Rock You Like a Hurricane
The faces of the 14,832 humans killed by Hurricane Tonya are projected on the exterior of the Embassy amphitheater in downtown New Miami. It's the first thing that all attendees see after crossing the watery wasteland from old Miami and disembarking from the hovercraft onto dry land. The faces rotate along the brick walls. So many of the images are of elderly faces, graying and wrinkled, with kind eyes and warm smiles. Then they see the images of happy children. These cut the deepest as the attendees realize that each has been erased before they could even understand their existence. All long the wall are mostly black and brown faces that exude hope. All caught in joyous moments, celebrating life. Each seems to brim with trust in a bright future that once awaited them.
“Dear God.” Pickering's eyes well with tears as he recognizes the enormity of the destruction. Sure, he had read the number of fatalities before, but his mind couldn't comprehend the severity of the disaster.
“OH GOD!” Liz stumbles, gobsmacked, as she looks at the faces on the wall.
“Chop, chop. No time to mourn. I know you're brokenhearted but the show must go on!” Higgins urges as he hands each a suitcase full of robotic parts.
They join the sea of celebrities streaming into the building. Diamond ring-clad hands stop waving. Painted faces still. Swishing ballgowns slow to a somber plod. For a moment, the crowd attempts to comprehend the enormity of this tragedy. They look around, hoping someone will provide an explanation for this suffering. For a moment, they wonder if they carry any of the blame. Could they have failed their fellow humans? Then they lower their heads, ducking responsibility as they enter the amphitheater. These ultra-wealthy humans consumed more, flew further on private jets, had more homes and thus were some of the largest contributors to climate change.
Inside, upbeat music booms and bright lights circle the well-decorated interior, urging them to leave their sadness at the threshold. Tonight is a night for celebration, to honor the survivors and raise funds to help the build this new city. They are good people, they reassure themselves. They are helping in the only way they know how, by celebrating themselves.
Higgins, Pickering and Liz scurry to Cyndi's dressing room and assemble the physical manifestation of their reigning pop princess.
“Dammit. I think we're missing a few screws.” Pickering counts as he lays out the pieces.
“I've got safety pins and hair clips.” Liz offers.
“That'll have to do.” Pickering snatches a few as Higgins paces around them.
“Where the devil are her slippers?!” Higgins demands.
“Probably in the other clothes bag. Start unpacking!” Liz orders.
In twenty minutes they have screwed, nailed and clicked Cyndi's parts into place. Pickering zips up her dark aquamarine gown. The surface of the dress is fashioned with miniature holoscreens. An image of a dark tempest whirls in time with Cyndi's voice. Liz grabs her wig and velcroes it onto her head. She blow dries the hair to give it some extra bounce. Higgins kneels before Cyndi and slides on her stilettos.
“Ok, now to power her.” Pickering snaps in a fist-sized lithium-ion flux capacitor just beneath the shoulder blades. “This should be good for seven hours. Ok. Ready?”
Higgins fidgets with his hands as he paces in circles.
“You're not getting nervous, are you?”
“Me? Never!” Higgins says as he chugs a glass of brandy. “Now, let's get her out there!”
Higgins and Pickering watch as Liz and Cyndi enter the step-and-repeat gauntlet. Liz holds her holophone and uses it to control Cyndi's movements. She blends in with every other phone-engulfed PR agent. Every three feet, Cyndi's body stops, poses for a few seconds, turns her head, crosses her legs, tilts her hips and smiles. A thousand flashes follow each pose.
“Dammit, she's not blinking.” Liz whispers into her lapel.
“It's fine, no one will notice.” Pickering assures her from the other side of the wall of photographers.
The bot follows perfectly in the footsteps of the dozen women walking this well-worn ritual. Each stands robotically, forcing a smile while pivoting to find the best light. The banner behind them carries the logo for the event along with scenes of catastrophe: crumbled buildings, crying mothers, palm trees tilting 30-degrees from gale force winds, stop signs ripped from the ground.
“Cyndi! Cyndi! Lois Kent with the Miami Planet. Who are you wearing!?” A journalist hollers.
Liz taps Response #3. Cyndi's face reddens as she looks down. Her mouth opens. Liz stands behind her, projecting the voice.
“This is an Alaïa!” The mouth snaps shut and Cyndi moves forward.
“Cyndi! Cyndi!” Another journalist demands her attention. “Is it true you haven't donated to the Miami victims. Why is that?”
Uh-oh, they've gone off script. Liz jumps in.
“My client doesn't have to answer that. She's donating her time now and will be making many more donations in the months to come.” Liz shields Cyndi, who continues to smile and pose.
“Wait, Staszia?” Liz recognizes one of the recipients of her PR Gives Back scholarships.
“Oh, hi Liz, what are you---” Staszia starts as she lowers her microphone.
“Just helping a friend, I'll call you later. I've got some business that I think you'll find exciting.” Liz says as she grabs Cyndi by the shoulder and walks her to the end of the gauntlet.
Pickering and Higgins are waiting and flank Cyndi as she walks off.
“Ok, that was fine. That was fine!” Liz chokes back. “Just breath, just breath. Ok, we can take her back to the dressing room until the final number.”
“You must be joking.” Higgins halts her onward march. “She has to sit in the front row. The cameras will be panning the audience.”
“This wasn't part of the plan, Higgins!” Liz shouts.
“It is now. You've got a seat next to her. Pickering and I will be a section behind you.”
“Liz, you can do this.” Pickering clasps her shoulders. “Just set her face to emotion 47: politely amused with doe eyes.”
Liz takes a deep breath as the three and their creation enter the theater.
Shouts come from the upper-upper balcony. Hundreds of survivors of Hurricane Tonya lean over the ledge to catch a glimpse of the stars striding in.
“Cyndi! Cyndi! Up here! We love you!” The crowd cheers.
“Oh shit” Liz says as she scrolls through her phone. “Nothing's preprogrammed for this.” She finds the neck commands and tilts Cyndi's head back. As Cyndi does, Liz hits the smile button and pose number 12.
“Oh crap, the head's not stopping. FUCK!” Liz panics.
Cyndi's head snaps all the way back like a Pez dispenser. Pickering wraps his arm around the robot's neck and pushes its head back down. The crowd takes pictures as he twirls her around. Liz grabs her from the other side and they escort her to her seat. Pickering fixes her gown as Liz commands her to sit.
“Well, this is it.” Pickering says as he sits next to Higgins.
Higgins scans the crowd, lowers himself in his seat and tips his top hat over his eyes.
For the next two hours, Cyndi sits in the front row, unblinking, with an attentive half smile. Her eyes follow the movement onstage. When the cameras pan the audience for reactions, the stars around her all have the same half expression as Cyndi, always unsure of how best to react to the crass jokes and touching tributes.
“And our panel of stars are in front of their video phones, waiting for YOU to call!” Master of Ceremonies Mario Lopez smiles and points into the camera as the telethon cuts to the last commercial break.
Pickering and Higgins bound down the aisle and, along with Liz, swoop Cyndi onto the side of the stage, just behind the curtain.
“Here it goes.” Pickering sweats.
“All or nothing.” Higgins shakes his head. “Are you sure---”
“I got this. I got this.” Liz focuses like a fighter pilot and commands the Cyndi-bot to walk onto the stage, towards the MC's beckoning hand.
Pickering closes his eyes and holds them closed.
Higgins head cranes around the curtain.
“Pickering, look! Look!” He waves his hand to Pickering to join him.
Pickering inhales deeply and peeks around the curtain.
“Do you see it Pickering?! Do you see it! Ha!”
Pickering cups his mouth. And laughs!
As Cyndi lip-syncs on stage, not a single audience member looks at her. Well, not directly at her. They hold their holophones a few inches from their eyes to record this performance. Sure, they can see Cyndi, but through the lens of their camera. The severe contours of the bot's face are softened through the camera lens. Had anyone looked at the performer on stage, their eyes might spot something amiss. The lack of veins, the five-finger forehead, the eyes that never blink.
Higgins walks back behind the stage and cackles.
Cyndi's voice runs up the scale and hits a high C. This note matches the resonant frequency of the chandeliers throughout the amphitheater. As Cyndi holds the note for twenty seconds, growing louder and louder, the air molecules in the glass of these chandeliers vibrate furiously.
The audience lowers their holophones as a new sound appears. It sounds like clinking, but from where? As they search for its origin, the chandeliers burst, raining shards of glass that turn into rainbows as each piece refracts the light and falls on the audience. At first horrified, they cover their eyes.
One ecstatic man jumps up and starts a slow clap. The audience, realizing they are unharmed, springs to their feet in uproarious applause. Cyndi stands still with a muted face. Liz commands the bot to smile and bow three times. After this she glides off the stage.
In the wing, MC Mario stares in disbelief. He tries to grab Cyndi as she exits. Higgins jumps in and shakes the man's hand.
“What a great show. Sorry about the chandeliers, old chap, but I promise you that Cyndi and Tone Def Recordings will reimburse the theater.” Higgins asserts as he turns him around and pushes him back on the stage.
Liz squeals, exhilarated. “That was amazing!”
“No time to dilly-dally, she's got a meet and greet to get to!” Higgins party poops.
* * *
After the show, Cyndi stands backstage as a line of survivors come up to take photos with her. Cyndi coos the same responses to whatever they say.
“Well aren't you sweet.”
“Thanks for cheering me on.”
“Oh how kind of you.”
“Thank you for your bravery.”
For a moment, the worries of their ruined homes, the struggles with the insurance companies that won't cover this atrocity, the lost loved ones, the aching uncertainty that echoes deep inside, all disappear. All of this is silenced. For a moment, they bask in the glory of the carefree life of their idol, happily sedated.
As the families return to the drudgery of their lives, they clutch onto their photo of Cyndi. They feel warmed by her caring and encouragement. They know that their hardships remain, but they hold on for one more day.