Thursday, September 1, 2016

I’ve Got The Music In Me

pwning_tomorrow.png
The EFF organized this anthology of sf short stories about the electronic frontier.
All stories are licensed with Creative Commons licenses.
“I’ve Got The Music In Me” is CC BY.
Download “Pwning Tomorrow” from the Internet Archive.

I’ve Got The Music In Me

by Charlie Jane Anders

“Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head, and couldn’t get it out?” The woman asking the question wore one of those new frogskin one-pieces, with false eyelashes that looked fiberoptic. She leaned on the bar in my direction.

I shrugged and drank. “Maybe, I don’t know.” I was busy obsessing about my sick dog. Moxie was my best friend, but they’d said the tests alone would cost hundreds, with no guarantee.

The woman, Mia I think, kept talking about brains that wouldn’t let go of songs. “You know how a song loops around and drowns out everything else in your skull?” I nodded, and she smiled. “Sometimes it’s like a message from your subconscious. Your brain blasts sad lyrics to wake you to a submerged depression.”

“I guess.”

“Or you could be overworked. Or sexually frustrated. It’s like an early warning system.” She beckoned another drink. The mention of sex jumped out of her wordflow like a spawning salmon. I forgot all about my dog, turned to face her.

“I see what you mean,” I said.

“They’re funny, songs. They drill into your head and form associations.” She batted those shiny lashes. “They trigger memories, just the way smells do.”

“You’re absolutely right.” I was thinking, do I have condoms?

She asked me about my past loves, and whether there were pieces of music that came unbidden to mind when I thought of them. I struggled to dredge up a memory to please this woman, her taut body so close to mine I could feel the coolness of the tiny frogs whose hides she wore.

“Yeah, now that I think about it, there was this one song…”

From Section 1923, Mental copyright enforcement field manual.
Subsection 1, Probable Cause:

Do not bring in suspects without an ironclad case, and avoid any appearance of entrapment. Do not apprehend someone merely because he/she whistles under his/her breath or bobs his/her head to music nobody else can hear. To demonstrate that someone has stored copyrighted music in his/her brain in violation of the Cranial Millenium Copyright Act, you must obtain a definitive statement, such as:

• 1) “Whenever I see the object of my smothered desire I hear “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream in my head. This is the full album version, complete with trademark guitar solo and clearly articulated rhythm track.”
• 2) “I always tune out my boss when he talks to me, and instead conjure up a near-digital-quality playback of “Bring Tha Bling Bling” by Pimpstyle in my mind. The remix with that Madonna sample.”
• 3) “Following the death of my loved one, I listened to the Parade album by Prince so many times I know the whole thing by heart now.”

Note: the above examples are illustrative and not all-encompassing. Other utterances also could prove the suspect is guilty of keeping protected music in Cranial Audio File format, as prohibited by law.
Subsection 2, Apprehending the suspect:

As soon as I admitted that yeah, that “Pimp Your Bubba” song wouldn’t stop infesting my mind no matter how much good music I fed my ears, the woman went violent. She pulled out a badge and twisted my arm behind me. Steel cinched my wrists, turned me into a perp. “You have the right,” she said.

In her car, she talked to me through a rusty mesh cordoning the back seat. “I’d put on the radio, but you might steal again.”

“What have I done?”

“Don’t pretend. Your mental piracy is blatantly illegal.”

“But everyone said that law was unenforceable—”

“I got your confession right here on tape. And we’ll get more out of you. The brain’s a computer, and yours is jam-packed with stolen goods.”

I was terrified. I could be held for days. What would happen to Moxie?

“Take my advice, kid.” We turned onto a driveway with a guard post and tilting arm. The woman showed a card and the arm rose. “Just relax and tell them everything. It’ll be fun, like a personal tour through your musical memories. Like getting stoned with a friend and digging some tunes. Then you just plea bargain and skip outta here.”

Subsection 3, Questioning the suspect:

Ask questions like:

• What sort of music did you listen to in high school?
• Here is a piece of your clothing which we confiscated. We’ll give it back if you tell us what song it brings to mind.
• I can see you’re angry. Is there an angry song in your thoughts?
• Complete this guitar riff for me. Na na na NAH na na…

I kept asking over and over, whom have I hurt? Who suffers if I have recall of maybe a hundred songs? They had answers—the record companies, the musicians, the media, all suffered from my self-reliance. I didn’t buy it.
“This whole thing is bullshit,” I said.

The two guys in shades looked at each other. “Guy’s got a right to face his accuser,” one said.

“You figure it’s time to bring in the injured party?” the other said.

They both nodded. They took their gray-suited selves out of the interrogation cube. I squirmed in my chair, arms manacled and head in a vice.

They were gone for hours. I tried to relax, but the restraints kinked my circulation.
I heard noises outside the door. A scrawny guy with a fuschia pompadour and sideburns wandered in. He wore a t-shirt with a picture of himself, which made him easier to recognize because I’d seen that picture a million times.

“You’re Dude Boy,” I said.

“Pizzeace,” said Dude Boy. “You been ripping me off.”

“No I haven’t.” I fidgeted in bondage. “I don’t even like you.” I remembered when Dude Boy was on the cover of every magazine from Teen Beat to Rolling Stone, and that fucking song was on the air every minute. “Your song sucked aardvark tit. They played it so often I started hearing it when I brushed my teeth, which really—” Oh. Shit.

“See? You admit it. Thief.”

“But—”

“And you never bought a copy, ya?”

“Yeah, but—It sucked, man.”

“It was just so catchy and hooky, ya? You had to have it, Mr. Sticky Fingers.”

“Catchy’s one word for it. You could also try, ‘annoyingly repetitive.’ How many times can you say ‘You’re So Cute I Wanna Puke’ in one song?”

“That’s the hook, bo.”

“So I always wondered what happened to you after that one hit. You dropped out of sight.”

The agate eyes I remembered from VH1 came close. “You killed my career, bo. You and all the others who used my song for your skull soundtracks until you got sick of me. I didn’t ask to have my creation overexposed in your noggin. It’s all your fault.”

“So now you’re working for these creeps?”

“It’s a job until reality TV calls.”
He kept staring. He’d always looked goofy, but never before scary. “We’re like intimate, ya know. I seduced ya with my hookitude, and in return you copped a feel of the DB while I slept. It’s good to be close at last.” For a moment I feared he’d kiss me. I tried to turn away, but no dice.

Then at the last second he whipped around and kicked the wall. “You kidnapped my baby!” He turned back. Spit painted my cheeks. “So here’s the deal. We take this thang to court, I nail your colon to the wall. Or you cop a plea. Small fine, plus an implant. You get off lightly, bo.”

“Implant?”

“Yes or no?

“What implant?

“Last chance. Yes or no?”

Most of the time, the implant doesn’t bother me. If I get emotional, like when I buried Moxie, it kicks in just as a tune swells inside me. Then instead of the music, I hear Dude Boy screaming, “Thief!” for like thirty seconds. It really screwed me up this one time I was giving a presentation at work. I was one of the first to get implanted, but now they’re everywhere. It’s become such a cultural phenom that a new hit song samples the sound the implant makes. They had to pay Dude Boy royalties, of course.

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky, a novel coming in early 2016 from Tor Books. She is the editor in chief of io9.com and the organizer of the Writers With Drinks reading series. Her stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tor.com, Lightspeed, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, and several anthologies. Her novelette Six Months, Three Days won a Hugo award.