In a dystopian reality where music is everything, the world is ruled by a Council of corrupt dictators. The greatest punishment possible, reserved for only the worst of criminals, is called Silencing. But one Silent proves that, even if he is a outcast, shunned from society, he still has a voice.


3. Chapter 2: Silent

            The Silent man walked into the tavern tiredly. His feet and legs ached, as did his throat, but he wouldn’t think of that pain now. That was an old pain. Still, the Silent reached up and pulled at the high collar of his shirt.

            He had avoided others for weeks, but now he needed to rest. He needed to drink, and to forget. The Silent held up a finger, telling the barkeeper he wanted a drink. Hopefully, the man would think he was just recalcitrant or rude. But, hope was for those who could still feel. The Silent had been betrayed so many times, he was dead inside. Numb.

            But, then again, sometimes, optimism paid off. The man pushed a large cup of ail across the bar, and, taking it, the Silent retreated to the farthest table. It was in a corner, hidden in shadows, and far enough away from everyone else to let them know that conversation was unwelcome.

            The Silent observed the other drinkers as he sipped his beer. Two were completely intoxicated, almost falling out of their chairs. The third at that table was clearly very somber. All three wore the insignia of the merchant guild. Well, that somber man was about to get a good deal. Maybe he got the others drunk on purpose.

            The rest were no more interesting. A young girl sang of love and joy, of following the Council to prosperity. Hah, the Silent thought, she actually believes that the Council knows best. She is naïve enough to think that, even if they did, they would actually do it. The Council only help themselves. Another girl, older than the singer but still under-age was giving a man old enough to be her father a lap dance. She was watching the door carefully. Good. At least she was smart; prostitutes had to be eighteen to be legal. Although, considering her outfit – which consisted of a bra, panties, and not much else – the Silent wasn’t sure what she would do even if a Watcher came in.

            No one else was worthy of note. A few drunks gambling, the barkeeper, a waitress who also swept the floors. Good. This tavern had no Watchers. The Silent didn’t fear the Watchers. After all, what more could the Council do to him? He didn’t even care when he was blamed for others’ crimes. After all, Silents were known law-breakers, so he must have done it. A few beatings were nothing.

            “Would you like anything to eat, sir?” It was the waitress. Up close, the Silent saw that she was about twelve and bore an uncanny resemblance to the barkeeper. Probably his daughter. Come to think of it, the other two girls were probably his daughters as well. Made sense.

            The Silent shook his head and the girl turned away. She whispered to her sister – the singing one – as she walked by and both blushed. Good God, were they talking about him? The Silent was twenty-two. He had had a brother once who would be closer to their age. No, wait, now he was seventeen. Time really did fly when you were dead.

            Finally done giggling, the singer-girl started into another song. This one seemed based solely on describing a particular shade of green. Wow, were fifteen-year-olds really that stupid? Did that girl think she was getting something from him? Clearly the song annoyed the prostitute as well. With a short, terse comment that the Silent missed, she stormed angrily away. The singer, blushing profusely now, changed to a new song. The Silent didn’t even bother listening. Music hurt now.

            That familiar pain in his throat started up again. The Silent picked up his cup to take another swig, but it was empty. Instantly, the waitress was on him. “Excuse me, sir, but could I get you another?” The Silent nodded and she was scurrying away with his empty cup. The prostitute, reentering the room through a back door, roller her eyes at him. Her eyes were blue, he noticed. The same shade as her miniature sparkling skirt and bra.

            This time he heard her talk to the singing girl. “Hey, Maia, go help father. I can take over.” The ex-singer-girl looked like she might throw a fit, but went anyway. The prostitute climbed up on the stage carefully. As soon as she was there, everyone stared at her. Considering how much cleavage she showed, the Silent knew it wasn’t really in anticipation of her voice.

            As soon as she started singing, the Silent knew that this was where she belonged. Her voice was low, soft. Haunting. Wind through the leaves. Rain sliding down icicles. Her song was slow, a ballad mourning a lost world. The Silent, although he had already realized how careful she was, was struck again by the risk she took. If anyone told an official of this, the girl was dead. Or, he thought, pulling at his collar again, as good as.

            “In the name of freedom!” The girl finished the song with those famous words, and the room went dead silent. No one even seemed to breathe. This, the Silent knew, was a critical moment. If the shock and fear built too far, someone would break. But this girl, with her haunting voice, she deserved more. The Silent stood, eyes full of tears, recognizing those last words he had ever spoken, and all eyes shifted to him. With one deliberate, steady motion, he brought his hands together. And again. Then everyone else surged up. For only a few people, the applause was deafening.

            The girl smiled at him. It was a smile of gratitude, of thanks, of just the joy of living. The joy of spitting in the Council’s face and surviving through it. This girl, the Silent thought, belongs with the revolutionists. Well placed, not afraid. She could be a good asset. No. The Silent cut off the thought. He was useless to the revolution now. He couldn’t help them anymore.

            The Silent stayed until all the other customers were gone. He just wanted to enjoy the warmth of the room, the feel of a chair beneath him, the idea of being with other people. He wanted to enjoy them once more, and reminisce about his old life. Then he would go. But, that last moment stretched into another and another, and still the Silent stayed.

            After everyone else was gone, the prostitute-girl came up to him. She was pretty, the Silent had to admit. Then he felt guilty and perverted just for thinking it. Still, her skimpy outfit set off her eyes well. With her – most likely dyed – black hair, she was pretty. If only she were older. And the Silent were alive, of course.

            “Hey, I just wanted to say – thanks. For what you did, I mean, I thought I was a goner there for a minute…” The girl trailed off, staring at him. The Silent closed his eyes and waited for her to realize what he was, for her to tell her father, for the Enforcer to come. His crime would be concealing his nature, or some such ridiculousness. Had he told the innkeeper – or rather, had he showed the innkeeper – what he was, he would have been thrown out anyway.

            “Hey, you alright? You look kind of pale. Hey, are you-” The Silent cut her off by grabbing her arm. She didn’t even flinch. Guess she was used to men grabbing at her. The barkeeper was glaring at him and beginning to move around the bar.

            Dropping the girl’s arm and three silvers on the table, the Silent rose and started toward the door. He could feel the confusion and hurt in her gaze like it burned him, but there was no other way. If he could just get out, he might be able to outrun any pursuit. They’d give up after a few miles…

            The barkeeper moved faster, though. He closed and barred the door, then turned to the Silent. His eldest daughter, still beside the corner table, was gaping openly. “Apologize to my daughter. Now, boy!”

            The Silent just stared at the man. They both knew it was a pretense. The man wanted the Silent to prove that could speak. The Silent, unable to comply, was helpless. He considered rushing the man, but discarded the idea. Three years ago, he might have tried it, but since then he’d lost weight. The man probably weighed twice what he did, now.

            “What are you doing, Father? You have me out here, teasing them all day; some of them are bound to touch me! Open the door!” Well, apparently the girl didn’t realize what was happening. The Silent felt a moment of pity for the teenaged prostitute. She hadn’t asked for this. Now she would have to corroborate her father’s story when some priceless item turned up stolen.

            The man, though, seemed to have no problem using his daughter. “Muse, go upstairs. We will discuss this together later.” The Silent watched the girl struggle with the command. On one hand, her ingrained obedience. On the other, her curiosity and the small shreds of good-will she still bore him. The Silent nodded, trying to make her go, but she just stood there.

            “No, Father. This is wrong. I feel it.”

            “Fine, girl, but there will be consequences.” Muse winced a little at that. The Silent marveled at her determination. She was doing this, braving her father’s anger, for him? A complete stranger? “Now, you, boy. Let’s hear it.”

            The Silent swallowed and backed up, his hands raised. The man smiled wickedly. No matter how good a person was, no matter their moral compass, they all hated Silents. Each one painted onto a Silent the most heinous crimes he could imagine. After all, they had received the worst punishment imaginable, so they must have committed the worst sin.

            The man brought his arm down, and it was then that the Silent noticed what he was holding. A metal chain struck his shoulder hard enough to cut through his clothing and the skin beneath. The breath whooshed silently from his lungs as blood welled from the cut, soaking into the Silent’s shirt. At first he didn’t move. The chain struck again, and a third time. Both hit his arms, causing little damage. The Silent could vaguely hear Muse screaming, but it was hard to tell what she was saying over the pounding of his heart.

            The fourth blow got around his hands, managing to clip the side of his head. The Silent fell back into the corner, his arms raised to protect his head from further injury. Head-cuts bled the most, and he really couldn’t afford to lose that much blood. Besides, infection was likely, and while you could amputate a finger, hand, or even arm, you couldn’t cut off your own head.

            He braced for another blow, but it never came. When he opened his eyes, Muse was standing between him and her father. The Silent hadn’t had anyone care about him for three years; it was strange to see it now, from a girl who didn’t even know him. “Father, I don’t know what’s wrong with you! I’ve never seen you act this way before! What has this man done to you? I won’t move until you tell me.”

            “Not to me, Muse. Ask him, if you want. Let him show you what he is.”

            The girl tuned to the Silent. He was gasping in breathe, trying to slow his heart-rate. With a warning glare at her father, Muse knelt down before him, bringing their heads to the same level. “Will you tell me?”

            The Silent closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see the hatred and fear that would flash through her. He didn’t want to see this girl – young and innocent as she was – flinch away. Then, he reached his hand up to the blood soaked collar of his shirt. When he pulled it away from his throat, the girl gasped. “What happened to you? What is this, Father?” The anger in her voice was plain. Did this girl really not recognize the scar?

            Opening his eyes again, the Silent saw her touch her own throat. It was right above her voice-box. Confusion was the dominant emotion on her face. The Silent drew another deep breathe, and opened his mouth, showing the ragged, ruined flesh where his tongue had been torn out. Muse gasped and drew back. The Silent smiled sadly at her.

            “That thing, my daughter, is a Silent. An abomination. A dead man.” The Silent bowed his head in acknowledgement.

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