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The Burn Out (SF, 6000 words) - Lyle Hopwood
October 29th, 2014
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The Burn Out (SF, 6000 words)
The Burn Out

by Lyle Hopwood

May 15 2015

I tried to win over my brother, who knows about computers and stuff. I could learn a lot from him. I did my best today but I was wearing my t-shirt with Pitlochry's logo, all glitter and pink. The t-shirt said 'Lolita' in a lavender flowery font that matched the sweetheart ribbon I was wearing on my wrist like all the girls do. And, of course, he hated the whole idea of the band.

"'Lolita'," Noah said, raising an eyebrow, "that must be the new song from Pitlochry, right?" He didn't sound won over yet.

I nodded. "Have you seen the video yet? Hughie is so cool in it."

Noah waved his arms, meaning no way, so I grabbed him and half-dragged him into my room. I tapped the mouse to wake my computer up, opened the 'favorites' folder and selected the first bookmark. A blank screen opened up and a progress bar showed the video buffering. After about three seconds I blurted, "I hate waiting for them to load!"

"You don't know how to download them to disk?"

"They're protected."

"Well, not so much. I'll show you how to do it."

I told him to shut up. "It's starting to play."

He watched politely. He didn't like Hugh Noone (Pitlochry's singer/guitarist, if you don't know). His friends had told him Hugh was a druggie. The video opened with a shot of Hugh sitting on the red tile roof of a giant dolls' house full of CGI puppets, chopping power chords from a broom-shaped guitar.

"That singer has a nose like a ski jump. If I looked like that I'd stay well away from the cameras. What is he singing about? 'Napalm and Nabokov'?"

I nodded.

He stared at the screen. "Dad is going to kill you," he said. "Can't you have a crush on one of the floppy-haired boy bands instead of this greasy freak?"

I punched him on the arm. The dolls inside of the silver and pink house danced while Hugh lounged in his all-black peacoat.

"Isn't he hot?" I said. "One day I'm going to marry Hugh Noone."

"You're a bit young," Noah said.

"He'll wait."

The song ended abruptly on a major seventh. I waited for the lingering chord to die before asking, "Can you show me how to save it to disk now?"

May 16 2015

I am going to marry Hugh Noone. How hard can it be?

Mrs. Hugh Noone. Ms M. Noone. Madison Noone. No, those look stupid. I'm going to keep my own name when I'm married.

Since my bro showed me how to download streaming videos yesterday and I knew where to find four rare interviews, I downloaded, converted and re-uploaded them to my cloud storage. Then I logged on to the chat room where the fans messaged each other and exchanged files and pictures. My nick there was CherryRed; I'd wanted Hugh's_Girl but someone had already taken it, big duh.

Jen and another girl called Kytain were chatting. Jen's web nickname is Tyger_Tyger3, and beside her texts is an icon of a man with a face tattooed in tiger stripes. It was a reference to an old Pitlochry song that begins:

    Tiger, tiger burning bright
    In the city's sodium light

They'd been swapping messages for hours. They weren't saying anything exciting enough to swamp my signal, so I dropped the whereabouts of the coveted Mike Wolfe interview into the conversation. Success. The video got twenty-two downloads in as many minutes, and half a dozen people entered the chat room to talk about it. For an hour people were talking about me and Hugh – together at last, at least together in the same sentence.

The kudos didn’t last long. About five minutes later some wench uploaded it to YouTube where even non-fans could find it. Trying to deal in someone else's professional videos is a loser's game. It's better to make your own and put your name in the credits. But it'll take me a bit more time for me to learn to vid. And I need to put a bit more pressure on Noah.

May 17 2015

I logged in again to distribute largesse to my friends in the form of the three files I'd kept in reserve. But the chat room was already lit up; twelve active members and several guests posting furiously in a chat headed "He did it…"

Did Hugh get married? I dragged myself out of the quicksand of dread long enough to scroll up to the first message in the conversation. It was nothing so earth-shattering. Hugh Noone had checked himself into a clinic to have a nerve-impulse accelerator fitted. I clicked through the links in the messages to find out what the hell that was. Gamers got them, they said, for speedy trigger fingers. Now, apparently, they were the grooving thing for guitarists as well. It was "a nanofiber computer that grows and permanently resides along the major nerves, providing auxiliary power and speed to the muscles, with a minor moiety of distributed processing in the dorsal root ganglion (see ganglion)".

'See Ganglion' would be a good name for a band. Maybe Hugh's next band, after he leaves Pitlochry.

Right now wasn't the time to post the videos I'd slaved over. Everybody was talking about Hugh's body mod. How cool to change your body to your own desires. It's an expression of the real you, like a tattoo, but it's inside you. They say you can see sounds and pick up radio waves out of the air. Someone said Hugh was 'post-human' now. So where does that leave human women i.e. me?

May 24 2015

I browsed photos of last night's Pitlochry concert in Los Angeles. Hugh is so beautiful. I love the way his hair frames his face and brings out that aristocratic nose with the sea-green eyes above. He's a sexy, sexy man. Jen and Kytain were already chatting and the comment log was scrolling up my screen.

Tyger_Tyger3: OMFG did you read Mudskip's post?
   Kytain: What did she say?
  Tyger_Tyger3: She said Hugh and BriJay were lovers

BriJay is Pitlochry's road manager, an older man in his late twenties with long, long wavy brown hair. He appears very occasionally in pictures of the band and makes all of us jealous – of both his proximity to stardom and his gorgeous hair. Some of us wished him an early bald spot out of spite, but on the other hand I knew a couple of girls who hankered after him. I wasn't afraid that Hugh might be gay; first, he wasn't and second, if he was I could have gender teasing mint damn you autocorrect reassignment surgery and still marry him. The body that marries Hugh Noone is the only body I want to call my own.

  Kytain: WTF! No no no Hugh's str8!!
    Tyger_Tyger3: It's so hot, 2 hot boys together
    Kytain: str8!!1!
    Tyger_Tyger3: Well Hugh would be straight if he met you, girl!!

What? For a moment I was confused. Tyger_Tyger3's my friend. Why would she encourage Kytain like that? Was she really so two-faced? I stormed off to my bedroom.

Where I dreamed about BriJay, of course. I can't even get Hugh in my own dreams.

August 16 2015

Kytain uploaded one of the premium channel Russian interviews with Hughie on Saturday. If you look at her screencaps you can see the his body mod – they've been calling it the subcute network. There's what they call nerve burn, the dents above the nerve knot in the neck. The nanotubes burrow under the skin and along the nerves so fast that they tug on the tissue under the skin the same way a pulled thread rucks a bedsheet. I thought I could even see it when he moved, but that could be a compression artifact on the video. (The Russians are using a couple of new codecs I don't trust.) After a while I found I was just staring at his neck. I feel weird when I look at him and I have to look away quickly. I'm embarrassed even though he can't see me watching him. It's like he knows I'm there.

Hugh isn't a muscular man. He's sometimes described in articles as "frail and sensitive". My bro Noah says that's print-journalist code for a drug user; "sensitive" means he's prone to relax with chemicals and "frail" means likely to fall down and miss a show at short notice. I know he drinks like a fish. But I think he really is just frail and sensitive.

In the interview, Hugh had said, "The nanocomputer doesn't do anything by itself. You have to practice each movement. At first you are conscious that there is you, and there is another thing, outside of you. Then, after the reflex arc's in place, there's just you."

"Muscle memory," the interviewer said.

"It's more than that. One day you're a caterpillar, the next day you're a butterfly. You've become more than you were. It gets easier, too, because it learns as you learn. It's not just my playing; theory has come easier to me. I can sight-read, which I never could before. I have perfect pitch. Every new thing I do is easier than the last thing."

The interviewer, under the mistaken impression that anyone cared what he thought, interrupted him. "I thought it was a matter of innervation – increased strength through contracting the whole muscle instead of the small percentage of fibers stimulated by a natural nerve impulse."

Hughie smiled, which made him dimple. "But it's not the simple things, the reflexes, the speed, the strength, which really affect me. It's the change in the sensorium. You can feel things you never thought you could feel. It's like having new eyes, except the eyes are radios so the whole cosmos just surfs in on the ether. You can hear the bright stars singing and the dark ones groaning with age."

I want to watch him hear the bright stars singing.

September 7 2015

Noah told me to have a talk with the parental units. "Remember when you said you wanted a unicorn for your birthday?"

"I was eight!"

"And you haven't learned a thing! You're still obsessed with something you can't have. This shitbird Noone is bad news. You're addicted to downloading his concerts and working on those videos and mash-ups for the other fans. It isn't healthy."

I punched him on the arm.

"I'll buy you a ticket for the game. It'll get you out of the house."

I shook my head. "Buy me a ticket for the live concert film premiere."

"You've seen it," Noah said. "You already made like ninety fan videos from the workprint bootleg that Kitten girl found for you."

"It'll get me out of the house."

He smiled, a bit crookedly, and nodded.

October 22 2015

I will go mad if I don't meet Hugh face to face. And I need to expand my capabilities if I'm going to stand out when I do.

    1. Fanvidding. I already get mentioned in the same breath as the biggest names in the Pitlochry fan world. But that isn't enough. It's not like Hugh'll phone and ask me to direct their next music video. Technically, fan videos are illegal and I could end up in the same room as him but only speaking to his lawyers. That'd suck.
    2. Roadie. But BriJay seems to have that sewn up.
    3. Start a blues club. Ideal! All the hottest men are guitarists, so even if I didn't immediately attract Hugh, I would be surrounded by hot guys. I can't think of a downside to this solution except the fact that pretty much all the good guitarists are dead already. Unless there's a way to feature dead people, this is a non-starter.
    4. Stop wearing pink. I look like a little girl. I'll wear black.

October 24 2015

I had my 'talk' with Dad and of course I can go to the premiere – if Noah chaperones me. Noah said that once I saw what teenage girls look like in a pack I'd be scared straight, so he agreed. 

November 24 2015

I've given up going into that kids' stuff chat room. The message boards I'm on now have adult posters and I'm learning much faster. I was on one yesterday when I saw a familiar icon, the man with the tiger tattoo, and started reading the post. Eventually it sank in that this wasn't Jen's fractured texting. I glanced at the nick under the icon. Here, the little picture belonged to someone called Gullyfoyle1337. I clicked to get his bio. No music; his interest was in neural upgrades like Hugh's subcute network. I almost clicked away but a thought stopped me. Upgrades. Now, Hugh would be interested in upgrades, right? And Gullyfoylel337 looked liked the sort of guy who would know whereof he spoke. I friended him.

I made the Best! Fanvid! Evah! last night. I have all the footage from Nerves of Steel, the new movie, of course. I cut some of Hughie's publicity appearances into the live European version of PenAltamont. There's a shot in there of him on stage where you can see his black boots as he taps his foot to the beat and every time I see that scant few seconds of footage – it makes me squee.

If anything could cause famous girl-magnet roadie BriJay to lose his hair, the old-style tube equipment would be it. The band uses the same wireless gear as any other band, with transmitters on the instruments and a receiver in the soundboard, where the signal is mixed and sent back out to the PA. But Hugh has to be different. On stage, he uses that antique Les Paul guitar. To get the right sound it's connected to an Orange amp top using a jack plug and a lead like something out of the 20th Century. Of course this means he's tethered to the amplifier stack. He can't move around freely or someone will trip over the lead. I can't imagine how a rock band used to manage when everything had a lead. It must have been like a game of walk-in cat's cradle.

The TV shots have the best close-ups, so I edited them as a montage to the beat. I switched back to the live footage for the guitar solo, of course; the stage lights on his black hair make it shine hematite red, hematite blue, hematite silver as he leans back against the dull gold fretcloth of a stack of black Marshall cabs. There's a sheen of sweat on his face. You can see the ropes of carbon fibers in his forearms move like sinew in muscle.

The man is a babe. I love him so much I'd write poetry, except poetry sucks.

December 26 2015

After about three hundred hours of fanvidding, I had plenty of macros written so I could do everything much faster the next time, but I didn't have plans for a next time. There's a limit to how many fan cuts you can do for one music video. Then I got a clue. I advertised and found people who'll barter software for freelance video work. One of them is Gullyfoylel337. He'll pay me in software – he has a subcute upgrade with a module that would allow me to listen in on information traffic through the wi-fi. I'm not sure how good it will be as the help file he gave me is in Korean, but as he explains it, the theory is wherever I could get a signal I would be able to watch Hugh Noone hear the bright stars singing.

Two weeks until Nerves of Steel premieres.

December 29 2015

Tyger_Tyger3 can't go. Good, I hate the two-faced wench. Kytain will be there and I'm meeting her on the sidewalk adjacent to the red carpet at five o'clock.

I've worked with the subcute upgrade program long enough to figure out what it does. It's a North Korean military rig. I need to sell it to Hugh, and the selling point is the hack for the "pseudo-ganglia". The off-the-shelf subcute supplements the peripheral nerves and improves motor functions like speed and strength. There's a small ganglion near the spine that does the processing related to sensory function and response. The military upgrade program instructs the ganglion to replicate itself with minor changes. The daughter units take over major autonomic nerve functions. The network transfers the balance of processing from sympathetic to conscious control and eventually takes it over altogether. It's designed for combat soldiers; something to do with surviving hypovolemic shock. That's gunshot, I guess. The bit I need is the telemetry package – it monitors the activity in all the ganglia.

If I send him this program, Hugh will be able to experiment with changes that beat anything he can get out of a needle, without the side-effects. That's the honey-pot that will get him to go for the upgrade. Then I can backdoor the signal. No-one has Noone's email address so I sent a teaser message to BriJay. Fingers and toes crossed it gets Hugh's attention.

January 8 2016

I found Kytain using girl-radar. I just walked through the crowd in a straight line, dragging a terrified and reluctant Noah until I heard her shout, "Cherry Red!" and lo it was she. Kytain looks a little younger than me in real life. Then when she heard the screams from the end of the red carpet she fainted and Noah had to hold her upright. I yelled at her till her eyes opened. The band was walking up the red carpet pressing the flesh as flashbulbs went off all around. Hugh recognized me from the selfie I sent. He came over, and I pushed the memory-stick into his hand. He smiled at me.

Next thing I remember is Noah trying to give me a t-shirt. One of the entourage was handing them out and he grabbed one for me. Hugh was posing a hundred yards away in the photographers' area by then.

"You look like Orpheus gaping after Eurydice," Noah said.

We propped Kytain up between us and filed through the public entrance.

January 9 2016

I don't remember anything about the showing. I just slumped in my seat. I'd touched his hand and I wanted to remember everything for ever. He'd taken my USB key in his right hand and then gripped my left hand with his. I closed my eyes to recall the hair on the back of his wrist, the softness of his palm, the thick calluses on his fingertips and the noticeable darkening under the skin of his forearm where the nanofibers had grown through the tendons. He'd looked me in the eyes, too. Looked straight at me, spoken to me, hand lingering on mine, his cheek almost touching mine. And then he was gone and some toady was asking me how I felt about being at such a major movie. He may have been at a movie, I was at real life.

I needed video coverage. I went back to the chatroom to pick up the cellphone pics and videos that the others on the ropeline had posted. There was hours of it, with much discussion of the clothes Hugh had been wearing, particularly the nice black silk waistcoat. And there was discussion of me….

    Kytain: Hugh Noone is hardcore he truly pwns!
    Tyger_Tyger3: Red did you talk to him?
    Kytain: He bussed her!
    CherryRed: He has soft hands.
    Tyger_Tyger3: I hate u did he really kiss u
    CherryRed: No, he just leaned close to talk.
    CherryRed: His breath smells of cinnamon.
    Tyger_Tyger3: {{faints}} I really hate you now
    CherryRed: Did I mention he has soft hands lol

And then about three minutes later I found someone's cellphone clip of him touching me, and I retired to bed in a fit of Victorian vapors.

February 6 2016

Noah tried again with the 'talk' thing.

"Even if you knew him," he said, "you couldn't change him."

"Change . . . change Hugh? Why would I want to do that?"

"I thought all the girls wanted to change the bad boys?"

"I don't want to change him. Although that would be a great way to get the rest of the fans off my case when I marry him. Change him so that they don't want him!"

"Maddy – you're wasting your life."

"I can't help it. It's just…love."

February 10 2016

I was watching that Napalm and Nabokov video again and it finally hit me what Hugh means. Unrequited love burns like dripping fire; it strips the skin to expose every pleading, screaming nerve. I should get out more.

February 15 2016

I got a package from Hugh! There was an exclusive 8X10 photo (he was wearing the famous waistcoat), signed and personalized. "Dear Madison - I looked at your gift carefully and I'm going to implement some of the features." I slept with the photo under my pillow. If there were some way to micronize it and inject it, I would.

February 28 2016

Perhaps I did want to change him. Luckily for both of us I only had access to telemetry. I had the Korean telemetry program up and waiting for him to load the upgrade, which he did on the seventeenth. The readouts for the pseudo-ganglion looked best in visualization mode. The raw count of activity was just a bunch of data tables. Today the screen showed a diffuse red glow in the upper left quadrant, which was the output of the brain and the rest of the central nervous system as sensed by the carbon-fiber tubes, and two lower, more compact spots. One was the bright green dorsal ganglion and one was a smooth green spot. I checked the help file and it was the newer cervical ganglion beginning to grow. A red speckle around it displayed its connections with the original nerve knot.

July 15 2016

I realize I worked over a period of friggin months get some bootleg spyware, just to be able to secretly watch Hugh Noone. My body makes these decisions on its own.

I should just shoot myself now before I do any more damage.

November 14 2016

I met a boy in Noah's class. Joshua. He looks a bit like a young BriJay, long chestnut-colored hair. He invited me out Saturday, but I had a gig. I had been designing projection systems and I'd sold one to a local club. I needed to spend a night burning it in with real data. The program takes telemetry data from sensors around the club and uses it to schedule the light show. (Guess where I stole the code.) If this one works out I have a string of them to set up. Hard work is paying off.

May 14 2017

I haven't posted for months. I'm exhausted. The projection rigs are taking up all of my time. If I studied, I'd probably be on track for some sort of honors in both computer science and physiology but I can't seem to get out of bed for school anymore. Working on the rig controllers alone takes six hours a day, and all the money seems to be dependent on my programming, even though I have a crew to run the rigs at night. I shouldn't whine like this. I do have leisure time; I spend it in my comfortable online haunts.

I'd been keeping away from the subcute groups for reasons which were more superstitious than natural. But I couldn't avoid all mention of Hugh. I kept coming across on-line exchanges between fans. This one, for instance, about the guitar sound on Maschine Hedz:

    Andy32: Album's not selling well. The teenyboppers are long gone.
    JelyBely: EQ's poor, man. sounds like shit.
    KevinB: Is it the broomstick Flyte guitar? Good for pulling tail, lousy for tone.
    Andy32: No, it’s the gold Les Paul…it was sweet on PenAltamont.
    JelyBely: it's Noone. He cant hear himself. he dont hear audiospace anymore man. Hes a robot. The mixing board
     is plugged directly into his wires like a f'n cylon.
    KevinB: The mixing desk's a cyclon?
    JelyBely: Hugh's the cylon you schmuck
    Andy32: That's so untrue it's not even wrong.

I fought the urge to 'see' what Hugh was doing. The telemetry program's still on my pc. I am so not obsessed.

July 29 2017

Why did my brother have to grow up and leave home? I miss him. I never thought I'd say that. He was a rock. I don't feel I've grown up at all. Pitlochry broke up and I grew out of the glitter I suppose, but I still feel like a kid.

August 4 2017

Despite my efforts to resist, I ran the telemetry program again today. I had to watch, had to see what Hugh was doing.

The screen first showed an action-painting of smooth, glowing crimson. I couldn’t identify it at all; he couldn't have grown more natural nervous tissue, could he? The signal shifted in slow oil-wheel pulses and it dawned on me that the screen did not display tissue – it couldn't see flesh – it displayed the splash of acetylcholine from the central nervous system. The red was a serene display of the heated back-and-forth between the natural and augmented parts of the system. The screen soon displayed over a hundred green cells, the new pseudo-ganglia. When he'd first installed the program there had only been two. Now there were so many it was possible to figure out what each was doing. The rhythmic lights in the mid-range were the heart and diaphragm ganglia. Once you'd solved a few clues the rest came more easily. He was playing guitar, of course, the green-lit pseudo-ganglia handling the automatic processes of muscle contraction, flashing red whenever they received neurotransmitters from conscious thoughts. I watched the speckled dots resolve into an image of a sitting man slouched over a guitar. Angry at giving in to my old desires, I stood up, jabbed a three-finger salute at the keyboard and walked out to clear my mind.

But I didn't take the program off the machine, and worse, I still chanced across the other fans' endless chatter.

    Andy32: If you count the notes, he's actually slower than some soloists in the nineties. It's nuts to say he's all speed and
    technique. It's the blues all the way. He's got soul.
    JelyBely: Look at him, man. you can see it growing in his face. he has tiger stripes like Gully Foyle. he's half man, half
    beast half robot.
    Andy32: That's three halfs.

I googled "Gully Foyle" as two separate words and finally understood it. In a book called Tiger, Tiger, a man with that name hides his tiger-stripe facial tattoos but the beast remains inside him. That explained why Gullyfoylel337's icon was so similar to Jen's – and it dawned on me that Gullyfoylel337 must have tried out his own warez before peddling them on to people like me.

December 15 2017

Remind me never to tell Joshua that I come home some nights and watch the display of comforting green pseudo-ganglia and the fading red speckle at their margins and feel connected to someone I don't even know and never will. I'm such a loser. Tonight I've drank a tumbler of dad's Southern Comfort trying to burn my consciousness out of my head like I'm Hugh friggin Noone on a bender.

May 19 2018

I was running through some rig-controller tests in the basement when Twitter lit up: #HughNoone. Dead, said the one that had arrived last. Hugh, said the visible corner of the message underneath. I opened up Tumblr, Instagram, all the instant messengers I could think of, read them all at once.

    Jolie: Imagine how much that must have hurt. Actually no don't imagine it. my god
    Cabij: Hurt? He ran on electricity. It must have been like the best orgasm ever. Two thousand amps through every metal
    pleasure point.
    Jolie: Cabij, you freak. I'm glad I'm not your girlfried
    RyanTripp: Girlfried, lol that's freudian

Hugh had been playing informally at a club. There were three people recording him when his guitar touched the badly-grounded mike-stand he was singing into. You'd expect a flash and a sound like thunder, but there was nothing. The guitar cut out in a sudden blossoming absence of noise, like two pillows smashed together. From three viewpoints, I watched his slow fall backwards.

The Tweets and Notes and messages scrolled up in their own windows beside the video window.

    JOBLO: His people came and took him, he's one of them now. The electric looks after its own.
    Lydia_tattoo: Human people work by electricity too
    JOBLO: In the good old days when rock stars just sold their soul to the devil, at least you knew where they were after
    they died.
    KevinB: He's up there wherever it is they keep the iTunes before they're downloaded.
    JelyBely: maybe while hes there he can get some ideas. his songwriting sux
    Andy32: He's not even cold yet, say something nice! de mortuis nil nisi bonzo.
    Henoseuno: bonham
    Andy32: Bono, whatevs.

The club's lights were cut by a quick-thinking crewman. The video went dark for a moment. Cellphones were held up; one, ten, a hundred, their backlights forming a moon-dawn glow until the room was shadowless and Hugh's form appeared still and black on the stage. Two indistinct figures were shouting at the facilities manager to isolate the equipment, out of fear that the body might still be live: Paramedics.

I read the doctor's report of the death on the web. Someone had hacked in and taken a screenshot as soon as it went out. Hugh's name on the death certificate was given as Talleyman.

Mrs. Hugh Talleyman. Ms. M. Talleyman. Madison Talleyman. No, that wouldn't have worked either.

    Jackalltrade: He's not dead. I've seen those videos of Korean soldiers with arms blown off, they just keep
    coming forward.
    PzKpfw_I: That's blood vessel contraction and retraction, and endocrine control. It's standard military hardening
    tech. Noone got 60 amp 3 phase mains right through his nerves of steel. The subcute's fried. Electric shock's not
    even listed as a failure mode in the documentation.

In Hugh's song, the nerves of steel were his guitar strings, connecting his mind to his fans. Sad to see the posters misunderstand such a simple lyric. His fingers had been between his strings and the mike stand. If his arm had been an inch higher, there would have been a flash-weld, the strings fusing to the mike, the circuit breakers tripping, and Hugh would have gotten away with a bad scare.

I'm dizzy and I feel sick. I'm switching on the microphone here so I don't have to type this in.

I'm drawn over to my old pc, booting it, opening up the monitor program, watching the glacial slow screen-build. No living red; not a speckle or bead of red. A ragged inky blot darkens part of the green-dot network – it's the right forearm. On the other screen I check the time stamps on the uploaded videos. It happened about fifteen minutes ago.

    JelyBely: he did it on purpose. his liver was shot. a rocker wants a good-looking corpse. Hell be oozing out the wiring
    like liquid gold. there'll be sightings of his silhouette on Jumbotrons. he'll hack into those dead-singer holograms at awards
    shows. cellphones will inexplicably start playing ringtones from PenAltamont.
    Henoseuno: Yeah, cause the best way to upload your consciousness to cyberspace you dickweasel is to shock it the fuck into
    a fucking 1969 Marshall tube amplifier.
    JelyBely: his subcute's wi-fi. no limit to where it can go. and it's a Orange amp moron
    Andy32: I don't get it why a shock would make it go anywhere, whatever 'it' is anyway. You're just whistling past the gravy ard.

Movement makes me glance at the monitor screen again. The dull green dots are brightening one by one like candle flames guttering out in reverse. Spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm. Heart beat re-established. Vagus pseudo-ganglion is reporting back restored aortic pressure. Breathing re-started. The vagus reports increasing oxygen saturation.

The documentation said that the unit is specced to restart the heart within two minutes – and if unsuccessful, to give up after six, since the central nervous system is irreparably damaged by then. I check the posted screenshot of the doctor's report against my system clock. Time of death is given as eleven minutes ago. Oh. The network must have gone down entirely. It lost track of time.

The videos for the early part of the club gig are becoming available. I open one. The equipment set-up for this band is similar to Pitlochry's – there's nothing here to hint at how BriJay could have made such a lethal mistake in the cabling. Hugh himself has changed, and not in subtle ways. He's using a late-edition flametop Les Paul fitted with two aftermarket pickups. The tone is rich, comparable in quality to his vintage gold guitar. The subcute's first gift had been a grip like a tire-fitter, hence Hugh's ability to use heavy gauge strings and yet maintain his trademark vibrato and note-bends, which tonight he's showing off to their best advantage. Perhaps Pitlochry's other members were the ones who had supplied the four-minute pop-single sensibility – it certainly isn't in evidence in this solo outing. The sound is classic blues-rock, and watching his facial expressions as he plays I fall in love all over again.

I used to stare at his photos all day long, so the big physical changes stand out. I never bought the "frail" description people used to tag him with but here he looks fragile. Between songs he seems tired and distant, his formerly seafoam eyes the color of the ocean after a storm. He takes frequent swigs from a bottle of Stolichnaya that he stands between his guitar pedals. The grey cords of the carbon fibers snake under the skin of his cheeks and forehead to form a tiger-mask, and they run as long, sinuous parallel lines down his neck and arms. The effect is cage-like, as though prison bars have been implanted below his skin. I hadn't realized how far gone he was, like a tree choked by a basket fig, still standing but dying inside.

I turn back to the other screen displaying realtime telemetry to see the inkblot healing, flickers of green light beginning to appear. Repairs are being made to the nanofibers in the arm, the wrist ganglion coming online. There isn't a flicker of living red activity anywhere in the image. Seven out of ten fingers online, three coming on. All endocrine glands functioning. The posture abruptly shifts. It's sitting up, head in hands.

The fanboys are very, very wrong about where their Hugh sightings are going to come from. Nobody got zapped into cyberspace, quite the contrary. His apparent survival will look like a miracle.

I find I'm shaking like jello with fatigue. It's almost two in the morning. The sudden rush of fright and anger and action is over. I don't have any Korean implants to even out the sudden flood of stress hormones. I have to rely on the traditional remedies, booze and sleep.

Maybe next week, when he's recovered, I'll play some vids from last year and this year and – whatever tomorrow's crop of videos bring, and I'll look from Hugh to Hugh to Hugh. I really don't know if I'll be able to tell the difference, but I'll be watching.




Note: All persons, bands and incidents are fictitious. Since there's hardly a word in the English language that isn't a band name, I may have nabbed yours despite recent googling in an attempt to avoid problems. If you object, let me know and I will change it.

Current Mood: awake
Current Music: Led Zeppelin remasters

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