Behind the glaze of triangular-framed glasses, the woman’s expression remained pure and focused even as the most beautiful music played in her ears.
She sat behind a geometric desk that practically defined physical perfection. It was painted meticulously in stark whites and dark blues, fitting in perfectly among the mathematical organization that was Sirenia Altberg’s office.
The music continued, in tandem with a song that Sirenia had used a great many times by now. Her ears pleasantly tuned in to the click clack noise of fingers typing rapidly upon a keyboard.
On either side, two humanoid beings sat in their own respective desks; products of the playing song that was Video Killed The Radio Star.
On Sirenia’s left, sat a blank-faced girl with long brown hair and clad in a bright yellow sundress. On her right, a glasses-wearing boy in a tuxedo, his hair in a mop top, similarly remained quiet as he worked. Both of them had no human equivalent of skin, but rather crackling, black and white television static in its place. They both typed at incredible speed, fingers moving between keys like a beam of light bouncing between mirrors.
Sirenia remained focused on the various files that were to be reviewed today, but she felt at ease at the sound of methodical typing.
It was true music to her; an echo of organization that was the very core of her being. Compared to the wonderful typing noise that surrounded her, the simple pop song playing in the air was akin to elevator music. To her, it was forgettable in its lyrics and rhythm, and simply a means to an end.
The music continued to repeat on the stereo system set up in her office, as it often did when she was working on a particularly long project that required more than one set of hands.
Today, she had minutely reviewed every single applicant from the last week. All hopefuls who had been requested to send a cavalcade of information: including their current status as a Music Master, a list of songs that they used and the applicable abilities in detail, and most importantly, proof that their line of ancestry was an unbroken chain of pure Music Masters.
That was the bare minimum to be so much as even considered membership in the ranks of the PureBeats.
And of the hundreds of applicants she’d gone through, Sirenia could count maybe five that might be worthy to join their prestigious Ensemble. And that was only after a strenuous and ruthless background check that Sirenia conducted herself.
Next to her, her loyal Sentonals continued to work as assistant secretaries, typing endlessly as they responded to inquiries, updated reports, and even surveyed the Ensembles’s monthly budget with expert detail. They never faltered or tired for even a moment, and their gaze never left the computer screens unless it was to reach for a physical file nearby.
Like some sort of master computer mainframe, Sirenia shared with them her own mental capacity, allowing them autonomy in completing their work at a speed that rivaled hers.
By the end of this hour, Sirenia was one hundred percent sure that every open report and request would be completed. Her work was always precise, always organized, and above all, always on time.
Now, all that remained was for her to simply increase her speed and efficiency, even if she had to push her Sentonals to their very limits in the process.
It hardly matter if they destroyed themselves doing so, for they were but tools to a goal, after all. And they could always be recreated at the beginning of the song that birthed them.
Unfortunately, Sirenia’s work could not remain uninterrupted. This interruption came in the form of a knock that rapped upon the front door to her office.
In an instant, the typing ceased completely. Sirenia looked up, blinking twice and adjusting her glasses ever so slightly as her mind reminded her of this appointment.
She had almost forgotten to account for interruptions. Today though, this one was of particular importance, and thus it was no crime in her mind.
“You may proceed.” Sirenia said, her voice eloquent and precise. A moment later, and the door into her office slowly opened.
A tall, wizened man of over sixty entered, walking with the assistance of a long blue cane. He wore a slate-grey suit and had delicate, silver hair. As he entered, he looked approvingly at his granddaughter through blue eyes.
“I hope I’m not interrupting.” he said quietly now, approaching a nearby seat as Sirenia beckoned him to take it. “Reviewing applications, I assume?”
She shuffled hard copy files against her desk, before clicking the mute button on the remote that controlled the music coming from above. As soon as the song was gone, both her Sentonals vanished, leaving their chairs empty and just slightly swiveling from the loss of mass.
“Of course. I was just finishing up. Thank you for making time for this today. What I have to show you is of utmost importance.” she explained, eying the printed files in front of her through her glasses. If she revealed them already, without proper explanation, then Iberius might just about have a heart attack.
Iberius set his cane down, sighing deeply before he spoke.
“I hope this doesn’t involve Rob Prototype. I believe I’ve made myself astoundingly clear on our stance with him, to both you and Zero Beat.”
Sirenia nodded slightly. “This is entirely unrelated, I assure you. We can feel free to disagree on that another time, but for now, I have this for you to see.”
Slowly and methodically, she placed down the first photo, and with a shaky, unsure hand, Iberius reached for it.
From where she was sitting, Sirenia could see every detail of his disbelief. It was in his eyes, in the wrinkles on his cheeks, and in twist of his lips.
Her grandfather had always been an external person, even when he appeared calm and collected. Always one to analyze everything, Sirenia noticed every facial twitch and each hint of his body language, even from a young age.
He said nothing as he looked on at the large photo printout, but he might as well be sobbing.
Iberius’s eyes were no longer focused upon Sirenia, and instead upon the photographic image in his hand.
He had seen her almost every day for the duration of her life. By now, he’d memorized his granddaughter’s platinum blonde hair, fixed with chopsticks, her turquoise blue suit, and her prized triangular glasses which she only removed in the shower or to sleep.
But the person on the photo was someone that Iberius had not seen for fifteen years. The boy’s face was a memory of the daughter he had since lost, and he was gifted with her wonderful eyes and his father’s shaggy blonde hair. The boy was dressed in a dark blue dress suit, frozen in action as he unleashed a neon song effect upon some unseen enemy.
“It’s not doctored, but it is straight from Zero Beat.” Sirenia assured from across the desk. “I was able to make a deal for this, but it was no walk in the park.
Iberius peered closer, slowly composing himself in the process. He swallowed a dry breath as his mind still processed the image.
“Where is he?” he then asked, urgency drowning his tone of voice.
Next to her, Sirenia tapped a finger on her locked phone. She didn’t motion to it at all, but it appeared her grandfather understood.
“I have someone working on it right now. Judging by their caliber in Zero Beat, we should be seeing my younger brother sometime tonight.”
At the sound of her declaration, Iberius began to stand. Even with his aged body, he suddenly felt rejuvenated as his mind worked furiously once he realized how soon his lost grandson would be upon him.
“Tonight? That’s so soon. He’ll arrive before we realize. I must…I must make preparations.” he said, his breath becoming suddenly labored as his heart beat faster in his chest.
“Grandfather, please.” Sirenia interrupted, now showing just the tiniest sliver of impatience in her tone of voice. The last thing she needed was him passing out in the middle of her office.
“I don’t need you over-exerting yourself.” she further stated. “Once he’s with us here in the Everclade, we can worry about his accommodations. Do you forget that we have people for that?”
Iberius took a breath, putting his hands on his lap as he sat back down. “This is my grandson; your younger brother. He’s not just some guest. He’s everything.”
Iberius turned, causing Sirenia’s gaze to shift as well.
Up above at the crest of her office hung a portrait that had been painstakingly copied over a dozen times.
It showed the original Altberg family in a moment of time captured from almost two decades ago. Nina Altberg with her platinum blonde hair and delicate features, Alexi Altberg with his regal blonde hair and strong build, and between them Sirenia. She was only a child in the photo, her expression calm as expected of her by her parents.
And to the right, bundled within Nina Altberg’s arms, his eyes open wide for all the world to see, was none other than Calvin Altberg.
Iberius looked on longingly. Sirenia, however, kept a blank expression.
“Patience, grandfather. He’ll be with us soon. I promise you that.” she assured, and that was thankfully enough to keep him in his seat, if only for now.
She would never show disdain, lest her grandfather suspect her intentions for Calvin were anything other than genuine.
Instead, she allowed him to bask in happiness. It was the most happy he had been since he’d seen his daughter for the last time some four years ago.
Sirenia never showed it, but she remembered the day that her mother and father had been taken from them like it was yesterday. It was not something she could just so easily forget, no matter how much she tried.
But now, after years of despair, they would finally have the chosen son of the Purebeats back where he rightfully belonged.
And whether it was from Zero Beat or her grandfather, Sirenia Altberg would finally get everything she rightfully deserved.
Miles away in Manhattan, somewhere in Greenwich Village, the same chosen son of the Purebeats was busy making his way home. He moved along with deftness and practically no noise.
Calvin’s sneakers just barely thumped against old concrete, pushing off from a long collapsed platform to the alcove above.
He grabbed onto the ledge, sneakers scraping slightly onto the wall as the boy hoisted himself up. A combination of upper body and leg strength allowed him to get his footing on the platform, giving him a view of the path ahead once he pulled himself up.
In this part of the Village, abandoned and partially demolished buildings were a regular sight. Long before he’d ever become a Music Master, at the age of nine, Calvin had taken a significant time to scour these buildings until he found one that he could eventually call home.
Even after all this time, Calvin had no name for this place, but he knew its location by heart.
His suit-jacket blowing in the cold wind, Calvin climbed up old steps of this half-collapsed building and found himself in front of what appeared to be a dead end. A huge wall lay in front of him, covered in old detrius and blocking off any further entry.
Calvin looked back for a moment, taking in the city lights and the noises of passing cars, barking dogs, and loud pedestrians. The city’s sounds never changed, but the people in it were a different story entirely.
He lingered, and for a brief moment, Calvin imagined Michael among the crowd. He thought he saw the boy’s large afro, and his mind almost pushed him to call out to him.
But the mind was a fickle thing, and Calvin knew he would have no such luck.
He turned back to the wall blocking his way home, switching to a song on his music player in the next second. Calvin closed his eyes as he Harmonized, taking in the electronic beat like it was water in a desert.
The song bathed him in in its changing light, and in response, Calvin’s body effortlessly shifted. He disassembled in seconds, piece by piece as he turned into minuscule squares no bigger than bytes of digital data.
Soon, Calvin was unrecognizable, a mass of floating blue, yellow and light tan colored particles that flowed together as one mass. Buzzing like digital gnats, they surged forward, making their way through the gaps in the broken wall and to the other side in a coordinated swarm.
Once he was completely through, the surging 8-bit particles that made up his body settled in the air. A few seconds later, and they reconstructed him from the sneakers up, until he was back to his previous physical form like a picture that had just been downloaded.
Calvin cracked his neck, realizing only now how long it had been since he’d used We Come Together to access his home. It was quite the unusual key in and of itself.
Calvin surveyed his room, and it quickly dawned on him how much time he’d spent in the company of his former friends in the Sound Loft. His bed remained in the corner, dusty and somewhat unused. The few dressers he’d scavenged together held all the clothes he had, and ramshackle wires snaked in from outside to power the small mini-fridge, laptop and lights that he’d managed to steal long ago. Calvin kicked off his shoes, before plopping into his bed. He was soon staring up at the tarp he’d set up above, installed shortly after it had first rained and ruined nearly everything he owned.
This was home; the place he’d lived since he was eight years old.
Before that time, it was like the beginning of the universe. Calvin remembered nothing of it, not a speck of his mother and father’s face, nor any music or movies he might have seen or listened to growing up. He didn’t know where he came from, where he was born, or if he even went to school.
Only one faint memory remained in his mind. It was always the same, and it was the only thing he remembered before his first days on the streets.
Platinum blond, tied up hair. Triangle-shaped glasses. Scrutinizing eyes beneath.
It was a person he knew, but not really. She was in parts in his mind, at best.
But she was unimportant, compared to what he had only some days before.
The cold bit at Calvin tonight, and he was quick to throw himself under the covers to try and stay warm. The space heater he had procured had turned out to be a dud, in the end.
Still somewhat exposed, Calvin attempted to allow his mind to wander in order to distract himself
Of course, five minutes was all it took before his mind had circled back around to his former comrades.
The Audio Knights: Michael, Kim, and Aeris, would have to be forgotten. He’d made his choice to not be remembered by history, and betrayed Michael Kay in the process. It was a decision that couldn’t be taken back, and if Calvin wanted to continue living, he’d have to just accept that and forget them for good.
Calvin leaned up in his bed. The last week was like a blur in his mind.
Guilt from his choices hung over him horribly on New Year’s Eve, where he found himself drinking in Times Square in an attempt to forget his trouble. It was a night that barely registered in his mind, and he remembered stumbling back home more than anything else. That, and almost calling Aeris. Even in a drunken state, he still wasn’t stupid enough to do something like that.
As he stretched in his room, Calvin laughed to himself. He’d gotten so smashed, in fact, that he’d almost suspected one of the Pop 5 had been following him. Someone in the crowd had looked just like the blond, ponytail-wearing member of their group who happened to be absolutely obsessed with Michael Jackson.
But Calvin was drunk, and he must have imagined the ordeal in the end. Now, he debated with himself on how to proceed with this increasingly lonely night.
The longer he stayed awake, the more his mind would bring him back to his former friends. Sleep seemed to be the best course of action, if only to keep the demons of reality away.
Calvin sat down now, pulling out his phone and placing it before him. On it, he could still see the one missed call from Aeris’s number.
He’d be lying through his teeth if he said he didn’t want to call her back. It became hard enough in resisting that he’d debated deleting her number entirely. Unfortunately, that was something he definitely still couldn’t do.
“I gotta get you out of my head, Bright Eyes.” he then said to himself, picking up his phone and staring at a old picture of them together. Aeris was hugging him tightly, and Calvin smiled wide in a way that would make Michael jealous.
It was a sweet picture memory he’d kept till now, and struggled to keep even as his mind begged him to delete it already.
But as Calvin prepared to do that very action, the air around him changed. Something felt off as tension rose around him.
His ears perked up, and he looked towards the wall nearby. His eyes widened, as the sound of music began to rise from the other side of the wall.
He wondered at first if he was imagining it. Then the music got louder.
Then the wall blocking his makeshift room from the outside world shattered as if hit by a wrecking ball.
Calvin Altberg didn’t even have time to reach for his headphones before the splitting scream ripped through the concrete and plaster alike. A sonic wave of destruction rushed forward to destroy anything in its path, framed under the music of the song that had allowed it to exist.
Chunks flew outwards, smashing his laptop nearby and destroying the remains of the walls guarding his room in the process. He ducked to the ground, barely avoiding debris in the process as dust billowed towards him in a huge cloud.
Hands over his head, the boy’s worst fears had finally come true. All of his plans, his betrayal, had all been for naught in the end.
Who else would brazenly find him like this? He had failed to listen to his senses, even while drunk, and now he was about to pay the price.
Zero Beat had found him, and they’d come to finish the job that had started with Michael Kay’s death.
Calvin rushed to get up and grab at his headphones, but a black stiletto hit him across the fact and sent him reeling back in the process.
He fell back hard, hitting his head against the siding of his desk. Pain spiked through the back of his head and into his forehead as his sight became cloudy and the world moved in slow motion.
Struggling to regain his vision, Calvin could now see the approaching form of a girl. He didn’t recognize her, but he could see the details of her black skintight suit and the tapping of her black stilettos as she walked towards him. Her hair was some monochrome entity that seemed to almost obscure the focused, quite obsessed intensity in her eyes.
She approached slowly, and that was more than enough for Calvin to realize that his time on this planet had finally run out.
He backed up in his leaning position, his blazer partially matted now with copious dust.
“So that’s it then, huh? Zero Beat just can’t give a guy a break?”
His words were quick, but he was ignored as his assailant leaned down to face him.
Once she was closer, he began to vaguely recognize something about her appearance. Through black and white mascara and full lipstick, he could see a glimmer or someone he knew he’d seen in the past. But his mind was flying in twenty different directions, and it ultimately became unimportant.
What was important was that they’d finally caught up with him. This was the price for betraying Michael, for hurting Aeris, and for pissing off Kim.
Calvin gulped. If history had decided to call his number, then perhaps the time had come to make his lasting impression.
If this really was fate, and Calvin had finally got what was coming to him, then he wasn’t going out like a coward. He was no Highlord Funk, but he was no chump either.
The girl continued to stare, having said not a word this entire time. She seemed to be pondering what to do with him, and Calvin could only wonder if she was planning some specific way to kill him.
Nevertheless, Calvin narrowed his eyes as he spoke with his last bit of courage. “I’m here. You gonna do what you’re gonna do, or what? I don’t have all night.”
She craned her neck, observing him like a bird might observe potential prey. Words finally slipped out of her mouth, partially distorted under her song effect.
She opened her mouth further, and soon began to scream.
It was a visible, black and white, undulating wave of sonic force, one which surged around Calvin and invaded his ears and the very confines of his brain. The distorted noise was absolutely horrible, but Calvin could only sit and take it as he waited for the awful moment when his brain finally exploded from the vibration.
But as the girl continued to scream with all her might, the noise lessened, eventually becoming a swan song that slowly but surely began to lull Calvin to sleep.
His last memory of wakefulness was watching the girl stand up and begin to pull out her phone. Even as his eyes closed shut and his brain turned off from this subsonic knockout, Calvin still had no idea who she was.
The blackness that he assumed was death then arrived, and Calvin Altberg went out like a light. All he could see was one last glimpse of Aeris’s bright eyes before his mind shut off completely.
A few seconds later, and the mysterious girl spoke once again.
“Off.” she said, and her Z-Phones responded in turn, muting Scream in the process.
The song effect ended, and in response, a shifting spire of energy surged over the girl. In the next instant, her previous appearance was gone, revealing her to have been Denny this entire time. With the end of her song effect, her mind returned, and so did her normal voice.
Denny dialed a number quickly on her phone. She eyed Calvin for a moment, but it was obvious he wasn’t getting up anytime soon. No one could withstand Scream like that for more than five seconds.
Denny only waited two rings on the phone before a calm, calculated voice picked up on the other line.
“Is it done?” the woman said. “Do you have him with you?
Denny nodded as she looked on at Calvin.
“Yeah, he’s here. I’ll be at the drop-off with him within the hour. We can discuss what I get in return for him then.”
“Of course.” the woman said. The call clicked off.
Denny closed her phone. Clearly, the Purebeats were to the point.
But Denny didn’t care, as she now wondered how she could easily bring Calvin to the drop off point over two miles away. He didn’t look like he weighed much, but it still wouldn’t be easy. She debated bringing out Price, but knew that she’d have to take the back alleys to avoid being spotted by nosy people.
Scream had kept her focused all this time, but without the song’s influence, Denny found her mind wandering again, and warm thoughts of Michael threatened to take her away from the task at hand.
Meanwhile, Calvin slept soundly at her feet, his chest rising and falling as he had fallen into dreamland.
For now, he would sleep.
He would dream of a reality where things had worked out, and Aeris was with him.
But when he awoke in a few hours, reality would surely return to remind him of the painful truth of the present.