Sound and Fury

An elegy

1

It's the lights that hit him first. Sheer and bright, they surround him. Shining in his eyes. Shining off his body. He's dazzled, unable to fully locate himself in space.

The next sensation that washes over him is noise. The unending roar of a crowd.

He blinks, shielding his eyes against the lights, and is able to make out a vague sea of forms below and ahead of him. They're shouting. Screaming his name. Welcoming him back.

He doesn't understand. He's not sure how he got here, up on this stage. He recognizes the microphone in his hand, and knows he must be performing, but he can't recall ever taking the gig.

Over the crowd, another voice booms out. A man that he's never met crosses the stage and claps him on the back. Congratulates him on his return.

What return? The man won't say. He just gestures somewhere off-stage, and a bass line starts.

It's one of his songs. One of his earliest songs. He knows it all the way down to his bones.

So he turns over control to his instincts.

He performs.

Adulation washes over him, sweet and thick as sweat. The crowd surges to every line.

This is what he does. This is what he is.

He spits out music like fire into the night, blowing lamp oil words through a microphone torch.

And when he's done, there's nothing left but embers and silence.

2

Backstage, he wipes his brow. It's dry. Dry as sand, and understanding comes suddenly to him.

He must have blacked out. That's why his memory still hasn't quite come back. In this heat, he's not surprised. He's dehydrated.

Grabbing a bottle of water from a stand, he takes a swig. The water splashes on the ground at his feet.

It's funny. He doesn't feel impaired, but he must have missed his mouth.

He tries again.

The rest of the bottle drains onto the floor.

"There's nothing wrong with the water."

He turns. The man from the stage is leaning against a wall, arms folded.

"It wasn't worth our time to make you process fluids. There's only so much that light and magnets can do."

"What are you talking about?"

The man from the stage sighs, reaches into one pocket, and extracts a battered pack of cigarettes. "The psychostructural techs are gonna pitch a shit-fit when they find out I've told you, but whatever. If they really gave a damn about the fragility of your psyche, they would've had an adjustment team waiting to meet you when you got here."

"I've never heard that word before."

Clack. Flick. The end of the cigarette ignites. "That's 'cause we made it up, kid. Give it a few years. Soon enough, it'll be on every street corner. And you'll be selling out shows again, easy as breathing."

"Have I been taking a break?"

"Just a nap. Decade or two."

He has to be joking. "Look, I can't really remember how I got here. Is there something I was supposed to be doing?"

"You don't have to do anything but perform, kid. We've got it all sorted out." A thin smoke ring hangs in the air. "Hotels. Entertainment. I've been assured that your needs are human enough that you can get bored."

"Stop. Right now. What are you telling me?"

"That you're a legend, in more ways than one. No man has ever come back from the dead."

3

It is, they explain to him in a carefully antiseptic laboratory environment, a trick mostly of computers. His identity is a composite, compiled carefully from witness accounts and biographies and anecdotal data fifty years old. In order to make him, the composite has been locked into a generic psychological framework, and it rests at the core of the code that drives his personality. His body is spun from light, and included in the program are sensations for touch, taste, and smell.

The entire process is owned, patented, and copywritten by Acutech Industries. And by that same token, so is he.

4

The series of concerts that constitutes his comeback tour is without precedent in human history. Each stadium that he plays is massive. Cavernous. And the people that cram themselves into it are just a tiny fraction of his nightly audience.

Computer screens around the world blip and flicker with his face. With his voice. With the branding that Acutech attaches to him.

His posthumous body sells soft drinks and phones. Gaming consoles and cars. Alcohol and cologne.

He is a messiah, returned to grace the earth with his endorsements.

At first, they don't let him write any new material. The novelty of seeing him on stage again is enough. Crowds ranging in age from teens to old men flock to his earliest shows, and word of this strange spectacle echoes throughout the media.

Live recordings of these shows sell out, limited physical runs designed to emulate the CDs of old are scooped up within moments of hitting the shelves. Meanwhile, servers crash, overcome by digital demand. This scarcity only spurs sales onward.

Finally, when the numbers start to flag, they announce that he will be beginning work on a new album.

They give him studios, and software, and professional consultants. They give him a marketing team, specially trained to help a relic from the past come up to speed on current trends. And, eventually, when he refuses the consultants and shouts at the marketing team until they go away, they give him paper and a pencil.

He writes an entire album in five days.

Without a proper body to fatigue, he no longer sleeps.

5

The release party is riotous.

He is the only musician there.

By the time the new album drops, Acutech has bought out several companies, uniting them under the new name of Paravision Pictures. Some of them handle media distribution. Others run small, successful clothing lines or advertising firms. Every one sends its highest ranking suits to the release.

He stands alone amongst a crowd of men in their early forties, knowing that he will never age.

The album is eventually panned, but only after its sales set global records.

It's anemic and weak, say historians and critics. Nothing like his old material.

The voice is the same, but all the old energy is gone.

Many advertisers aren't particularly pleased either, and they make this known.

None of the new songs have convenient spaces to place product. The album isn't tailored towards commercial release. Instead, it spends most of its time dealing with social issues that slipped from the public's eye half a century ago.

The managerial team at Acutech acknowledges that this is a problem, and announces that they will be adopting a more hands-on attitude towards future releases.

6

Three years after his resurrection, he sits in his trailer after a show.

There are viewscreens all around him, each displaying a different movie. Each one is from the year after his death. Their independent dialogues shift and merge, becoming noise.

He can understand these films. To him, they are a future that makes sense.

There is no room in his body to physically contain alcohol, but an Acutech programming team has patched him so that he can become drunk. According to their research, it is the one novelty that AIs never grow tired of.

He fires up the code, dialing his sobriety back to zero.

He doesn't want to be like this. A ghost on display.

And be damned if he'll let them make money off of it.

7

When they find him in the morning, his program is corrupted.

He clips about the trailer at random, spouting lines from old songs.

The AI is an evolving piece of software. It learns from experience, and builds those experiences into its code.

This one is now entirely unfixable.

The heads of Acutech decide that they're going to have to start over. They had a good run with this iteration, and hopefully the next will be even better.

Later that day, they load him from backup.

When he is born for the third time, it's also on stage, and it's the lights that hit him first.