This is the short story which I wrote to submit to the Clarion workshop a year ago; yes, I failed :(
I am a novice sf writer, so any comments and advices or encouragements are wholeheartedly welcome.
Episode 1. Black Bird Song￼
There was a bird in the beginning.
It is wrong that man is a creator of all things. Music, for instance. Music comes from birds. Only 11% of primates sing, but almost all birds sing. The genius composer Mozart humbly accepted this fact. In his notes, it is written that the piano concerto Number 17 in G major was composed with the help of a pet starling.
There are elements of music such as melody, rhythm, beat, composition, and tone in the bird’s tweet. Birds are known to sing to win their mates, and birds that sing well have better chances to mate, but they do not necessarily sing for the sake of mating. Birdsongs are filled with emotions such as anger, joy, love and sadness. They sing differently when singing to a mate than when a mate comes back to the nest after a flight or when a family member sends her regards.
Sonograph, an audio device that visually represents sound, shows that humans can distinguish between sounds that are separated by a fraction of a second. The male canary seeks a sexy song where high frequency and low frequency sounds are repeated every 17th of a second when impressing a female. Birds without phonemes and letters would have to be highly sensitive to the pitch and rhythm of the sound for food to survive and for their own communication. Sounds that can be heard are also related to the size of the face, and because the distance between the ears is narrow, the sounds of frequencies outside the human’s audible range can be heard. Joyce released her pet, Hyeonjo (玄鳥) today. Hyeonjo. It was good to have a name like a person’s. That’s what Joyce called her pet. Sometimes she called the bird BB (an acronym for “black bird” in English). Black birds, she thought, can be really gorgeous. If you embrace all the refracted light of the world, can it shine so radically? Some people call birds feathered primates. An amazing bird that shows animals can be smarter than humans and understand music. Hyeonjo liked the piano sound. The frequency and tone of the piano scales were also pleasant to hear. The silent atmosphere overwhelmed the entire house and fluctuated. It became strange because of the croaking voice. The classical music that had always been played at Joyce’s house was augmented and sometimes sounded like Fugue.
He knew that the piano sonata would end with the theme that had originally started it. He especially liked Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. Mi-ra-do, mi-ra-do, mi-ra-do, mi-ra-do, fa-ra-do, fa-ra-do, fa-si ♭re, fa-si♭re, mi-sol ♭re , mi-ra-do, mi-ra-si, mi-sol-#si….
It seemed to enjoy subtle changes of the lowering and increasing of the half tone of the triplet melody.When the music stopped, it could be silent, too. Joyce looked into his eyes and wondered what kind of soul would be nestled in this creature.
It was not possible to dispose of Hyeonjo. Over the past five years, the highly pathogenic virus anomalies had been growing year by year, and the number and size of poisons had increased exponentially, and now limited to some poultry and migratory birds, it had spread to thousands of birds all over the world. Until that moment, the number of cumulative disposal has reached billions. The government had even issued executive orders to ban pets or companion animals in homes. Some anthropologists said that this epidemic was predicted some ten thousand years ago. When human beings appeared on the earth, humans were a minority. The number of humans was less than one tenth of the total wildlife. However, greedy people who used stone tools to farm and weapons to hunt completely reversed this rate. The era of animals’ collapse meant a devastating human victory. Soon all vertebrates will become extinct.Fly away, fly away. Fly high and get away from this polluted and cruel earth. If you climb as high as you can, you may find a wonderful new world. The highest recorded flight of birds above the earth was at 12,000 meters. At that height, they can threaten the lives of hundreds of humans flying in the air with a machine.
It was a frequent thing to fly out of the way, so he didn’t understand why Joyce was weeping when she blew him away, but he know from recent flights that something unfortunate was happening. The number of birds had sharply decreased, and the crows who had fought against themselves and the horned corpses must have done their work because even the red-horned crows had been out of sight for quite some time.
Hyeonjo had a feeling that he would not be able to meet Joyce again. They had shared a lot of musical conversation together, too. Hyeonjo made a puddle wing as hard as he could and cried out in a circle of three wheels outside the veranda window. Then he stood in front of Joyce for a while before he flew at a 45 degree angle, out of her view.
Joyce’s first meeting with Hyeonjo was a snowy winter six years ago. The baby crows were in an old, turquoise-colored backpack, and Joyce knew at a glance that it had belonged to her father. But the backpack was in the hands of Dr. Minsky. He was a doctor of ornithology who accompanied Joyce on every bird trip, carrying her on his shoulders like an uncle.
“Your dad was with me, but we were about a mile away from camp. Suddenly, strong winds blew and the weather worsened. I returned to camp after a struggle, but your father did not come back that night. I made a distress call and searched all night, but the rescue team found the doctor after morning had broken.”
Dr. Minsky seemed exhausted, as if he could barely keep on talking. “Your dad climbed up a tree and found the baby crows in a nest. He put them in the backpack, and as he came down, he slipped…”
My father’s final remains and his incomplete project — crows that kept pounding in the backpack. The birds regarded the first creature they saw as a mother, and continued to follow her. Joyce was a mother to Hyeonjo. Joyce looked after him with enthusiasm. He was the only friend Joyce had, and helped her learn new and curious things every day.
When studying animals, the first principle is to get close and intimate. Joyce needed to be a good observer and not be noticed.
Joyce’s father, Dr. Ahn, was using his tools to research crows not simply because of their high intelligence. In the experiments related to the birds’ intelligence, Dr. Ahn and his research team found nerve cell processes that lead to parallel studies of brain evolution.It was a study with very high academic value because it could reveal the functional similarities and differences between primate and birds’ brains from other evolved histories since the dinosaur’s descendant, the archeopteryx.
He was delighted that Joyce resembled her mother, Dr. Kim, a beloved wife and a respected colleague. He had given hera very important research topic and foundation that could spur on her interdisciplinary research on zoology and brain science. However, there was another better reward. Joyce, the fruit of the love between them and their most precious asset, could exit her trap-like cave, become real friends with the crow, and share the same emotions with the creature so that they could express their deep emotions and love. Joyce, who had only ever been interested in piano, cello, and painting since she was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, had spent her adolescence singing, playing, and talking with crows who happened to come to her house one day. There was an intimate connection between Joyce and Hyeonjo, who was especially close to her compared to the other crows.
Six years after the bird’s departure
Joyce had realized that animals possessed the same intelligence and emotions as humans, and consequently she felt thrilled about subjects such as the dynamics of intelligence and how music works in the brain. She became a brain scientist who acquired her Ph.D. in research on music and brain activation mechanisms at the leading research institutes in Germany and, through her research, had developed new brain therapies. Above all, she overcame autism herself and published a therapy for the language and cognitive function of children with autism, which was published in the most prestigious neuroscience journals worldwide.
It is known that the perception of the pitch and melody are handled by the right side of the cerebral cortex, while the intonation for proper speaking is controlled by the left one. Until recently, brain scientists have found that if the right brain, which governs the recognition of the melody, is damaged, the ability to communicate is partially impaired, and so the processing of speech and music is therefore correlated in the Broca area of the brain.
However, Joyce’s study was significant in that it revealed the causal relationship between music and language function and first suggested the change in focus from a long term study of music and its effects over a period of more than a year. This was a great congratulatory event. not only in the field of brain science, but also in the fields of medicine and music education. And through her own efforts, Joyce became a victor and survivor of autism.
Music without somebody to listen to it is not music. Joyce missed Hyeonjo badly. Joyce, who spent a lot of time alone, had not felt lonely before only because Hyeonjo had been there. Music is deeply connected with emotion. When she played the piano, her emotions processed in the center of her brain stimulated the oldest parts of her brain and the cerebellum and she was soaked with sweat. The genius of autistic people is very similar to that of animals. Autistic people see trees better than forests. One tree, tree, tree, tree… One branch, branch, branch… One note, note, note, note…
Although not all autistic people possess a good sense of pitch. The word “absolute pitch” is often abused these days. One day, Joyce’s piano teacher played five chords. It was not just a master chord, dominant chord, or a subdominant chord. D9, A7, B flat dim (diminished), E aug (augment), A flat sus4 (suspended). The piano teacher was astonished at Joyce’s accurate guesses, which were correct regardless of whether the seven notes, three sharp notes, or three flat notes were ringing at the same time. It seemed as if the specimen of every universal sound that could exist was imprinted in the auditory cortex of her brain.
However, this sensitivity was sometimes poisonous. When she listened to the beautiful sonatas of Beethoven or gazed at the glowing evening sky and the ragged willow branches, the tsunami of emotions which rose up inside kept her from her room, classes, and appointments. These distractions occurred quite often. At first, Dr. Kim was crying and sick just like his daughter,but at the same time, she firmly believed that Joyce would use these emotional energies someday to do meaningful work.
A flock of black birds from the blue sky
The food chain of the earth’s ecosystem had been destroyed. An infectious disease spreading in herbivores and birds eventually led to the extinction of carnivorous animals. Amphibians and reptiles that were relatively safe in the human diets settled on the upper levels of the feeding pyramid.
The epidemic caused by the highly pathogenic variant virus, ironically led to a breakthrough in biotechnology and convergence engineering. With the development of molecular engineering, nanotechnology, and food processing, massive quantities of juicy and mouth-watering pseudo-meat was created that was almost more real than actual meat. The demand for seafood had fallen, leaving the sea as the last remaining place for animal life. Anxiety about eating animals, raw or cooked, had forced people to choose a vegetarian diet rather than the traditional omnivorous one.
Those who longed for meat insisted on reviving the livestock industry by cloning animals, but there were more people advocating for vegetarianism. They wanted to restore the diversity of species and the natural ecosystem, utilizing biotechnology alone to preserve a healthy society. Many of those who thought this way were, of course, animal lovers.
One day, black objects appeared in the sky. At first, they looked like air force fighters on a practice flight. They also resembled a murder of crows, but they were larger than crows. Some people got excited and shouted, “Birds, birds, birds, come back again!” Some were very much afraid that they might take revenge on humankind. Some people thought it must be an exhibition of the work of robotic engineers who created their machines using nanotechnology. After all, it had been two years since all the birds had gone extinct on the planet.
At the head of the crow-like things, there was larger figure. As the other bird-like shapes disappeared, a larger crow fell at a speed of light and headed in a distinct direction.
It was on its way to Joyce’s house.
Can you hear this song?
Dr. Kim had attended the conference. She made a phone call to Joyce after hearing of the birds’ appearance, but the call did not connect. Kim cleared her mind and headed straight to her daughter’s house, which was quite different than Kim’s rural house by the sea.
The password to Joyce’s porch door was 18731943. It was a combination of the birth and death year of Joyce’s favorite composer, Rachmaninov.
Joyce’s second floor veranda window was open, and all of Joyce’s personal belongings, including cell phones, purses, and coats, were left in the living room. There was no sign of someone coming into the house. Only one large, black feather fell onto the porch. There was a message saying, “Mom, I’ll come back soon,” written in lipstick on the window.
Kim had always wanted Joyce to be a strong, independent woman with her own domain, as that was Dr. Kim’s way. Joyce’s mother had always been a model for her daughter as a human, a woman, and a researcher. Above all, Dr. Kim hoped her daughter would live a life full of love, rather than a dry, lonely one. Her wish became stronger after her husband’s death. After a decade alone, Dr. Kim had looked for research projects to head or papers to write, becoming a workaholic to forget the loss of her husband. Joyce still needed a lot of help from her mother, as well. Time had passed, and though she’d had a few dates with fellow professors who liked her, Dr. Kim found that maintaining a constant relationship was not easy. The memories of the love she had shared with her husband always flowed.
Mother and daughter had always tried to allow each other freedom and space, and yet they still shared a common denominator in life that filled them both with joy, namely music and nature. Joyce’s birth, and the discovery of her autism, had been a hardship for Dr. Kim and her husband, but through their daughter they realized the precious truth that all noble things are painful yet rare. The couple’s love had been made even more solid, and throughout their time together, their love was always kept green and healthy.
Kim had been so happy to hear the news that Joyce, who had lived with birds, pianos, and cellos as her only friends when she was young, got dates with a senior cellist of the city’s symphony orchestra after they had collaborated with her. But then, her daughter had suddenly disappeared… Dr. Kim could not even think of a world without Joyce. Until a year ago, when Joyce had begun to spend time with her male friend, Kim had done everything with her daughter, such as watching movies, taking trips to explore the world, attending exhibitions, or dining out at restaurants. Even though she’d been happy to celebrate her daughter’s first love, Kim had still felt some loneliness. Joyce was the daughter of Kim’s greatest friend, who had taught her all about the beauty of love, the thrilling feeling of a first kiss, the deep thoughts one could not share with any other person.
And her daughter was missing. Dr. Kim knew intuitively that her daughter was not on Earth anymore. Even though it had always been Joyce who had held a firm belief in extraterrestrial life and a longing for space travel, Kim felt this was what must have happened. She felt heart-breaking sorrow at the thought. There was no sense of happiness, no meaning to life anymore. Kim started to weep bitterly. Joyce, can you hear this song…? She played Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata №3,” her fingers pressing so hard she almost thought she would break the piano in a fit of heart-throbbing grief.
Three minutes later, a bright flash of light spread across the area around Dr. Kim and the piano. It was soft like a mist and left a bright haze in the air. Joyce appeared on Hyeonjo’s back and beckoned to Dr. Kim. Hyeonjo’s wings were grand and elegant. Texture and motion were felt; it was not hologram.
“Let’s go, Mom. Come on!”
Dr. Kim stopped playing and caught Joyce’s hand. Her daughter’s body was surprisingly weightless. Airships waited for them in the sky. Dr. Kim, Joyce, and Hyeonjo boarded one of the airships. A senior government official tried to contact Dr. Kim to suggest that the appearance of the crow-like objects had something to do with Joyce’s disappearance, but Dr. Kim had already disappeared, as well.