Higgins had admired Liz's verve and bluntness ever since she interviewed him about SilibuttsTM. It was supposed to be a puff piece about the company's superior gluteal technology, but she pounced. She was the only journalist who asked follow-up questions and pushed back on his bullshit. She was a rottweiler and he needed her on his team. Though he enjoyed watching this same punchy attitude barking defenses nightly on the news, it pained him to see her shilling the scandale du jour. If anyone could create an airtight story, it would be her.
Liz enters the office, wary of both men. Before the cordial introductions are even finished, she is handed a non-disclosure agreement and told that the conversation would go no further unless she signs it and is recorded doing so.
Her interest is piqued. She knew the type of charlatan Higgins is, and after working with buffoons for the past few years, she gained a new found respect for his artful chicanery. She signs with a smile and sits across from Higgins and Pickering.
“Gentlemen, what are you wasting my time for?”
Higgins had enticed her with a multi-million dollar project for his budding music company, Tone Def Recordings.
“We've got quite the opportunity that needs your unique skill set.” A twinkle dances in Higgins's eyes.
“You see, we've just signed our first recording artist and we need your storytelling skills to make her a star. She's gotta tip on the tightrope between being relatable and inspirational, an idol yet perfectly human.”
“She's a little stiff and sharp around the edges.” Pickering says with a smirk.
“So this is what you did with your Silibutts millions?” Liz tilts back in her chair and crosses her arms.
“You haven't seen anything yet.” Higgins gestures to the holowall. “Meet Cyndi.”
On cue, the 'cube projects Cyndi's first music video. Liz hears the voice and beholds the image of Cyndi, beautiful and vibrant, pining for young love while running along a beach, breasts bouncing in time. Liz's body sways with the song. The song swells as the happiness neurotransmitter, serotonin, ripples through her body. As the video finishes, she braces herself and wipes dew from the corner of her eyes.
“Riveting and an absolutely gorgeous girl. And that voice! Unforgettable.” She leans on a table. “Woo! Let me catch my breath.”
After a beat, she continues.
“But damn, you must have great or stupid insurance to hire a girl that young.”
“Well, that's the thing,” Higgins smiles. “She's not really a teen girl.”
“Oh ho ho! I'm starting to see why you called me. How much older is she? Look, you might be able to fool some of the public, but you need to make sure you plug up all the leaks before this ship sinks.”
“And that's where you'll come in.” Higgins offers.
“Before I take on any client, I have to meet them first. When would she be free to meet me.”
“She's already here.” Pickering points to the computer in the corner of the room.
“Um. Is she behind the computer. Or did you boys chop her up and stuff her inside. Cuz I don't do murders. Larceny, embezzlement, white collar crimes, absolutely. But not murder. Boys, you're charade is wearing thin.”
“Oh, she's not dead.” Higgins assures. “Well... she's not quite alive, either. Cyndi, would you be so kind to introduce yourself?”
The holocube lens shoots a beam just a few feet in front of Liz. A 5-foot 8-inch tall, radiantly sweet, ethereal image of Cyndi forms through the light.
“Oh hiiiii! I'm Cyndi. Are you gonna help me with my media stuff?”
Liz scans it, amazed. A laser in the holocube is trained on Liz's eyes and triangulates Cyndi's position to ensure that it always looks directly at Liz.
“What are you looking at?” Cyndi's brows furrow and nose wrinkles to match Emotion 97: Quizzical Face.
“Oh I'm just inspecting your---” Liz stops, realizing that she is addressing a hologram. She turns to Higgins. “Damn, you got me.”
“Quit your job and work for us.” Higgins reaches out to shake Liz's hand. “We're going to start with Cyndi here and we should be able to branch out and make a dozen more pop stars within five years. But before we can, we need a master storyteller like you.”
“Make me an equal partner and I'm yours.” Liz leans over the table and stares.
Pickering and Higgins whisper for a few seconds.
“Fine, when can you start?” Higgins announces.
“Right now.” Liz plops down and turns to the swaying hologram. “Gentlemen, in the economy of entertainment, the most important and the most fragile resource is authenticity. Audiences desperately want to believe these stars are real. That their struggles are real, that their triumphs are real. Even though most pop stars are following carefully-scripted stories, fans want to believe that these stars are being their most genuine selves.
“Authenticity needs to be painstakingly crafted over decades. We need to create files and files of a back story that will be the foundation of her authenticity. Even though she's beautiful now, we need to create an ugly duckling transformation that tugs at heart strings and convinces audiences that she's just like them. Hm. Adorable baby photos. Band geek pictures. Her in a gingham dress carrying a flute and stacks of books. Some photos with zits and braces. Bangs. Terrible bangs! A grainy video of her singing in church as a kid. We gotta find a drama teacher who can describe Cyndi's nascent talent.”
Pickering and Higgins glance at each other as this master weaves a whole life history.
“Once compiled, we can leak these out one at a time. Throwback Thursdays. Fallback Fridays. Wistful Wednesdays. She's gotta start with some sort of social media presence. Every child her age has over 30,000 photos of them posted online from vaginal crowning to middle school graduation. We can buy fake followers and manufacture the likes and the retweets.”
Liz stands and arcs around the Cyndi hologram.
“Now for a backstory. Hm. She needs to have had tremendous heartbreak and a triumph in her short life. Father was a cowboy on a ranch in Wyoming. No Montana. He was gored to death by a bull that stampeded her school and tried to kill Cyndi and her mom. He sacrificed himself to save their lives. God this shit is good! Is anyone writing this down?”
“We got it voice recorded.” Pickering assures her. “Alexis, bring up the last words on the screen.” The holowall transcribes her words in a frilly pink cursive, indicative of a female speaker.
“Its fine, I don't need to see it now. I just want to make sure its not seeping out of the room. Where was I? Ah! Discovery. There needs to be a place and time that you found her and laid claim to her talent. Hm... like singing in the mall with friends. Or some tacky school recital. Something that would be attainable for other girls. Are you boys listening?”
“Just basking in your brilliance.” Higgins says with a nod.
“Ok, I can see that the tech is still on the buggy side.” Liz snaps her fingers in front of Cyndi's face. The hologram moves at a glacial pace to look at the source of the sound.
“Well... her reflexes are better than half the drug-addled pop stars out there. Its fine, until the tech gets better, we can say that she's got crippling shyness and stage fright. An imperfection that she's been working on. This'll keep her from public appearances.”
The Cyndi hologram's doe eyes seem to smize approval.