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.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories

13 Responses to “Terahertz”

  1. Hel Says:
    July 24th, 2011 at 9:52 am

    This was great–reminded me of the Hass poem Faint Music

  2. Milo James Fowler Says:
    July 25th, 2011 at 5:21 am

    Wow. I’m still reeling. Great work, Simon.

  3. Simon Kewin Says:
    July 25th, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Thanks Hel and Milo. Once day I hope to hear music like that. Hopefully without the need for the electrical stimulants!

  4. The Golden Eagle Says:
    July 25th, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Interesting idea–that music would change as minds change, inaudible to some but an experience for others. Great story!

  5. Debs Says:
    July 25th, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Wow. Bad ass, indeed. This blew me away.

  6. Joe Romel Says:
    July 25th, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Beautiful story, Simon! I love how it’s got an immediate feel, but also hints at a deeper history. It’s the difference between a good story and a great story, and you make it look so freaking easy!

  7. Simon Kewin Says:
    July 25th, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Thanks all, really appreciate the feedback. Perhaps I should write the longer backstory some time …

  8. Old Kitty Says:
    July 25th, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    This makes me want to go to Glastonbury music festival next year in my old age. Or maybe Kerrang where I may practice my devil sign. :-) Take care

  9. Simon Kewin Says:
    July 25th, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Old Kitty,

    You should. Might even see you there!

  10. Sandra M. Odell Says:
    July 25th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Very eloquent, a beautiful piece. The fact that you hint at the backstory instead of giving in to an info-dump makes the moment all the more real. the characters aren’t going to think about backstory; they are caught in this point and time of their actions.

  11. Stewart Says:
    July 29th, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Good stuff!

    “Once he wouldn’t have dreamed of adopting such a mundane body-form of course” <- is that "of course" missing a comma, or should I be reading it as "as a matter of course"?

  12. Simon Kewin Says:
    October 11th, 2011 at 3:04 am

    It’s missing a comma! Thanks for spotting that.

  13. Douglas Hackle Says:
    March 1st, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Very cool. The effect of the music on the protag brought to mind Borges’s short story “The Aleph.”