Harmony… Or something like it.
I’d like to share with my new followers the first chapter of my novel, Harmony. I’m getting ready to submit to agents, and I’d love to get a few opinions on it. Here’s a (very) short synopsis:
There are two worlds: the Surphass and the Deppth. One is above ground; the other is below. Which one you belong in depends solely on what you look like. After the annual Class Test, the test that determines this fate, eighteen-year-old Ryder Black is ripped away from her adoptive family and placed in the Deppth. She is never allowed to return. It’s a seemingly peaceful world, with no crime, no poverty and no suffering. But now there’s one problem. Ryder is determined to go home.
Is there any chance that you’re already hooked? If you’re not, I want to know why in the comments below. If you are, keep reading…
As my feet almost sink into the deep, white sand of the Deppth, a solid wall of late October heat hits me square in the face. I was warned about the artificial weather on the way down here, but I wasn’t expecting this. It penetrates me, centring in on the pit of my stomach, where what feels like a small ball of fire begins to grow.
The azure sky stretches in a colossal sheet for miles, blurring into the horizon. I’m almost convinced, until I look up and make out the green, grid-like lines that wink in and out of view. They’re what brings me back down to earth.
Or wherever the hell I am.
About a mile away in the other direction is the edge of this desert-like expanse. Shining metallic buildings, all tall, thin and exquisite stand closely together, curving around in elegant, nameless shapes and shielding what’s beyond them from the ardent heat.
All the books I’ve read, all the hours spent poring over photographs and articles are nothing compared to the real thing. Admittedly, it’s breath taking. But then a soft wind blows at my hair and exposes the still-raw brand at the rear of my neck to the fiery warmth, and I feel my face crumple as I grit my teeth through the burn. Every time a shot of pain flares through me, the image of the reddened letter flashes in my mind.
It’s true that where I’m headed is as beautiful as I’ve always imagined it to be, but right now, it takes every ounce of strength and willpower to not step back onto the white, egg shaped capsule and travel back to the Surphass. Back to where I belong.
‘They’ve done a mighty fine job of the underworld –’ says the caramel-skinned, chocolate-eyed operator, laughing softly, ‘– you don’t have to look as though you’re travelling to your death.’
I almost forgot that there are people with me. I look behind at the entrance to the capsule and see some fifty other eighteen year olds looking in the same direction I was. Their skin is a few shades lighter than the operator’s; their hair, whether long or short, thick or thin, soft or coarse, is mostly mouse-brown but with a few exceptions; their faces differ to the extreme: there are big eyes and small eyes, wide noses and narrow noses, square jaws and slender jaws. Each of them is unique. But all are apparently the same.
Because of that, this one is isn’t their stop. Because of that, they have the letter C on the backs of their necks. And because of that, they’re about to travel into the haze. To the city of Credigen. And that’s where they’ll stay, forever.
‘You can go, if you want,’ I tell the operator. ‘I’m okay from here. Thanks.’
He bows his head once and ushers everybody back through the entrance. They give me sympathetic smiles and hesitant waves before the door closes and the vehicle hovers a few feet above the ground. A second later, its electric whir sounds and it shoots in the direction of nothing, leaving behind a light wind and a stir in the sand. I’ll never see one of those people again apart from the operator. He gets to go all over.
I’m suddenly feeling a lot smaller than I did just a couple of seconds ago, but I try not to let the aloneness permeate my senses. It’ll come, though. I can feel it. But with nothing left to do but proceed with the new life I’ve been dealt, I begin the walk. I’ve requested that a car doesn’t come to take me to my apartment, because since my Class Test, the Utopiats’ flamboyant offers to me have been endless. I’m not accepting any of them.
Up on the Surphass, the heat of the empty space would have had the peaks of my shoulders and the tip of my nose burned red and peeling. Here in the Deppth – or the “underworld” as the operator so humorously coined it – the temperature is like being trapped in a heated blanket: unpleasant, sure, but also completely harmless. UV rays will never pigment my skin again; at least, not real ones.
I take off my pumps and let my toes curl in the sand, with its grains so fine and minute that it feels like molten rock. I enjoy the feeling and so I walk slowly, and in no time at all, a thin sheen of sweat has formed on my upper lip and on the insides of my thighs. The only thing I look forward to in the near future is being able to take a shower, and even that seems too far away.
What feels like hours later even though only thirty minutes has passed, I stop at the periphery of the city. Piddigen stretches so far and wide that the last buildings I can see look to be the size of ants. In an attempt to keep the population physically close together, most buildings have been designed to go up instead of out, and so each of them has to be at least a thousand feet tall. As I delve deeper in I look around me at the immaculate, state of the art blocks, all black or silver or charcoal in colour, and realise that my view of the sky is minimal. I suppose that’s a way to divert any attention away from the grids, but what surprises me is that it actually works.
It’s morning. Cars whir past; school children veer dangerously close to me on their scooters; men in grey coats are using these vacuum-like devices to suck up the stray sand that must have blown in overnight. I turn to look back at the way I’ve come, but all I can see now is pavement, buildings, cars, people. The desert has disappeared, and I’m sure it’s going to be easy to forget that there’s anything natural around me at all.
My new world has swallowed me up. I’m sure that was their intention. Even though Supure’s are significantly more glamorous and ostentatious than these, Piddigen’s streets are almost tantamount to the ones on the Surphass. But at the same time, they’re completely different.
Different, because these ones aren’t real.
A further half-hour walking through this monotonous maze of chrome and concrete has me giving up and flinging my arm out into the road so I can flag down a taxi. One stops immediately in the form of a young albino man on a motorcycle, who hands me a helmet from a compartment in the back seat.
‘Good morning,’ he smiles. I assess his white skin and hair and milky blue eyes. He’s a Pid, for sure. But his wide, even features tell me that his parents probably aren’t. It appears I’m not the only one who’s been ripped away.
‘Morning – the good part’s debatable,’ I reply, flashing him a half-hearted grin in return. I pull my new identification chip out of my pocket and double-check my new address, but then I stare at it for a few moments, looking at the photograph of my face next to a name that doesn’t belong to me. Everything that identified me from my life on the Surphass has been destroyed. ‘Apartment sixty-one, twenty-seven, forty-five, W?’ I shrug, but the man nods his understanding. Apparently, I’m just a number now.
We fly for around ninety minutes at speeds I neither know nor care to, my arms wrapped tight around his waist and the two of us in companionable quiet. I keep my eyes closed because I’m sure that if I open them, the wind whipping at my face will dry out the moisture. When we stop outside a brilliant white building that stands straight in the air around us, I take off my rucksack and pull out my old leather jacket; the wind has given me a chill.
The driver tilts his head in sympathy. ‘You’re new to the Deppth, right?’ he asks. I nod. ‘What are you going to be known as from now on?’
I run my tongue over my teeth and try to swallow my irritation, but bitterness prevails. ‘Rebel White.’
‘Rebel?’ he repeats. I nod again, this time with a raised eyebrow. ‘Sounds fierce.’
‘Just a normal girl,’ I promise, lifting my hands. The driver smiles and bids me good luck, before he climbs back onto his motorcycle and speeds away.
I have to bend my neck a whole forty-five degrees backwards before I’m able to see the top of my new home. My apartment is on floor seventy-nine of eighty-two – in the sky, in other words. I walk through the automatic doors and across the impeccable limestone lobby towards the lift, with the sound of my new name playing over and over in my mind. ‘Rebel White,’ I whisper to myself, letting the words circle my tongue and weave through my teeth. ‘Rebel White. What a joke.’
The Utopiats are the patriotic and peace-seeking government. But perhaps empire is a more appropriate term, because they rule the entire world. They’re the reason I’m down here. It’s considerably rare to cross from the Surphass to the Deppth or vice versa after a Class Test, but if you do, you’re given a whole new identity. That’s what has happened to me. I’m the first person I know to have my name changed, and I think that Rebel White was a distinctly unimaginative choice. But then, it’s possible that they made that choice so overtly in order to insult me like I insulted them. Probable, even.
She’s fooling you, Supreme. The boy’s hideous little smirk has been haunting me. It was the moment everything was shattered, and I know I won’t forget it for as long as I live. Now I think back, I realise how stupid, how naïve and – pun not intended – how rebellious I must have looked, confessing to the Utopiats after my Test that I dyed my hair brown and spent almost a week in a colour closet making my honey skin darker, all in an attempt to avoid being sent here. But whether I realise it now or not, it’s too late. I did try to fool them – that cretin wasn’t lying. But as penance, I’ll never see my family again.
That’s the way the world works now.
My new apartment is so enormous that I’m sure it could easily fit two hundred people. Everything in sight that’s not electric is white: white sofa, white walls, white fluffy carpets. At one end of the main room is the kitchen, at the other is the living area, and in the thirty feet of space that stands between the two is a colossal pool table with cream wood and white felt, a ridiculous dinner table made completely out of glass, and a huge armchair that sits with its back to a wide wall of books. Out of all there is to look at, though, I stare at the sofa. It’s a suede semi-circle of cushion, and I ponder the point of its gargantuan size, when the only person who’s going to sit on it is me. After a moment I decide that it’s some sort of un-amusing joke, before scanning through the book collection and then heading for the bathroom.
I stand in the large, glass cubicle that I assume is the shower, eyeing the hundreds of tiny silver circles that are scattered across the wall of it. There are no buttons, no showerhead, no taps – just this, where I’m standing. I sigh, feeling like an imbecile.
‘Shower?’ I ask pathetically.
But it works. Out of the hundreds of silver circles shoots pleasantly hot water and shower gel, popping out at me and forming soap bubbles in the air. I let out a quiet snort and begin to wash myself, unable to believe how different, how much more developed this place is than our apartment in Supure. My old home is indeed old. Buttons still have to be pressed to activate the electronics; switches still have to be flicked to turn on the lights. I feel like I’ve been transported to another planet. But then… that’s almost exactly what has happened.
The bed is wide enough to comfortably fit seven people, and long enough, I suspect, to comfortably fit a seven-foot tall man. Luckily, there’s a human-sized chaise longue on a raised platform next to the window, and so I put most of its too many pillows on the floor before pulling the blankets from the bed over to it. I climb on with them around my shoulders.
It’s ten in the morning, but I lie down and stare out of the window at the city of Piddigen as I wait for a few hours of sleep to come at me. Something I’ve been trying not to think about, something I’ve been trying not to dwell on, is the fact that this place, this normal, earthly-looking place exists miles below the ground on which I stood for eighteen years. A whole new earth inside the earth. But I’ve always wanted to see it, for some reason. Always wanted to see the Deppth. And now I’ve seen it.
Far out past the hundreds of skyscraper buildings, I can see the liquid-sand I felt beneath my toes, vibrating in the distance. I allow myself to relax.
There’s still a way out of this hole in the ground. My new world hasn’t quite swallowed me up yet.
There it is!
If you hated it, I’d like to know – in the nicest way possible as I’m the sensitive type (;
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