Songs of a New World – a science fiction flash story

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Photo by Dejan Hudoletnjak via Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by Dejan Hudoletnjak via Flickr Creative Commons

There was a lonely beauty to working with chorister birds. The first to land on the terraformed planet, Simon stepped out into woodlands unseen by any other human and released his birds to fly free among the trees. Nature surrounded him, its beauty the inspiration for the song which would spread with his birds, comforting and encouraging settlers as they landed far from home. Other choristers might be out there in the woods, but by the time he met them the settlements would be rising, humanity claiming the land it had made inhabitable. The beauty would start to fade.

Following the birds with the strongest voices, he headed along a ridge line scattered with pale, jagged rocks and young pines. Hearing the birds respond to their surroundings, he whistled a new refrain, building up the harmony of their intertwining chorus. It became more soothing, in tune with the woods.

As the wind carried away his birds’ voices, he heard those of another chorister ringing across the valley, reaching him from the distant hills.

Captivated, Simon climbed a rock to hear more. It was the most dazzling chorister song he had ever heard. As the wind died down and the voices of his birds reached him again, he was stunned by how much cruder his own work was. He had thought himself sophisticated, but his music was nothing compared with this.

Around him, the focus of the music became lost as his birds explored the new world, picking out local inspirations and broken fragments of the song from across the valley. But he could not remember where he had meant to take the composition, how he wanted the birds to sing.

All he could think about was the other song.

He had to know who had created it.

Hefting his pack of supplies, Simon trudged down the valley and toward the far side. It was a gruelling trek, the ground uneven, the fresh foliage thick and tangled. He was soon exhausted, but he kept whistling as he went, trying to keep his birds with him, striving to weave their song around this new world.

Sweat-soaked and aching, he started up hill. The other song came clearer to him here. His early musical training had been in jazz and blues, and he followed that improvisational discipline, playing around with the tune he heard, trying to whistle a fitting response. Something that would fuse their songs, and those of the two flights of chorister birds. Something that would bring a higher harmony to the planet.

Everything he tried sounded wild and clumsy, not even close to the beauty the other chorister was crafting. He wanted to cry at the wonder of that tune, and at his inability to match it.

Reaching the top of the far ridge, he sank broken to the ground. His body ached, his throat was raw, around him was a chaos of disconnected notes. Worst of all, there was no-one in sight.

Head in hands, he struggled to find even the simplest tune.

Then a whistling emerged from the woods behind him. Picking up the notes he had left discarded in his wake, it threaded them together, connecting them into the already amazing song.

Suddenly Simon heard how it could work. He smiled and leapt to his feet, whistling as he did. The tunes melted together. The valley cam alive.

Someone walked out of the trees. She smiled at Simon, and he smiled back.

“I’m Bernie.” She held out her hand. “Your song was amazing. So many ideas. I wanted to…”

She shrugged bashfully.

“My song?” Simon shook her hand. When he was done, neither of them let go. “Yours was, was…”

“Nowhere near what we’ve made together?” She tilted her head, and Simon listened with her.

Around them, a new world resounded to the beauty of their music.

* * *


This week, I received a mystery parcel in the mail. It turned out to be a buddy box from Blurt, an organisation dedicated to supporting people with depression. It had been arranged by Simon Prebble, a friend of mine. We’ve known each other for years but aren’t particularly close, and it took me completely by surprise, in a good way.

Depression is really hard to deal with, and having people reach out with random acts of kindness, not trying to fix you but letting you know that they care, is a wonderful thing. That box of treats moved me so much I cried a little, and it’s helped me through an increasingly tough week.

So this story is dedicated to Simon and his wife Bernie, as a small way of saying thank you.

I haven’t found out much about Blurt yet, but they look like a good source of support for people with depression. If you want to find out more, then you can follow this link.