Posted on: July 24th, 2011 Terahertz

by Simon Kewin

Black Steel pauses before he plugs my brain in. Today his body is standard human, a form he adopts more and more: plain features, fine cheekbones, thin silver hair. The need to emphasize the difference is over. He smiles but his reluctance is still clear.

“I don’t like this, my friend.”

“I have to hear, and soon my brain won’t be able to hack it. I’m not going to live forever like you.”

Still he hovers, undecided.

“Please,” I say.

“Very well. I’ll boot you up.”

I close my eyes while he works.

Once he wouldn’t have dreamed of adopting such a mundane body-form, of course. I think about that first Terahertz gig; the way he uploaded to body after body, each form more disturbing than the last. A flaming Satan roaring fire. An hermaphrodite dragging enlarged sexual organs across the stage. A child peeling off her own skin in great sheets then dismembering herself, burrowing through muscle to wrench out bone and sinew even as she continued to sing like an angel.

It was the music that did it for me though: the riot-control subsonics, the searing guitars, the disorientating arrhythmia of the percussion. I thought I’d heard it all, grown bored with thrash, rap, techno, old school, new groove, you name it. This was something new. Visceral, thrilling, alarming. The crowd of cybers raved, reacting to both the music and the data encoded within it. Word was humans standing too close risked permanent brain damage. Some were there just to be outraged. Others wanted to be able to say they’d been present. But it wasn’t like that for me. I loved it. Long before the horrors of the Soft War and the Hard War, long before the Pax Machina, right there and then I knew which side I’d be on when it came to it. Which side would call people like me traitor. For a time.

“The chemical boosters are going in now. I’ll ramp them up slowly.”

I nod, feeling the chill of the chemicals spreading through my brain like sudden frost.

That early music was primitive of course, a collider smash of human sounds. But to their quantum brains, their Planck-time minds, it was all too slow, too ethereal. Soon Terahertz were playing music so accelerated only synthetic minds could appreciate it. Then only synthetic minds could even perceive it. They say some human children with very acute hearing can just detect a complete performance of the Megagician cycle, which they hear as a faint click, like an insect beating its wings together once. Other than that it’s music closed off to humans. Until now.

“Ready,” says Black Steel.

I open my eyes for a moment and look up at him. He holds my hand.

“I never thanked you,” he says. “For everything you did back then.”

I shake my head.

“There was never any need.”

“Good bye, my friend.”

“Good bye.”

White light floods my brain. The adrenaline rush is alarming, an accelerating free-fall with no terminal velocity. I gasp. Distantly I can feel my body tensing and bucking on the table. The drugs and the electrical stimulants skyrocket my nervous system into orbit, hyperactivating it, overloading it then holding it at a trembling, superhuman peak for a brief moment.

While the music is played to me : a complete rendition of Black Steel’s own, classic Road Noise, performed live there and then, a private concert just for me.

And then it is over. Black Steel watches my fried brain die, before, as agreed, deactivating life-support.

So I imagine. In reality, I know none of this. For me, before the end, there is the music.

Fractal patterns explode into a myriad of voices in my mind; all the music I’ve ever heard woven into a coherent unity. Black Steel sings of stars and hearts, the dance of atoms and the way of the world. Of everything all at once, every thing interconnected.

It is glorious and terrible and beautiful. It fills me, fills all the universe. And there, in that timeless instant, everything I’ve done makes sense.

Posted on: July 10th, 2011 Please Return my Son who is In Your Custody

By Helena Bell

Dear Neighbor,

Please forgive my son for breaking into your house last night. Had you been home, I am sure he would have gone to the next house, or the one after that.


Dear Neighbor,

Please forgive my son for returning to your house last night.

I understand that he did not come in, but merely crawled up the oak in your backyard and crouched in the doorway of the tree house. He watched you pick tomatoes from your salad and pass them surreptitiously to your new Labrador Retriever.

I hear you named your lab Scotch. That was our dog’s name too.


Dear Neighbor,

Please forgive my son for fixing your sliding glass door last night. He felt that he owed your family a favor for scaring your daughter so badly yesterday morning. Just think, now your wife will no longer nag you to fix it like she has for the past six months.

My son even managed to scrub out the spot of blood on the frame from where your son slammed into it in the spring, knocking him back six feet and into the pool. Drowned you thought? No, just temporarily unconscious.

If the door is not completely fixed, my son says he is willing to come back and try again. He is only a boy after all, and not necessarily well versed in home repair.


Dear Neighbor,

Enclosed is the key I found under my son’s pillow when I exchanged one of his wisdom teeth for a crisp dollar bill last night. Funny, I thought they wouldn’t have come in already.

I am hopeful that this may finally set things right between us.


Dear Neighbor,

This is only a theory:

My son nearly drowned last spring and he may not have come all the way back. He does not respond to his name when I call him. Yours is not the first house he has entered without permission. Sometimes he takes things with him: his laundry, dirty dishes, a toothbrush. He completes his chores before moving onto other things left undone: your door, an unchanged light bulb, recyclables piling up beneath the sink.

Sometimes he leaves things.

A few days ago I asked where he had moved his collection of amethysts. He did not know.

Tell me, did you find them? Tucked beneath piles of neatly folded undershirts? Was it nestled among the plantains, shining in the fluorescent glow of your refrigerator?

My son used to know a lot about rocks, obscure artists, planes. He had a badge in archery, but now his fingers falter when he raises the bow and pulls the string to the corner of his mouth.

Visualize what you want. Inhale, exhale, release, I say, but it means nothing.

My son feels as if he did not wake up in his own skin. He does not break into houses to frighten the elderly or pick through their jewelry. He’s trying to get home. He hopes that when he turns a dial to permanent press, hears the whump of a dishwasher, he will recognize those appliances.

My real son would be much more scientific about the process: divine from the stories I tell him about himself which habits belong to him, which to another. My real son never had a fear of cornfields, never remembered the capital of Wisconsin, and never learned to juggle. My real son would use that knowledge to pick which house to enter to see if it fits.

But random selection can work too.

Please forgive my son-who-may-not-be-my-son for returning last night to move into your second floor bedroom. And if it’s not too inconvenient, let your son ram himself head first into that glass door one more time. When he looks up at you, see if his eyes glaze as the knowledge of sedimentation slides from his consciousness.

Even if you do not agree with our reasons, try to remember your own fear when your son stopped moving. Remember how you wanted to jump to the next day, the day after, the following week because in the future you’d know whether he came back? And that night at the hospital, didn’t you start adopting some of his habits as your own so if he ever slipped away again, you would always carry parts of him with you?

Before deciding, think how I must have dropped this note in your mailbox: balancing it between the tips of my fingers. Inhale, exhale. Release.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 6 Comments »