T WAS SURPRISING when machinu, the self-organizing machine intelligence, developed its own form of musical expression, but then its own version of musical acts began appearing. To human ears this music sounded like an emotionless, mechanized, harrowingly intricate resonance. Some argued whether it really was music at all, as the notion was understood. But doubts were removed when certain physical components and automatons began to, for lack of a better term, dance, coming together to move in mathematical rhythm. The machinu then began assimilating human music, and that’s when the Bureau of Sentience Surveillance, my employer, began to pay attention.
Evidence had been accumulating that the machinu had developed a memetic drug called imuzac that was transmitted through music and enabled mind control of the vulnerable. All indications were that juveniles were getting hooked on it. Neither father’s warning nor mother’s shame could prevent it from happening, it was that good, that catchy. Certain intelligence reports had it that DJ Masterque, a suspected machinu operative, was going to launch a devastating new mix using an imuzac so strong it would reduce the poor kids who heard it into blubbering stooges.
The Bureau had surmised that this plot would in all likelihood unfold at Echodominion—essentially a massive bush rave—and a team would be sent in to thwart it. As one of those chosen I would act as operations specialist with responsibility for undercover work, and my associates would be Kwimmy C, a colleague of several years, and Adin P, a recent addition to the Bureau; two women who, although getting on well enough, couldn’t be less alike. Adin was tall, freckled, brooding; an incisive thinker and the nominal brains of our outfit. Kwimmy was notable for being superbly athletic and lethal of hand and foot despite her diminutive (though curvaceous) physique—a real firecracker—and no mental slouch. Our assignment was straightforward: we were to infiltrate that bush rave and assassinate the deejay.
The event was being held in a rural area of nowhere Ontario. The local municipality, initially intolerant to the affair, had relented to playing host for the income it might generate. A patch of forest had been bulldozed to make space for it and the line-up to enter the grounds stretched for miles down the highway. Echodominion was open to all and both man and machine would be in attendance. Security personnel, many of whom were mounted on horseback, were vigorously searching everyone and everything. We had good reason to believe that the majority of them were on the machinu payroll. Up and down the line drugs were being tossed into the bushes, baggies of the non-sanctioned drugs for which the machinu had zero tolerance as they might interfere with the potency of the imuzac. Retrieval missions would be mounted later on for the discarded product and hidden stashes. We learned that one group had brought a retired police dog, crossed to the other side, precisely for just this sort of narco hide and seek.
Approaching the gate we witnessed bull-horned horseguard shouting down attendees, having by then lost patience with the antics of the gathering throng. At the threshold we were made to lay our belongings on the dirt as anything was considered a possible weapon, even a jar of pickles, which unfortunately for Adin was confiscated. Luckily our hardware was expertly concealed in the tent and camping gear and went undetected.
Welcome to Echodominion breathed our follow voice, the floating mouth that greeted us and hovered just off our flank as we passed through the gate and into the raving grounds. It is a pleasure to possess you. Already music was pouring forth over droves of the innocent, music like an inky jungle, like the outcries of the soulless over choppy Stygian waves. Bobbing our heads we did our best to blend in. Hours later I would feel the very same music as darkly persuasive ear butter soothing to the body and mind. Kwimmy sized up the crowd and began probing the security detail for weaknesses. Of the subtribes gathered were electrists, bangheads, soosuckers and unidaughters. I could see it in their faces: they had junk ears, suffering severe music addiction and craving the next next thing. The odd misfit was thrown in for good measure, like one male wearing only a banana hammock, an embarrassment to himself and everyone. Adin reminded us that we should at all times actively suppress thoughts as to the reasons for being there, as anything of the sort might show up as outliers. The machinu was progressively improving its ability at reading brains.
The place seemed to be in a pre-revolutionary state, prompting the authorities to attempt tight control. Those who seemed least likely to conform were being herded around by horseguard as if they were dumb walking apes that could be so easily controlled. Sequestered at security depots they were questioned under the threat of eviction. More covertly, drugs were being distributed to certain groups by undercover agents, narcotics which in fact were not good times, free of charge, but tranquilizers meant to subdue.
Stonedope junglists had taken sway of one stage, practically drooling over the crowd through vampulators. On a random walk through the haphazardly assembled tent grounds we stumbled upon the bonfire of the Detroit boys. One introduced himself as Sherp, and we kind of trusted each others’ accents. I asked if they were having fun. “Yeah we are” said Sherp, “but what’s with the security bastards, I thought Canadians were supposed to be polite.” “I guess they could smile a little more” I replied. Sherp seemed to have a thing for Kwimmy and started macking on her, suggesting that we all hang out for the night. I gave Adin a nose swipe signal and stepped in with the excuse that we had to leave quickly to catch one particular act and that yes, we would look for them later. It was no time for fraternizing. It might have seemed like I was jealous, and yes Kwimmy and I used to have something going on but that was long over. Adin was more my type anyway.
We continued on to the Xabarra stage to sway in front of the altar with other assembled disciples, and she at front who controlled us with her sound machine, DJ Akasha the Poetess, knew what it was like to live as a minor deity, a god of about that many people. A worship that, though temporary, was pure in form, a modest devotion.
That first night constituted a scoping exercise. The three of us were generally older than most in attendance, many of whom appeared to subsist on nothing more than alcoholic energy syrups. We hoped our gourmet grill wouldn’t arouse suspicion as we were probably the only ones eating anything resembling actual food. With nonstop sonic destruction arriving from five different stages the only thing that saved us were the earplugs that Adin had packed, and we managed a few hours sleep. We awoke to the ever-present bass rumble and the voices of people who had arrived overnight. Toronto Russians by the sound of it. They were setting camp next to us. I overheard them talking in english about something called Solituud, a substance I wasn’t familiar with. As the morning went on the revelers who were last to arrive proceeded to pack into the least desirable area: a cleared out sand bowl at dead centre. At least we had a few trees around us for shade at the periphery of the clear-cut.
We took in some acts throughout the second day. The Acme stage was reserved for bands using traditional instruments, and a group called Rootbear was in no rush to unwind its sapid groove. Kwimmy noticed something off about one kid who was standing near us, barely holding it together with a memstrat dangling from his wrist. Attempting to walk he stumbled to the side, his limbs stiff and unbending as he gained sideways momentum and careened into a group of people. The collision at least stopped him and he remained there, rigid and, I realize now, immobilized on Solituud. “Anything can happen on it” one of the Torontonians had said that morning, and neither they nor that poor lad could have known that Solituud was a popular narcoleptic for distressed whales.
A band named Voodruid mounted the stage and with a smiting heaviness inspired the youth to a frenzy of mosh forms like the pogo-pogo and mohawk cyclone. Chunky guitars mushed them on, the males driven to jump against each other like shoving dummies. I spotted the drummer taking a rim shot between songs, snorting a dusting of powder along the rim of his crash cymbal before smashing it to begin the next song. It was getting hot in that stew of pheromone-laced sweat spray and we retreated back to our tent.
At one point some teenagers from a nearby town cut through our campsite, having hopped the fence to sneak in. One said that nothing like it had ever happened around there. They were polite kids and of course we wanted to warn them about the imuzac but that could have blown our cover. They were on their way to see SpazAttack, one of the performers at the Kineto stage, which featured music so fast, beats piled on top of beats, that only the youngest could handle it, amped on sugar and bodies popping hypertronic.
We began readying ourselves late that afternoon. Only the inner circle of machinu disciples, the dancing machines, would be allowed anywhere near the front of the stage, and to breach those lines I would have to don a sheen skin to disguise myself as an autonomous agent. Before fitting it on Adin helped me program moves into it that would allow me to blend in with precision dancing. One particular sequence, the so-called transistor slither, would hopefully allow me to slide up to the realtar (the “altar of reality”, from which the hallowed DJ class held court) and perform my sabotage. I was getting jittery just thinking about being immersed in a slew of dancing machines, disguised as an autonomous agent.
It would all go down at the Smorp stage. Lezbone was the opening act in anticipation of DJ Masterque, and, having made final preparations, we arrived just as his set was beginning. Kwimmy and Adin were soon separated from me as they were funneled along with the other rubes to the general admission area. They intended to get as near the front as possible to maintain visual contact with me. Shuffling forward I felt strangely like a 17 year old sneaking into a bar, though with far grimmer consequences.
“Identity” commanded a game warden, to which I responded “Ocketyrpt”. “Ocketyrpt what is the symbol?” I quickly programmed a smoothing function and reflected the answer back. A moment’s hesitation. “Pass.” I had gained access to the inner sanctum that surrounded the realtar, the machines massed there moving to the quaking rhythm with a disturbing convulsiveness. I let my programmed moves take over my body and animate my limbs.
The plan was simple. I just had to reach the sample deck and jack my fingerbrain in, the fingerbrain being a prosthetic fingernail circuit with the capacity for exbibytes of memory. Then I could bleed life out over the airwaves and awake the trancing children, then they’d see what was happening, then they’d snap out of it. This overthrow of the sound system would in turn send the dancing machines into chaos and sever the connections of those fucking bad alloys. With the unleashing of our fractal life derivative we’d beat them at their own game. The pure materialist orchestration of the machinu imuzac lacked the infinite sway held in us, sole province of our organic architecture.
To great fanfare Masterque materialized in a haze of low rent dry ice vapor from beneath the stage. “We’re reaching revolutionary levels now, me and you” he imparted as he ascended the realtar. B-cru dancers in plaid miniskirts began a naughty school girl course line with classroom chairs, rulers and calculators for props. But all eyes were on the headliner, incidentally a suspected psyborg known for his famous sample collection snared on memstrat from anywhere and everywhere. He had apparently captured a street fight between two young women who as freshly failed roommates were arguing over personal belongings, in particular a gaming system. Masterque mixed the rising threats with ricocheting beats and just hit it, came all over it. “He fuses a soundbrew to feed you and you’ll be fucked off it” enthused one kid, “you’ll be wanting mommy to buy you a new one. That’s how Masterque drops it.” Human and machine alike were in a frenzy, and with everyone bouncing around me I noticed I was making a few off-kilter movements, as if my sheen was shorting out. Taking a quick look behind me I saw that Adin and Kwimmy were not too far away having pushed up as far as humanly possible. Then everything fell away but the drums.
Masterque invited a vocalist to drop bullion over the next track, and I knew that our window of opportunity would be nothing if not brief. The mad junglist patrolled the stage dropping carpet bombs of illness on the unsober masses. If I cracked his flow he’d blow, and I worried that his erratic conduct might jeopardize my attempt. I needed a distraction, and thankfully my associates were on the same page. Kwimmy stepped up, hollered and started shaking her royal jelly, that lipid loveliness her body grew from nutrients to layer over the sweet spot of her rump to optimize its bulbous attractiveness. Let it be known that Kwimmy is a foxy boxer. Someone yelled “if you’re shakin’ baby, I’m takin’”, and I turned back to see it was Sherp, one of the Detroit boys. She shook that thing and sure enough the display created a bit of a situation, drawing enough attention away that I could slip up to the realtar to a position where, almost touching it, I’d be able to reach in with my fingerbrain and crossfade in the antidote.
The nefarious DJ brought the swell down to a low pulse before addressing the crowd. “You all know who humanity’s greatest living DJ is. Give it up for DJ Eusebio!” Cheers went up. “He gave me a compilation of found sounds snatched from deepest amazonia to highest himalayas called Vengancia, a collection he assembled himself. He said to me, ‘I never had the eggs to mix this, the shit’s too pure. So I’m giving it to you. Maybe you can do something with it.' And I did.” Cheering and whoops exploded. Masterque was ready to drop the needle and, I was certain, turn his adoring fans to witless jelly.
“For you and for all machinekind” he declared to kids staring up wide-eyed in anticipation, “I give you... Ven-gan-ci-aaaaaa!” My sheen seized up at that moment and I was forced to disengage from it and try to replicate the automated dance moves with my own nervous system. My style just couldn’t compare and I was sure the machines around me would very shortly start noticing my subpar choreography.
DJ Masterque unleashed on the unsuspecting crowd a sound like tribal polyrhythms spun into primal energy traps. That was the imuzac. Glancing back I saw mouths open and eyes widen as it began to take effect. I myself had to fight it. Unable to fake it any longer I was seized upon by agents of machinu, their cold metallic limbs clamping down on me. One chance, and my index finger darted out. I slipped it in in the on position. And there she blew. Crossfaded in the antidote with a wretched clang, and the soundscape cut from tranquilizing cadence to a pulsing pressure wave of circuit bending anti-vibration. The dancing machines started dropping like flies. I laid down with them, playing dead, to await retrieval by Kwimmy and Adin from a disposal unit as was the plan. Opening one eye I saw that Masterque had also fallen: we had assassinated the DJ. So he was more machine than man. I closed it and laid listening to the hellcat cacophony of dirging sirens and machinu in glorious disarray. Children were crying, but free of memetic control.