread such word as trying to bring people on vehicles and with professional video uplinks to capture the re-emergence of the girl.
Of course, this meeting place was cut off and away from any and all reports. Anyone who dared to interrupt a meeting of the board of directors could very well be made dead. Such was exactly why large men with large weapons stood guard outside the double doors to this meeting room high up in this corporate tower. There are the stories of well-meaning junior executives or menial staff seeking to enter a board room to deliver vital information during meetings. Such tales ending with the booming blast of weapons and the corpses of such insolent individuals being tossed into incinerators. Such tales were never officially verified, no records kept in corporate electronic archives. Such tales were nevertheless true.
The pale man in angular black suit contemplated tensor bombs. Whole cities being vaporized with ultra-hot blue-white flashes. Their deaths should be as savage as their disruptive acts that defied the will of the board.
A calm breeze… Despite the earlier burning chaos, peace and calm had returned. All of the frenzy and fury of the streets below slowed and stopped. This was because Shadowflower had returned to them. They could feel her presence. And with that, they lifted their collective gaze upward.
Shadowflower stood at the high edge of this corporate tower. As a vantage point for all of the city throughout, all of the horizon was visible even through the haze of smoke. This was actually ideal. Airborne particulates increase the sound conductivity of air—as anyone who has talked in fog knows. This was not fog, and the time for talking was done. Yet at the same time, a message would be delivered.
Bare feet exposed beyond the hem of her black gown, arms beseeching, Shadowflower opened her mouth, letting forth the power of song from her triple set of vocal cords. Her song carried on the winds. It resonated between the buildings—doing so at exactly the sort of frequency which led to maximum resonance. Her song spread far. And then satellite data uplinks carried her song further with as high fidelity as possible.
This was not like her past treatment of bearing minds away to worlds of imagination. With this song, Shadowflower produced a song of hope and healing. Not only did the most recent deeds of the people fill them with grief, all the destruction they visited upon others, all memories of their wrongs flooded back.
Their emotional wounds healed, the people began to undo the damage done to the city. Under the sway of the song, they stopped the burning.
Helping not hurting, they helped each other. They acted together, finding the injured and exhausted, helping them with water from faucets, along with food purchased from shops and restaurants. Even so, shopkeepers and other distributors of foodstuffs began giving it away without cost. They would give their lives for Shadowflower.
One person, however, would do no such thing. He dared to climb to the top of this building. Because he dared, he was there to catch the opening wave of another song. This one was special. Because it was just for him.
Shadowflower had been preparing this for quite some time. And with that time, the girl had gathered the material needed. The moments, the emotions, memories and feelings, all of that was needed for this piece.
This song brought forth memories of all things he had done wrong to others in life. The cruel consciousness of his aggressive machinations allowed him to ignore harm to others over the course of his life. Yet, some kind of guilt was still there. And the guilt took hold of him with all the vigor he once took to others.
He had been almost nothing but a man of wrong—wrong for the sake of harming others, wrong for manipulating and harming others. The song healed something within him. It healed his ability to empathize—a feeling which came back sixfold to wreck his sanity.
All of the things he had done to people. People were people, not things. His decisions brought about worlds of pain to people. People also died because of him. There was not enough opportunity in a life to undo the harm to the many other lives he had broken.
There was only one way to redemption. He would remove himself from this world. Yes, throw himself to the very land and the people he had hurt. He had to end the pain, and he had to redeem himself. He stepped over the edge and fell to his death, into the smoke and flames, the flames seeming to be hotter on the way down, the petals of smoke rising upward to a sky of sunlight gold.
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