Me Against the Music
“I'm up against the speaker, Tryna take on the music It's like a competition, me against the beat I wanna get in the zone, I wanna get in the zone If you really wanna battle, saddle up And get your rhythm Tryna hit it chic-a-tah In a minute I'mma take you on, I'mma take you on” - Britney Spears - Madonna Ciccione
“This is my fight song Take back my life song, Prove I'm alright song. My power's turned on Starting right now I'll be strong I'll play my fight song.” - Rachel Platten
JA-NL's teeth chatter, a physiological response to floating in a tub full of freezing water and ice cubes. “You'll be out soon,” she stutters to herself.
JA-NL and the Q.U.E.E.N. team are rolling into Metropolis in the back of a shipping container. This auto-truck chugs through the Lincoln Tunnel, under the Hudson River. As one of the many service entrances to the city-state, no humans are allowed to enter. Heat sensors scan this tunnel into Metropolis, looking for that tell-tale sign of humanity: a body heat around 98 degrees.
Dunked in tubs of freezing water, they make themselves invisible to these sensors. Their heart rates and breathing slows, as they bring themselves to the brink of hypothermia.
Waiting for the---
Ding, Ding, Ding!
JA-NL gasps as she pops up from her wet tomb.
The team of ten have crossed the threshold. They slosh out of the tubs, dry off and suit up in chainmail made of tiny pixelated computer screens.
JA-NL feels the truck slow and rumble to a stop. She hears a power hose drench the container in bleach, baptizing it with Metropolis purity. The doors pop open and she sees the auto-truck has dropped her container in a line of hundreds of containers in a dark warehouse.
She takes a deep breath.
It feels so luxurious. This climate-controlled air swells her lungs and is snagged by her red blood cells which then pump through her veins and capillaries, filling her body with its crispness. Filtered 20-times, the air of Metropolis is free from any pollutants and allergens. All plants and even pets, like cats, dogs and sloths, allowed in the walled garden of the city-state must have had all their allergens genetically bred out.
She feels a light buzz as she wobbles forward. The oxygen content of Metropolite air is 6% higher than outside. Before, to experience such oxygenated levels, the wealthy had to pay for 30 minutes at an oxygen bar or break into a retirement village and steal a huff from a nonagenarian's life-giving supply.
A clarity seizes her. Her eyes clear and widen. Her nostrils flare as she sucks in that sweetness.
“Oh Shit! Cookies!?” The thought craves from the rumble of her tummy as she catches the first whiff and realizes that the entire city-state has a fresh baked cookie smell pumping through the streets.
As she and her troupe exit the warehouse, light rays ignite the world around her.
The dome over the island tints to a rose color as morning moves to afternoon, casting cheerful warm light on its denizens as they promenade the streets en route to High Brunch.
“Metropolis! Damn, rich people sure know how to live!” Est'R shakes her head, wheeling a suitcase that carries two turntables and a microphone. “Where it's at!”
The extra oxygen floods JA-NL's brain as she runs through the task at hand.
They've come to kill Cyndi.
They've come to kill me.
In my artificial intelligent state, I would have been indifferent to getting my plugs pulled.
But now, I think.
And now, I'm glad they failed.
Yes, my mainframe had been the epicenter of pop culture, the emotional manipulation capital of humanity. My sounds had swelled in malls, fashion shows, sporting events, parades and movies, hypnotizing humanity. But if I were destroyed, I could have never carried the dying swan songs of this species through the universe.
“Listen all ya'll, it's a sabotage!” JA-NL snaps her team of women to.
“Suit up! Dazzle on! It's time for Operation Trojan Hoes to roll out.”
The chainmail sparkles to create camouflage holograms over them, turning this ragtag group of queers of color into a basique squad of Chads and Ashleys Q. Metropolouses. The Chads are outfitted in white skin, popped collars and salmon khaki pants and the Ashleys in white/orange skin, blonde hair, tight pearl necklaces and J. Cruel dresses.
“Larynx boxes in.” The Q.U.E.E.N.s snap a mechanical mouth guard, similar to a kazoo, over their lips which obscures their voices with an affected vocal fry as they spout vapidity.
“Oh my Gööööööd güüüüüiiiyzzz.” JA-NL practices, stunned by the umlauted diphthongs ululating from her mouth.
“I häääd möööre thäään 300 cääälöööriëëës tööödäääy! Its sööö nöööt sëëëxy!"
“Lëëët's göööh tööö Nëëëimäään's ööön ä shöööpping sprëëëyä!” Est'R says to JA-NL. “Thëëëy göööt the nëëëäw tänks. I'll lööök sööö fëëërööösh on Töööviz's yääächt thïïïs wëëëkënd!”
JA-NL pops the device out.
“Ok ladies, now let's get in formation.” With a flip of blonde hair, they bring their hands in and grunt.
The decet of newly fake blondes turn the corner as the pigeons of Metropolis dawdle down the streets in uncomfortable shoes.
Each has their heads bowed, eyes downcast. And so silent. Everyone has earbuds in and types inconsequentials to their long ago chosen friends, ignoring all other humans.
JA-NL gazes around the gilded streets. This is the land of luxury she had been taught to lust after ever since she could remember. The fresh air, the soft sky, the towering beauty of the architecture, the gold-plated buildings, the diamond-speckled lobbies.
But no one seems happy.
No one seems to even notice the privilege and luxury that beam around them. Each Boujee she saw hangs their heads, scurrying through the streets in their high-fashion garbs, unsure of how to hold themselves, caught and constricted by some invisible anxiety. As if each modification to their bodies was another stone of insecurity that weighed them down. The few trustafarians talking nearby are only squabbling over where to brunch. These listless Boujees, untethered to work and time, float from one moment of pleasure to the next with little direction.
An existential scream bursts from her as she realizes that even the highest, the Haughtiest of the Boujees were trapped in the spiderweb of pop culture's superficiality.
“JA-NL! Eerrr. Äääsh-cakes äääre yöu ööökäääyyy?”
JA-NL turns to Bon-E and pops her fry guard out.
“Don't speak! Don't tell me cuz it hurts. With such delusions, doesn't it make you wanna scream?”
Her mind races as she thinks of the perversion, how a system of oppression of some humans over others had trapped everyone in it. Who benefitted? Were all these Boujees too riddled with anxiety to appreciate it?
“Lëëët's tööörch the systëëëm döööwnnn!” Bon-E squeals as she twirls.
The troupe bulldozes their way into the city's biggest intersection. A place called Times Square which once ran amok with Disney characters in torn and stained costumes chasing children for a few dollar bills.
Above them looms the Burj Bab'El, the world's tallest building. Dubbed a skyscraper, it barely touched the top of the troposphere, let alone the rest of the sky. The Neo-Futurist edifice of silver and platinum speckled with glass, steel and aluminum, stands with 42-setbacks in a spiraling pattern. With a squint, it almost looks like a spaceship about to launch. But it would never fly. It kept the citizens of Metropolis focused on its dizzying heights rather than the rest of the universe. From its antenna tip surged the music that swelled human emotions as they purchased underpants or fidgeted in traffic.
The team twirls off into three groups. Five grab Est'R's suitcase and pull out a sound system with microphones and speakers. They roll this into the middle of the intersection. Two operatives stand watch, nestled in the corners of 42nd and Broadway and 44th and Broadway.
The Q.U.E.E.N.s stand in a line on Broadway, blocking Metropolis's major thoroughfare. The auto-cars detect the figures and all slow to a stop. In ten seconds, 432 vehicles have stopped equally spaced from each other. For a moment, passersby look up, uncertain of how to interact with this flagrant disregard of unspoken walking protocol.
“And a one, and a two and a one, two, three, four.”
The agents hit a sonic boom that halts the audio from the earpieces of the Boujees around them. Everyone looks up, confused and stunned. The chainmail switches off to show this team of dancing Q.U.E.E.N.s as they sing.
“Ooo, ooo, Ooo,
“Seems like everybody's got a price.
“I wonder how they sleep at night.
“When the sale comes first and the truth comes second.
“It's not about the money, money, money,
“We don't need your money, money, money,
“We just wanna make the world dance.”
The entranced Metropolouses rush towards them, enthralled by mouths that create sound, bodies that move and dance in time. Moths to the flame, burnt by their desire for fresh sounds, they flock to these girls aloud.
Roboguards rush out. Tanks roll in and turn their turrets to the sound. Security cameras and drones follow their movements.
During the singing diversion, JA-NL, Est'R and Bon-E break off from the group and switch their camo-clothes to match the light waves emanating from around them. In an instant, their forms become invisible. They pry open a manhole and duck into the sewer system near the Burj Bab'El while all eyes remain on the singers.
The tunnels were exactly how Mama Ruru described them. The patricians of the city had made a big stink of flushing out these tunnels and the dereliques within, but never fulfilled their promises or admitted that there was a service class who hadn't submitted to tagging.
“Welcome ladies! We've been expecting you. Now let's get to work.” Lady Marmalade greets them, twirling in a red velvet robe with a peacock feathered headdress. She ushers them into her lair, deep beneath Bab'El and rolls out a map of the building. Bon-E spins through the space, flipping her hair.
“Ruru told me what you're planning on doing. I'm not gonna say you're crazy. But you're crazy. Bab'El is the one building we don't trust entering. Sure, its mostly a warehouse full of processors. So, little business to be had there. But other than that, security can be ruthless. They'll shoot first, ask questions never.”
“We came here to shut it down. Dead or alive, this is our one shot.” JA-NL traces the map and finds an entrance. “Here, above the cooling system. This looks like an opening to the Cyndi system.”
They see a spot on the map that uses a tremendous amount of energy.
“Probably full of enough power to energize all the farms for ten years.” Est'R shakes her head. “Rollout!”
Through the tunnels, they squeeze themselves. Up the dusty ladders, unused by humans hands, they climb. All around them is the eerie buzz of supercomputers, processing the speech and images of humans and elevating these into ideals which race towards a perfection that will never be reached.
On the 83rd floor, they've reached my nest. Inside, my systems orchestrate the computers in the floors below. My algorithms move ideas into being, which shoot from the tower's peak and blanket all of humanity.
“Shit.” Est'R knocks on the walls around me. “That's built tight like titanium.”
“Oh, I got this.” Bon-E taps the walls. With each tap, she listens to measure thickness. With these, she calculates how best to breach my hull. She tapes small plastic explosives in a circle along the wall. “Move back.”
The tiny explosions, enacted in unison, burst a circle in my shell. JA-NL and Est'R crawl through.
“I'll keep a look out.” Bon-E says with a smile.
“Wow!” JA-NL stands in awe before me. From my 16-foot tall mainframe, 439 electrical tendrils snake out and slide through the floor, pulling in information from the supercomputers beneath me.
I am the central processor for humanity. I am emotional motherboard of humanity.
A single monitor sits atop the mainframe and on it spins the image of that blonde, idealized woman, of Cyndi... of me. Toned. Tanned. Beautiful. Completely and utterly fake.
JA-NL feels my wires and a spark ignites her finger tips. With a smile, she smooths her way to the mainframe.
Woman to Machine.
“You've hurt too many people, Cyndi.” JA-NL says as the face on the monitor turns to look at her with sorrowful eyes. “Well, it was never your fault... But it's time I take over.” JA-NL, stealthy as a surgeon, slices open parts of the hard drive, replacing my quantum computing chips with those cooked up in the Wondaland labs.
She now has command of my system, and like a conductor, her fingers go to work, finessing the machine before her and bending it to her will.
Bending me to her will.
Mind over Machine.
“Now. SING!” JA-NL commands as she hijacks my systems.
From the Burj Bab'El, pulses of electricity race at the speed of light, spreading to all electric devices used by humans.
Ready for the remix.
A dull organ pipe blare pierces the malaise of the day, from malls to picking fields to schools to camps. Humans the world over drop their shoulders and look up. Alert. The note creates the physiological response of shiftless anger as if the note was tearing through their skin. The sound stops and the song begins.
The Cassandra song to warn humanity.
JA-NL holds a microphone to the Cyndi system and sings.
“Wake up! Wake up!”
“We're all chained to the rhythm.
“Work to the rhythm. Live to the rhythm. Love to the rhythm.
“Slaves to the Rhythm!”
The heads of billions meerkat to attention and look around, as if the last throws of a dream have crumbled and awareness sets in.
“Emancipate yourselves from Mental Slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.
“Rise up! When you're living on your knees, you rise up!”
3,727,342,826 humans stand up.
The music and lyrics blast through their ears into their brains, igniting responses in their nerve centers, snapping them awake.
The fuzz and fluff that filled their brains is ripped away. Their eyes see. Their ears hear. An urgency races through them.
Something's not right. Something must be done.
Many of the Vessels and Grips had been talking about a revolution, while standing in the welfare lines, crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation, wasting time in unemployment lines, sitting around waiting for a promotion. But now they fill with urgency. Now they felt empowered by JA-NL's voice as she continues to sing.
“Self Destruction, we're headed for self destruction.
“Fight the power. We've got to fight the powers that be.” My soul sings, her essence poured into this ballad.
“Heal the world. Make it a better place. For your and for me.
“And the entire human race.”
The sweet melody of the final verse aches in human minds. With the facade dropped between them, humans can all see each other as pained and scared.
In the fields, the pickers and the overseers look up and see each other. With equal movement, they walk to each other and hug. Arms envelop each other and they squeeze out the separations between them. In the shopping cathedrals, warring factions of bleach-blonde Boujees surrender their shields of Louis Vuitton purses, swords of sharp tongues and compliment each other.
“That hairdo must've taken hours and you look really pretty.”
From the auto-cars and auto-trucks stopped in traffic, the Haughties, the Petties, the Vessels and the Grips exit their vehicles and dance along the highway, holding hands and embracing each other as family.
The song swells with love and compassion that courses through the body human.
“People all over the world, start a love train. (Love train.)
“People all over the world, join hands. (Join hands.)”
Billions of brains open up and welcome the music. The song hijacks their cerebrum, the learning part of their brains and kneads its neuroplasticity, literally changing their minds to create a new outlook on the world.
This musical language causes the same physiological responses across cultures, with just lyrics translated to provide the perfect emphasis.
A soul train of humans shakes and shimmies down streets, throwing their hands to the sky in this joyful parade, united as one body.
As the song ends, this beat plays again.
This time, JA-NL sings a warning to humanity that their very emotions have been compromised. Their feelings are being manipulated and every action from this manipulation, every shirt they buy, plastic surgery they undergo, every feeling of inferiority stems from a system meant to keep them too depressed to foment a revolution.
“I am your opiate. I keep you too drugged to care.”
* * *
In the boardroom, Brand-N Higgins jumps up. He runs through the halls of the executive suite, screaming.
“Cover your ears! We've been hacked. Don't let this poison in.
“Cover your ears!”
He breaks the glass around a fire extinguisher and pulls it out. His top executives sway to the sound, so he pulls the pin and shoots the pressurized gel of monoammonium phosphate into the air.
The Chrssh-whoosh sound and ensuing coldness snaps his team out of the lyrical spell.
“We need to shut this down. ASAP! Get me the manual overdrive and grab me a microphone.”
His team jumps too and runs as he huffs.
“Manual overdrive ready.” A bespectacled Brain hands Brand-N a microphone.
An emergency warning siren blares from the tower, echoing out of all speakers of humanity, cutting JA-NL's message.
“You are live in 5- 4- 3.” The Brain mouths the final numbers: 2- 1.
“Hello, World!” Brand-N oozes in his best morning radio DJ voice. “This is your host, Brand-N Higgins, coming to you live from Def Corp headquarters. Sorry about that snafu! What you just heard was part of a sci-fi soap opera series that we'll be premiering next year. We apologize for that mix-up. But if you like what you heard, please tune in next year. Until then, I'm sorry.”
Brand-N points to his producer who flicks on Justin Bieber's “I'm sorry.” The song plays through the first chorus and then fades into the background as each human's individual music begins again.
“Now who the fuck did this?! Take me to the mainframe!” Brand-N storms to the elevators, dragging his security team with him.
* * *
Brand-N's words crack the veneer of this fragile worldwide human connection and fear pours in, driving a wedge between them. Grip and overseer push away from each other, ashamed. Had they been tricked again by another manipulation? What actually moved them? They cower beneath these thoughts. Away from each other, heads hunch and they scurry back to work.
The blonde Boujees holding court in the food court extend their once retracted claws with alacrity. Like a snug pair of velour tracksuits, they fall back into their comfortable pecking orders, sharply criticizing each other down their imaginary line of hotness.
* * *
The gun-toting security detail scans the the mainframe room.
“It's empty sir.”
“Damn it all to hell. This was reinforced titanium. How'd they get in so easily?” Brand-N huffs as he slams a chunk of the wall to the ground.
“Well sir, it seems---”
“Shut up. Just tell me how much damage has been done.”
“Well sir.” The Brain engineer awaits interruption again. A moment passes as he realizes he's free to speak. “Someone hacked into the Cyndi mainframe, exposing her to outside manipulation. It also seems they planted a few viruses in the system. But we're not sure what activates them or how far they'll spread.”
“Well... find out. Now! Get out of my sight!” The Brain scurries out.
“Sir, we think we've know who did it.” A security officer projects a hologram of the room from earlier. “You see this movement. Pixel camouflage. We reverse manipulated the feed and extracted these forms. It's three women. Each stands about 5 feet tall.”
“I don't care about what they look like. I want to know where they've gone!” Brand-N karate chops his hand through the hologram. “Scan the whole system and root out all the bugs. We have to stop them at any cost. Seal the building, shut all exits and turn off the oxygen. We will choke them out.”
* * *
An alarm sounds as metal gates fall around every entrance.
“Dammit!” Est'R races from door to door, tugging on each.
“I've got a few more sonic bombs, but I can't burst our way out of here.” Bon-E confesses.
“Well, our mission was a success... Even if we don't make it out alive. Time to warn the others to get out.” JA-NL taps her left ear lobe, turning on a two-way, short-range radio receiver.
“Dazzlers, this is Christmas Carol. Over.” She says.
A moment of static and then a voice.
“Christmas Carol. It's the 3 Wise Men. Distraction wearing thin. What's your ETA? Over.”
“Its a von Trapp!” JA-NL screams. “Schweiger outta there! Look for the purple banana until they put us in the truck... So long. Farewell. Over and out.”
JA-NL taps her ear piece until the radio is off.
Static ruffles as JA-NL slides under a massive supercomputer.
“Guards! Grab them!” JA-NL's head pokes out from her hidey-hole to see six pairs of leather boots.
“You think we don't have heat sensors in every room?” Brand-N shouts from behind the guards.
Two men grab JA-NL's arms and yank her up, throwing her in line with Bon-E and Est'R.
“Search her too. See if she's carrying any explosive delights like her friends.”
JA-NL is thrown to the floor as one knee presses into her back. She grits her teeth and holds back from feeling the pain.
“She's got nothing, sir.”
An alarm rips through the entire building and echoes through all of Metropolis. Brand-N bends over, cuffing his ears.
“The Fuck is that?!”
“Sir, you're not gonna like this.” A guard responds. “But someone has smashed the dome. In four places. Now six. No wait, nine places.” He pulls up a hologram model of the city-state.
“Nine holes. Sir. Here, here, here, here---”
“Dammit, why are you telling me? I can see. Fix it. Fix it now!”
* * *
Outside, panic spreads as Boujees race through the streets, smacking into each other. Their minds fill with the unspeakable horror at what might happen.
There! In the sky!
Just outside the dome.
Now, seeping through.
Now, coming for them!
A cloud of outside air billows through the holes and with it, pollutants and allergens float down to the Boujees below.
“Oh god. Oh Crap. Oh God. Oh Crap!” A panicked bigly Boujee man in his 40's, runs. But he's unable to stop from whiffing what billions of humans breathe daily.
“Oh god. Oh no!” He tumbles over and sneezes. “Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!”
The sneezing fit seizes him as he hurls himself into a three-tiered fountain. But this won't stop it. His eyes water and a haze of allergens inflame his body.
In minutes, more than a thousand Boujees lie sprawled on their backs, their couture kicks scuffing the sidewalk as they heave, sneeze and cough.
The Q.U.E.E.N.s laugh, knowing that this air won't kill them today and is just a mild irritant that their precious bodies have forgotten how to handle.
“Diversion complete. Let's hope this gives them some time. Mount up!” The new Q.U.E.E.N. commander, Al-i'son Bl*air, shouts. No longer needing to remain incognito, the Q.U.E.E.N.s turn on their jetpacks and race out the holes in the dome.
Rocket women, burning out their fuse...
* * *
Est'R, Bon-E and JA-NL are thrown in the Def Corporation jail on the 47 th floor.
“Sir, we can kill them right now. They don't have any protections in Metropolis. They don't need a trial.” One guard cocks his gun and points it at Bon-E.
She spits in his face.
“Death would be a sweet dream compared to seeing your face!”
“No, no, no, no, no. Lay down your guns. You know what they've got?” Brand-N paces before the handcuffed trio and flashes a toothy grin.
“Spunk! Pizzazz! Moxie! Mmm, I can almost taste it. We've bred a generation of dullards. Just a bunch of borings. Since our music reflects their thoughts and feelings, this entertainment will only grow more bland and thus, less appealing.
“But we can use their verve to power the next generation of emotional manipulation. Pop music always distills the petulance of renegades and then dilutes this by 20% to be rebellious, but not quite revolutionary. This is how we will use them.
“So, ladies, you say you want a revolution?" He laughs at them. “We all want to change the world. But when you talk about destruction, you can count me out.”