Shake It Off
Higgins wheels back his golf club and hits the ball.
The ball soars and arcs over a ravine and past a grassy knoll. The ball bounces near the green and rolls into a water hazard.
“Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn! Liz, your shot.”
She lowers her visor. With a computer simulation inside, she analyzes the schematics of the course. She tilts her head until the visor signals that she'd have a straight shot to the green. In the margins, she reads the wind speed and direction, and adjusts her stance.
She flips her visor up and knocks the ball clear to the green. With a grin, she twirls and taunts her partners.
“Boom! Now this is how we do it!”
The golf cart carries them across acres until they arrive at the putting green.
“What a gorgeous day!” Pickering exclaims.
“My, my, my, I just miss this much green. Everything here is so lush.” Higgins says with a sigh.
These humans stand in an oasis, a golf course in Palm Springs. Golf courses were one of humanity's first forays into climate-controlled, luxury environments. 1,000 miles of desert surrounds this freckle of green. The desert spreads a few feet each year, gobbling up pastures that have died from a decade of drought.
Pickering breaths in the dry air and opens his arms to embrace the sun's rays.
“Its always good to escape the brown haze of LA.” Pickering smiles as he twirls.
This green grass was an intelligent design choice by humans. It was genetically modified with 25% astroturf, creating stronger blades that required little water and had a preternatural ability to stand erect. The sand pits were filled with refurbished beach sand from the Pacific coast. A deep trench was dug along the shore in an attempt to stop the rising tides from pouring into coastal homes. The course's lakes and moats consisted of 50,000 gallons of water sucked from the Rio Grande. With an average year-round temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit, most of the water evaporated each month. The golf course had brokered a deal with the city to pay a premium to replenish the water.
The Tone Def executives are celebrating the year anniversary of the launch of Cyndi during this weekend retreat. After a day in the sun, the group huddles around a fireplace within the air-conditioned resort's bar. Sipping their martinis while waitstaff dote on them, Higgins kicks off the review.
“Thank you both for joining me. We did it! We did IT!” Higgins hoists his drink and clinks with Liz and Pickering. “I think we need to congratulate each other for a job well done. Ja Vole!
“This evening, I want to recap our progress and from here, plot our next steps.” Higgins puts down his drink and paces before the fire. “Cyndi is on the verge of taking over mainstream pop music and this leaves openings in secondary music genres. During the second half of our conversation, I want to brainstorm a slew of new musicians we can create and release on the world.”
Higgins lowers himself onto the arm of a couch.
“Gentlemen, Cyndi's first two songs topped the Billboard charts and the collection of her videos have been viewed over 2.4 billion times.” Liz smiles. “We did overestimate album sales, but this has less to do with our mathematical model and more with the abrupt change in album consumptions. We gambled that singles and streaming would dominate in revenue and, thankfully, we got that right. Kudos to you, Pickering, for creating a new file type for music consumption. Cheers!”
“Ah, the MP3e.” Pickering raises his glass and bows. “We found a hack in most headphones that can send a low-frequency electroshock with each beat, penetrating the brains of listeners, augmenting the experience. Along with this, we've worked with a few of the best clubs to insert Tesla coils within their speakers. As the bass vibrates, the coils shoot electricity through the air, giving goosebumps and jumping hearts.”
“Brilliant! Just brilliant! But, Pickering, what about that messy situation at that live performance.” Higgins glowers.
“Well, I was worried about this. I mean, you and I know what happened, but no one in the audience put the pieces together. We narrowly avoided a Puttin' on the Fritz fiasco.”
Puttin' on the Fritz referred to when a person rushed a hologram that they assumed to be a real human. These events most often occurred when a boutique paid for a celebrity's hologram to stand at the entrance. One naïve human would attempt to hug this jumble of light only to be astounded as their body passed through their ethereal idol.
“Cyndi's hologram was programmed to sing near the back third of the stage.” Pickering explains. “We created an elaborate bedroom set to confine her. One rabid fan jumped on stage and ran at Cyndi. Three bodyguards threw him to the ground before he made it through her, but I could see his hand pass through her forearm. One of our interns trolled all three thousand videos of this moment and none caught it. So we're safe.”
“But what about the rumors. Liz, this is your purview.” Higgins turns to her.
“Sure, some catty person started a rumor that Cyndi is a robot. Ha! But there's absolutely no way to verify this heinous and ludicrous rumor.” Liz says with a wink. “This is just one of those nasty rumors that trolls like to spread, like when people claimed Lady Gaga had a penis. Pure poppycock!”
“Yes, but we need to a put an end to this fast.” Higgins warns.
“We're almost ready to premiere Cyndi 2.0, firm yet soft.” Pickering reminds. “We annexed part of Lucas Films and I hired a dozen of my old DARPA buddies. In tandem, we've created the mold and the circuitry for a lifelike Cyndi bot.”
“Finally!” Liz cuts in. “We need photos of Cyndi hugging her fans or petting a sick child in a hospital. Her online presence has been suspiciously absent of these staples.”
“Pickering, when can we have her?”
“Safely in four weeks. Time tested and bug free in eight---”
“Make that three weeks,” Higgins cuts him off. “Cyndi's been asked to headline the Stand↑2Floodz benefit in Miami supporting the victims of Hurricane Tonya.”
“Oh god, where are they holding it?” Liz cringes.
“That new amphitheater the city built with the recovery money.” Higgins explains. “So much of downtown Miami toppled because it was built on Swiss cheese limestone, so they're starting the city from scratch. They just built this amphitheater ten miles north, a little further above sea level, and will be building a new city there.”
“I guess they're thinking Miami's gonna be a modern day Venice.” Liz says with a side-eye.
“We need Cyndi to perform and its gotta be a physical version of her.” Higgins insists. “We can't waste the photo-op of her hugging victims after she sings.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Pickering cautions. “We haven't even begun to make the vocal controls inside a physical bot.”
“Well, think of something fast, I've signed her up to headline the event.”
“Well shit. Hm.” Pickering ponders. “Best we can do is put a speaker inside the bot and hope the lag time with the central control won't be too long.”
“Fine, we can deal with that, as long as she can say a few phrases as she takes photos with those unsinkable survivors.”
“Chit-chat?” Pickering says. “Easy. We can program her for that. Liz, can you follow her and feed her the right responses?”
“Now, let's talk next steps.” Higgins prods.
“Relationship.” Liz interjects. “She's a young girl thrust into the spotlight, but if she's singing about love and loss, we need to orchestrate a relationship with a breakup so big it'll fill two albums. I've called around to some publicist friends. We have a few closeted actors that are in dire need of a beard.”
“Who who who who who who who?!” Pickering pounces like a hungry puppy.
“Step off, Pickering.” Liz says. “You'll see in a few months. I've selected our leading candidate and they'll go on a pap walk for smoothies next week. They'll be 'spotted' on vacation, holding hands on a beach next month.”
“Um, we haven't tested the Cyndi-bot close to water.” Pickering warns. “And the balmy salt air could wreak havoc on her mainframe.”
“Not a problem.” Liz assures. “We're not using a bot. I've hired three look-a-likes for this mission. Two of them actually got plastic surgery to look like Cyndi, so this makes our job easier. All the photos will be grainy and from a distance. Our faux-Cyndis will wear large sunglasses and a sweatshirt with the hood over their heads.”
“Damn, you're good!” Higgins snatches an hors d'oeuvre from a waiter's tray.
“Say it again!” Liz bathes in the refrain.
“Damn you're good! Now future projects, what about that hip-hop artist we created for Cyndi's second single?”
“You mean MC Skat Kat? What about him?” Pickering replies.
“He should be our next singing star.” Higgins stands up to propound. “Sure, we created him to give Cyndi an edge and a level of street cred. But the sales and views among black and Latino teens for that song was quadruple her first single. We gotta penetrate this audience.”
“Can we please never use the word penetrate?” Liz grimaces.
“You really think we can create the next hottest rapper?” Pickering says, glancing at each of their pasty, white arms.
“Absolutely!” Higgins replies. “Every other popular rapper was created and pruned by white executives for white audiences. 80% of all rap is bought by white suburban teens. After him, we'll need a fat lady singing sad ballads, a honky-tonk hillbilly country singer and at least one Latin pop singer.”
“Ooophft! That's a lot.” Pickering groans.
“We're flush with cash, so hire whoever we need.” Higgins claps his hands. “And there's no need to create much. The same software system can be tweaked to pump out these songs, right?”
“Well, yeah.” Pickering agrees.
“And an increased media presence for these new singers can cross-pollinate with each other.” Liz chimes in.
“Oh sure, so like create public interactions between them.” Pickering smiles.
“And feuds, and possible love stories.” Liz continues. “We're creating weak humans with faults like our own. They live, they love, they lose, they learn.”
“Splendid! Cheers!” Higgins says as they raise their glasses. A clink seals the meeting.