"Oh my God, I hate heels. I really do." Beth cursed quietly as she shuffled down the sidewalk as fast as she good, the clack of her business heels drumming a haphazard beat off the city sidewalk. She was almost late, and hadn't even had her coffee this morning. Just as well, she thought, her diet log would chastise her like none other if she had another ounce of caffeine this week. She had heard rumors of her friends' logs actually sending out notifications to the Health Bureau after they had entered too many override codes for caffeine and sugar dispensation. Beth needed no extra stress this week, so that morning she had decided to tough it out and go to this job interview without so much of a drop of the traditional morning brew.
After a few more minutes of clumsy jog attempts, Beth made it to the proper doors adorning the skirt of the row of skyscrapers that graced this particular block. She slowed her pace, caught her breath, and strode through the automatic doors and security checkpoint. The blue uniformed security guard at the desk gave her a friendly nod as she walked past. She couldn't help but glance at the sidearm half concealed in the plastic holster at his waist. The guard seemed used to this. It wasn't everyday the normal citizen was exposed to a real .22 caliber weapon. The amount of licensing, training, and confidence you had to have to carry that much power these days was simply mindboggling. It was expensive, too.
However, if anyone could afford it, it was this place. Cultureworks Inc. was the top conglomerate when it came to the entertainment business. For decades, they had dominated the entertainment world, and for a lot of people, cleaned it up. It wasn't just a prosperous company; it was a company that was invested in society. They had done more for America, and the world, than anyone had ever thought possible.
The sheer magnitude of that thought almost unnerved Beth as she walked past the elegantly fabricated sculpture in the atrium towards the elevators. The fact that she had a job interview with Cultureworks was a godsend. Yet, this wasn't just as a maintenance worker or a writer; this was for an interface specialist. It was her job to search for clients that would be able to interface with the maximum number of people in the most efficient and satisfactory way. Her connections at college had paid off. This was her big shot.
She fidgeted nervously as the elevator doors closed and the slight pull of gravity influenced itself on her body. She stared at the digital display until the numbers wound up to the seventh floor. She took one last deep breath, and stepped as confidently as she could as soon as the silver doors parted way.
A well made oak desk served as a calming barricade between herself and a smiling, heavy-set woman who seemed adrift in phones and paperwork. Beth placed her hands on the high oak paneling and found her voice.
"Excuse me, my name is Beth Williams and I have an appointment today." She smiled as naturally as she thought she could.
"Oh yes!" The overenthusiastic response was expected. You're the new prospect. How exciting, dear! Mr. Hudson is ready for you now. Just straight through the double doors, through the office. It's the big wooden door. I'll tell him you're coming!"
Beth turned away from the desk and began walking towards the wooden double doors adjacent to the desk. She turned one of the golden handles as entered the office. The air was suddenly saturated with the sounds of furiously typing fingers, muted voices speaking into plastic receivers, and the occasional phrase of music played out of computer speakers. From what Beth could hear, the music sounded amateur. It must have been scout tapes from one of the desks.
She began to breathe more heavily as she walked down the aisle between the two main rows of cubicles towards the affluently designed wooden door at the end. With a shock of horror, she suddenly realized that she hadn't had her morning oral cleanse. She scolded herself mentally for forgetting the tiny UV emitter that would giver a perfectly clean smile and fresh breath. She looked down and furiously dug through her purse for the pack of emergency gum she kept, just in case. As she walked, head down and hands busy, a large and very much alive obstruction suddenly strode right in front of her. With a squeal, she tried to jump out of the way, but only succeeded in tripping the unfortunate victim of her oblivious path. With a crash and a splash, he hit the floor.
"Goddammit!" A gruff voice barked from the floor.
At this, heads with shocked and appalled looks popped out of their cubicles. The man lying on the floor, or more accurately, in a pool of coffee, picked himself up and looked at his ruined dress shirt. He then noticed everyone staring at him.
"I'm so sorry everyone. I, of course, didn't mean to offend." His apology was certainly meant to be sincere and polite, yet Beth swore she heard a hint of something in it that was just uncommon, almost, biting. She shook herself and looked him up and down. He was average looking, yet still seemedoff. His hair was regulation, but almost too long. His sleeves were rolled up, which was somewhat too casual for a Tuesday, but not too large of a faux pas. It was the way his bare forearms looked. They were different. She didn't know why, they just were. She snapped her gaze back up to his face and felt terrible.
"I'm so sorry!" Her apology was most definitely sincere. "Are you alright? That coffee wasn't too hot was it? I justdidn't see you. Are you hurt?"
The man stopped and regarded her with dark blue eyes. It looked as if he wanted to laugh for some reason, but he took a deep breath and a seemingly well-rehearsed smile attached itself to his face.
"I'm perfectly fine. Thank you for your concern, of course. The coffee was machine made, regulation temperature, no danger at all."
"Regrettable, yes. I'm sure I'll figure something out. However, you must be Beth, our new prospective Interface Specialist. I'm sure I've detained you."
Beth felt something strange as he met her gaze. For a moment, it seemed his eyes weren't meeting hers, but rather, were looking at her body. She must have imagined it. "Yes, I am Beth. It's a pleasure to meet you. Your name is?"
"Raymond Jennings. I'm the Office Supply and Employee Comfort Coordinator."
"That's wonderful. However, I must be going." She still felt so strange under his gaze. It was as if his words failed to match what his eyes did. "It was lovely talking to you, and I'm so sorry about your shirt."
He simply gave a respectful half bow and walked away, attempting to brush excess coffee from his shirt. Beth finished her journey to the imposing door just as a small squadron of floor vacuums swarmed over the dark brown stain on the office carpet. There was no knob or panel on the door, so she simply knocked lightly. The deceptively hinged door slid into the wall, revealing a rich looking office, a beautifully carved desk, and a well dressed man with a smile as wide as the panoramic window behind him.
"Hello, Hello!" A jovially toned voice flowed from his lips as Beth stepped into the office. The door slid quietly shut behind her. "You must be Beth Williams. We've heard wonderful things about you! My name is Ted Hudson. Please, come sit down."
He gestured to the plush chair sitting opposite his desk, and Beth calmly made her way towards it.
"Mr. Hudson, please just let me say it's simply an honor to be meeting the Chief Executive of Cultureworks. I don't mean to sound sycophantic, but I have been a huge fan ever since your company created Sheryl Stardust. She was my idol as a little girl."
At this, Mr. Hudson let out a hearty laugh. "Please, Ms. Williams, call me Ted. May I say, I'm so very happy you enjoyed our little angel Sheryl. She had an unprecedented seven year run, you know. That's two years past the usual expiration date."
"She's a legend in her own time, and please, call me Beth."
"Well, alright, Beth." Ted smiled that smile again. "So, let's get down to business. I understand you have a master's degree in Applied Cultural Trending and Fluctuation from the University of Michigan? That's quite a prestigious accomplishment and program!"
"Well, thank you, Ted." Beth tried to return that well-honed smile. "I felt the extra six months of schooling was worth it. After the year and a half it took for my bachelor's, I won't lie, I felt as if I had been in school forever, but I truly enjoy this field."
"That's encouraging to hear. Your grade point and writing speak for you. Now, let me ask you a question here; What do you know about Cultureworks Inc.?"
Beth took a deep breath. "Well, I wrote a thesis on the history and accomplishments of Cultureworks for my Master's. Over seventeen pages, actually. Cultureworks was founded in 2014, and grew exponentially after that. They essentially cornered the market on pop culture, enjoying success in television, after acquiring MTV, and fashion. However, their greatest accomplishment is the domination of the music world. They began recruiting and acquiring pop music acts, and by 2031 had revolutionized not only the music industry, but society itself. Cultureworks is often attributed with the cleaning of society. By controlling large amounts of television, fashion, and music, Cultureworks was invaluable in the passing of the Virtuous Societal Act. In a way, your company is the reason why the tobacco companies went bankrupt in 2039, music became enjoyable for everyone, and just last year, 2050, television finally became smut free and allotted. Cultureworks changed the world, Ted." Beth finished with a smile.
"That may have been the most impressive and flattering account of Cultureworks' history I've ever heard. Very impressive, Beth. I must say, I was sold by your resume. Now that I know that you're aware of what this company stands for, I'm inclined to offer you the position of Interface Specialist right now."
"Nothing would make me happier, Ted." Beth's smile was certainly real now.
"Now, as an Interface Specialist, it will be your task to work with your team to sift through the thousands of audition files we receive per day, and isolate those people who can serve the largest demographic possible. Now, Creativity and Image on the ninth floor handle the actual creation of the act, but the raw potential is what is necessary for this company to continue to function, and to serve our lovely society. Tell me, Beth, can you tell me the three main factors inherent to a proper and successful cultural venture?'
Beth finally felt confident. "Of course. The first step is to measure the ethnic and gender cycle and trend inherent to societal preference fluctuation. Once an ethnically and gender preferred candidate is found, image possibility simulation has to occur. If the image simulation works out, then the candidate can progress through the dictated image path appropriate for the demographic. Finally, the candidate will then need actual creation, including back story, cinematic potential, material, and proper musicality."
"Textbook, Beth. However, I should correct you; the term has changed from "musicality" to "Effective Auditory Material.""
Beth smiled again. She had clearly missed something in her reading. Or she had simply been out of school too long.
"I had no idea. Thank you so much for correcting me."
"Regardless, Beth, you're exactly what were looking for. Would you like to work for Cultureworks?" That smile was back.
"More than anything. Of course!" Beth resisted the urge to jump out of her chair.
"Then welcome to Cultureworks! You can start right away. Our old Interface Specialist's office has already been cleared out."
"So I heard. I'm so sorry for your loss. Was she really trying to get a rock act past the censors?"
"Now Beth, we at Cultureworks are in the business of preserving integrity and keeping society clean. Ms. Gilbert was fired because her performance was lacking. She simply did not have the eye or ear necessary for picking out the right type of material necessary to keep this company at the top of the list."
"I understand completely, Ted."
"Wonderful, Beth. I will see you here at eight o'clock sharp! Once again, welcome aboard."
"Thank you so much!" She stood from the chair and shook Ted's hand. The spring in her step was almost noticeable on the way towards the sliding wooden door. A she passed through the threshold, she allowed herself a hushed "yes!" of congratulations. She then realized just how badly she had to use the restroom. Perhaps that interview had been more stressful than she thought. Her mind was so far gone from her body as she walked past rows of cubicles towards the side of the office. The smile on her face told the employees she passed what had just happened. She saw a wave of brilliant white teeth flash back at her as she walked. The world was hers. She leant up against the swinging door, rushed into the restroom, and ran straight into the sound of a whirring air dryer and the naked upper body of a fully grown man. For the second time that day, she squealed in surprise.
"Jesus Christ, what the hell is your problem?!" It was the gruff voice from before. Raymond stood at the air dryer, holding his sopping wet shirt under the column of warm air. He was eyeing her fiercely. She was simply shocked by his language. No one talked like that, not these days. Her eyes flicked to his chest. There was some sort of defect on his skin, a marring of the flesh. No. It was a drawing. It was-
"Is that a taboo?" She asked, wide-eyed.
"A what? A taboo- A tattoo?" His hand dropped half the shirt as is snapped to his pectoral, covering the mark.. "No. Of course not." His eyes gave away a drop of panic. "You realize you're in the wrong bathroom?"
A shirtless male and a possible tattoo had caught Beth off guard. She felt ashamed and horrified. With a final look at Raymond, she darted out of the bathroom. She selected the opposite door and found her self in the properly gendered facility.
That night, Beth lied awake in bed after the television had shut off. The dark rectangle sat powerless and useless, its internal clock keeping it powered down until six AM, when it would reset and begin logging hours watched yet again. It was ten thirty, and Beth, for the life of her, couldn't understand why she was still awake. Hardly anyone was up at this time, and it wasn't like it was a weekend.
Her mind was still abuzz with her successful job interview that day. She absentmindedly played with a strand of her dark hair that lay on the pillow, freed from its usual tight bun. For some strange reason, the image of Raymond in the bathroom kept playing through her mind. She knew she had seen something on his chest. She scolded herself mentally. She knew that just seeing a topless man was quite the inappropriate visage for a day at work. However, it wasn't the fact that he wasn't wearing a shirt; it was the fact that he undoubtedly had a tattoo.
She tried to think back to the quarter in college where she had taken a sociology course. They had talked about the turn of the millennium and the years preceding it. From what she could remember, her professor had said that many people felt it necessary to actually inject ink under their skin in order to proclaim self expression. She shuddered at the thought. Such an act against societal cohesion would certainly earn you a hefty citation, if not temporary incarceration.
Still, there was something intriguing about it. If he really did have a tattoo, what did that mean? She fell asleep to thoughts of ink under her skin. #
Beth awoke to thoughts of murder towards her alarm. The gentle voice reminding her of her days plans and itinerary seemed almost too sweet. She hadn't slept well. For the first time in a long time she had been troubled by dreams. The last time that had happened, it had been finals week of her third quarter, and everything was on the line. She rose out of bed and began to prepare for her day.
After showering, remembering her oral cleanse, and making the decision to override her diet log and have her extra helping of coffee this week, she walked out the door, and made it to work just before eight, riding the elevator back into the office. She strode past the friendly secretary, and into the room laden with quaint rows of cubicles. As she walked down the sordid lines, smiling, well-kept faces poked out and greeted her. She stopped once and a while and introduced herself to a few of the grinning complexions. By the time she had reached the end of the row, she had met three new people. That put a smile on her face as she entered her office adjacent to Ted's.
She felt more confident today than she had previously. She finally had a workspace, and a computer. Now she could show what she was really made of. She sat down in her plush desk chair, and placed her hand on the mouse. The computer awoke, and greeted her. A screen popped up asking if she wanted to place a complimentary morning drink order. She felt disappointed that coffee wasn't an option, but ice cold water did sound tempting. The weather this morning had said that it would be a hot day, and the heat would continue through the night. She keyed in her request, and went right to work. Her email gave her all of the passwords and directories she needed to start scouting for Cultureworks' next big star. Ten minutes later, just as she was about to delve in to her new staff's top picks for talent candidates, her office door chimed, announcing a visitor. She pressed the "open" button on her desk.
The door slid open, and revealed none other than Raymond himself, pushing a cart laden with refreshments, memos, and comfort items. She swore she caught another glimpse of dissatisfaction and insincerity before a smile snapped on to his face.
"Good morning, Beth. I understand you requested a water?"
"Hello, Raymond!" Beth replied, somewhat shocked at her own enthusiasm. She quickly composed herself. " Yes, I did. It seems like it's going to be quite hot today. Thought I'd hydrate myself."
"I can't argue with that." He opened a cooler compartment on the cart and pulled out a bottle of water. He placed the bottle on top of a napkin on Beth's desk. Beth looked up at him as he walked over.
"So, I wanted to apologize for walking in on you yesterday." She said with a smile.
"Oh, please, don't think anything of it. I really should have just requested to go home and change."
"Oh, that wouldn't have been necessary if I had just looked where I was going. However, I should compliment you! That type of innovation, you know, using the dryer, is the type we look for in potential talent!"
"Well, perhaps I should be in your talent pool."
Beth laughed nervously. She felt, uncomfortable talking to him, yet couldn't stop herself. "Well, perhaps. Though you know you're much too old!"
"I guess. Though a lot of my friends are twenty two year olds who are quite talented."
At this, Beth did a double take. "Well, talented in what? Are they just prevalent in their careers?"
Raymond seemed to stop at this, realizing he'd said something out of place. Yet, resolve was evident on his face.
"No, not exactly. Anyway, I must be going. Plenty of other folks with that hydration idea of yours."
Raymond took his cart and left quickly, once again leaving Beth in a confused state. She was aware that Raymond was simply the Office Supply and Employee Comfort Coordinator, but the more she interfaced with him, the more she became curious. She also, for the life of her, couldn't understand why she felt so strange talking to him. It was if it was small talk, with a deeper meaning behind it. She shook herself again and focused back on her work.
It was a very exciting time for Cultureworks. By next weekend, it would be time to debut their next star with his first performance. It would be broadcast in a simultaneous wave across the internet. It would even get a spot on the big screen in Times Square. It had become a custom Cultureworks ritual that people looked forward to every quarter. This time, Beth's team was still deciding on whether to debut the androgynous and kid friendly David Whitestar, or the somewhat sassier, but still lovable, Amanda Amore.
Their real names were Paul Reynolds and Katherine Patolski, but those simply wouldn't do. Paul, or David, she reminded herself, was a weaker singer, but they had managed to give his voice a younger lilt by adding a tad more effects that usual to the mix. Katherine/Amanda was stronger, but they had just had a female star, and her talent didn't make up for her demographic. Plus, she liked the shrill, young boy quality that David/Paul had. It was soearly 2000s to her.
Her day was becoming more and more frustrating. The videos were piling up, and she simply didn't have the time at work to view and rate each one. Her presentation was due at the end of the week, and she realized she was going to have to take the videos home and begin the compilation finalists on her own time. She sighed, and checked the clock. If she left at five, she could make it to the store to pick up a pack of DVDs. She began packing up what she would need and left the office, bidding farewell to her new friends and colleagues.
She walked out in to the street after taking the elevator to the lobby and found the city still relatively quiet. She spied a convenience store's glowing sign a block down and began a swift walk towards it. As she passed the alley, her eye caught motion in the dim light of the setting sun. Two men were loading large boxes into the back of a van. She paused as she watched the men work. They were talking, and laughing. They seemed almost too genial with each other. She stood entranced and felt herself walking down the alley to get a closer look. As she approached, she realized that the boxes they were loading were not boxes at all, but rather the large PA speakers that belonged to Cultureworks studios. Her shock grew even larger when she realized one of the men loading them, was Raymond. She ducked behind a trash receptacle, and began to eavesdrop on the men.
"- figure we'll get there and then see who else made it. I just hope it isn't like last time."
"I dunno, Ray. I kind of liked being one of two groups playing. Longer set, man!"
"Crank, we barely practice. Longer sets just mean more mess ups."
"Ha! We barely practice because you and I know it's our asses if the big wigs figure out what's going on. Who knows, man, this could be the gig where it all breaks loose! Where we shock the world!"
"Yeah. Right. Just like the dozens of other ones, right?"
The men lifted the last box into the back, and closed the doors. Beth was beyond the point of caring. As the men walked around to their respective sides of the van, she dashed up silently and waited at the back of the van. As they opened their doors, she opened one of the swinging back doors and silently crawled onto the speakers, keeping low. When they closed their doors, she closed hers, perfectly timed. She allowed herself a silent sigh of relief.
There were no windows in the back of the van, so she had plenty of time to think where she might have been going. On the way, she began to look around at the other equipment in the van. It all seemed to be in black cases, save for the speakers. The partition that separated the cab from the back only had a small slit in it, so she ventured over to one of the cases that sat atop one of the speakers. It was long, maybe four feet, but thin. A giant rectangle. It looked quite old. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw faded white lettering on the peeling imitation leather; she could read the word "Gibson."
She didn't know what to make of the word. She had no knowledge of a high ranking employee at Cultureworks. She theorized it was the surname of Raymond's friend. Craig, was it?
She noticed latches on the side of the case. She unlatched two of them, but the third and middle one wouldn't budge. It felt locked, or rusted shut, she mused to herself. She worked on the latch for a moment longer, but decided to give up. She couldn't imagine what might be in the case. All she knew was that Raymond and his friend were absconding with property that belonged to Cultureworks. She had a sneaking suspicion that Raymond didn't need this equipment, and neither did his unscrupulous looking friend. Half of her was disappointed in Raymond for being so reckless, and the other was inexplicably curious as to what reason he could possibly need music and talent quality equipment from a place like Cultureworks.
Her suspicions, she felt, would soon be answered. She felt the van turn a corner, hit a slight incline, and come to a stop. The engine was cut, and she felt the cab doors open and close. She heard greetings and laughter outside. The voices and sounds slowly dwindled, as if getting farther away, except for one set of footsteps, which were coming closer. Beth braced herself. This was the moment of her reveal.
The back doors opened and rays of the setting sun suddenly illuminated the dank innards of the van. Raymond's figure was silhouetted for a moment until Beth's eyes adjusted. For a moment, it seemed as if he would simply start unloading the equipment. Then, she saw realization and recognition dawn on his face, swiftly followed by surprise. His jaw dropped to the point that the thin white cylinder resting between his lips fell to the ground, leaving behind a smoking trail.
"WhatHowWhy are you.What?" He stammered, dumbstruck.
"Raymond, let me explain." Beth shuffled off the speaker she had been sitting on and placed her feet gingerly on the concrete, moving past Raymond, who was now in what appeared to be a very shabby outfit. Nothing but a T-shirt and blue jeans. "I saw you and your associate loading these speakers into the back of this van. I was going to ask you where you were going, but you've been so enigmatic ever since we introduced ourselves that I thought it better so simply stow away. I know it's inappropriate, but it seemed legitimate at the time."
"You don't understand, Beth. You cannot be here. It's way too dangerous forwell, for someone like you."
"Raymond, I am a grown woman! I'm sure I can handle myself! Besides, we are in New York, what could possibly happen here?"
"We're in a part of New York that people don't really know about. Look, Beth, this isn't the place for you. You really can't stick around, and you can't tell anybody where you were."
"Raymond, I still don't know where I am! You haven't told me a thing! Now as long as I'm here, I demand to know what you possibly need Cultureworks property for!"
"Cultureworks property? The speakers?" Raymond rolled his eyes, and looked Beth up and down. "Shit. OK, you want to see what were doing with the speakers, you have to do exactly what I say. Do you promise?"
"I don't see why not."
"I'm serious, Beth. Everything I say."
"Of course, Raymond! I understand."
"OK, first things first; Where we're going, you can't be dressed like that."
"Raymond, I'll have you know that this suit ensemble is one of the best I have, and it certainly looks as if it trumps your outfit!" Beth giggled at this.
Raymond looked annoyed. "Look, around here, it's not Raymond, it's Rayjay, ok? Now, do me a favor, lose the nylons, hike up your skirt, and ditch the blazer."
"Are you insane?" Beth was genuinely offended. That would leave her with nothing but a short skirt, heels, and a blouse on. "I will do no such thing!"
"Beth, I'm going to be honest with you; the crowd we're dealing with tonight will hurt you if you look like you work for Cultureworks. Do you understand?"
"Butwhy? Everyone loves Cultureworks and what it's done for society!"
Rayjay sighed at this. "Christ, Beth, if you want to see what's going on, do what I say!"
This was the first time someone had raised their voice to Beth since she had been a very little girl. It scared her, and she immediately took her blazer off, sat on the van's bumper, removed her nylons, and stood back up. Rayjay looked her over again, raised one eyebrow, and gave a small smile of approval.
"Now, explain to me why I'm dressed like this!"
"Just follow me." Rayjay reached past Beth into the van, and grasped the handle of the case that she had previously tried to open. He pulled it out of the van and started walking towards the decrepit looking building that the van had parked next to. She followed as he wrenched open a heavy metal door and descended a concrete staircase. At the bottom was another door. This one had a slit with a metal covering at eye level. Rayjay knocked once. The slit opened.
"You've been left on your own-" A voice said.
"Like a rainbow in the dark." Rayjay replied.
With that, the door pulled inward and Rayjay was greeted by one of the scariest looking individuals Beth had ever seen. The man was gaunt and pale, and wore black jeans and nothing else. This man most certainly had tattoos. Creatures and designs flowed up and down his arms until they coalesced on his chest. The colors were almost dizzying. As terrifying as he was, Rayjay went right up to him, clasped hands and then pulled him into a quick, stiff, one armed hug.
"What's shakin', Brett?"
"Hopefully the house, man. When you guys getting on stage?"
"Soon as possible. This is Beth, she's cool, but it's her first time. Tell the boys to keep an eye on her."
Beth did not like the way Brett was looking her up and down. He didn't even look her in the eyes first. She stuck close to Rayjay. They walked down a long hallway, and by the time they had reached the end, Beth could hear noise coming from a doorway on the right. As if to satisfy her curiosity, they turned right into the doorway into a huge room, shaped almost like an amphitheatre. Beth looked up, and was surprised to see a vaulted ceiling. They must be farther underground than she had previously guessed, she thought. The floor sloped downward at least three hundred feet, until it culminated in what she recognized as a stage. The sight itself was mind boggling, but the people were even more staggering. There were hundreds of them, the room being wide enough to accompany hundreds more. They were the strangest bunch she had ever seen. Men with long hair, women showing gratuitous amounts of skin, and people lookinggenuine.
She shook herself. Why was that the fist word that came to mind?
Rayjay and Beth stopped for a moment at the door, surveying the scene that was presented before them. Rayjay began watching Beth as she looked at the room. They stood there for a good long while, Rayjay simply smiling at Beth's reaction.
They were shaken out of their moment by a group of men carrying the speaker's through the door behind them. They were the speakers from the back of the van, and previously from Cultureworks. Beth's attention now focused on the men, who carried the large speakers towards the stage, and began setting them up. She turned to Rayjay.
"Raymo-.Rayjay, you need to tell me right now, what is going on?" Beth was scared. She didn't understand what was going on, or what was happening.
"You're about to see something very real. Something that the world was scared of a long time ago, and is terrified of now."
"I don't understand."
"Beth, you work with music, right?"
"Well, yes. I'm incredibly well versed in music. It's my profession."
"No it's not. Not like this."
"Are you saying were seeing music tonight? Who do you have booked? I didn't see anything in Cultureworks schedule! You work for them! You better not have contracted with another company!"
At this, Rayjay began to laugh. After a solid minute of relentless peals of laughter, he finally eyed Beth again.
"Beth, tell you what, you go stand by Brett, he'll make sure you're kept safe, and everything will make sense in about twenty minutes."
Rayjay grabbed her shoulders gently and looked her straight in the eyes. For some reason, Beth thought, it was marvelously reassuring.
"Just trust me."
Beth wandered back towards the door to the large room, where Brett had migrated to. She explained to him what Rayjay had said, and Brett just nodded with a smile on his face, as if he knew something.
"Alright, babe. But tell you what, if you really want to take all this in, lemme give you a hand." Brett motioned to a girl behind what looked like a long table in front of an enormous row of colored bottles. She selected a bottle with a black label and amber liquid inside, grabbed two tiny clear glasses, and brought them over to the pair of them. Brett took the bottle, gave her a kiss on the cheek, exchanged a few words, and sent her on her way. He then placed the two glasses on a stool he had brought with him, filled the tiny vessels each to the brim, and handed one to Beth.
"All in one gulp, now!"
"What is it?"
Little bit of grandma's secret recipe, if you catch my drift." He took his glass, and gulped down the few sips of liquid in one swig. He smacked his lips and smiled as he met Beth's eyes again.
"Go on, little girl!"
Beth looked uneasily at her glass, but with a new resolve, put the glass to her lips and gulped it all down.
She almost dropped her glass it was so potent. She began coughing, and Brett began laughing.
"What was that?" she gagged.
"It was whiskey! What the hell did you think?"
"That was whiskey? That's been illegal for years!"
"Wow really? Well, shit, I'd better tell Lita over at the bar to dump it all out, huh?"
Beth looked at him as if he was insane, and was about to retort, when suddenly, a torrent of applause and screams ripped across the room. The lights suddenly went out, and a static hiss could be heard over the huge speakers. Beth turned around to see that all the focus had been shifted to the stage.
There was Rayjay, standing in the front of the stage, a strange looking guitar in his hands. It was like a travesty of a trapezoid; its hard angles stuck out and demanded attention. It looked nothing like the props that companies had used for years to create atmosphere for music videos. This had real strings, was actually plugged in, and Rayjay was most certainly playing it.
The level of noise emanating from off the stage was almost unbearable in the now comparatively small room, yet people didn't seem to care. The entire mass of individuals practically ran to the front of the stage, coagulating and moving like a living sea. All of it was in time to the music.
For that's what it was, Beth realized. It was music, but like nothing she had ever heard. It was loud, it was dirty, it was fast, it wasraw.
She stood there frozen in a moment of time and sound. This was what separated Rayjay from society. This is what drove him to be different. This was the tattoo, the guitar, and the attitude all wrapped up together. He stood like a deity above the shifting, writhing mass of the crowd, dictating the tempest of arms and heads with a sweep of the hand and a flurry of fingers. Every note, strum or sung, slammed into the crowd like the first wave of a mammoth storm.
And they reveled in it.
Beth could barely help herself. She felt the bass drum in her chest, she knew her ears were protesting, and she could do nothing but slowly walk towards the crowd. Without a second thought, she leapt in. She threw her arms over her head, opened her mouth, and screamed with the hundreds of people around her. The searing notes piercing her ears drove her and everyone else into a frenzy. She had never felt like this. The music of her childhood pop stars quailed and withered in her mind as the sonic assault invaded her psyche and fueled her primal dance. She looked up and forced her fingers to mimic the sign that everyone seemed to be giving.
She laid her thumb over her middle and ring fingers, and let her index and pinky stand tall. It was absolutely intoxicating. She looked up to the stage and met Rayjay's eye. He was on his knees positively begging more notes from his guitar. He lifted his eyes from the fretboard and met hers. A smile replaced the grimace of concentration and he stood up. He almost flew back to the microphone and reinitiated the chorus of the song. The crowd joined in. A minute later, the song ended. The crowd, and Beth, went berserk.
The rest of the night went the same way. Rayjay's band, Sinsational, played for hours. They played songs from bands that had long since been hidden away. Rayjay named them all, and Beth's well trained memory and feverish desire for more burned them into her brain; AC/DC, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue, Dio. They played originals, too. Their passion and anger was evident, but so was their commitment to the survival of their craft. Beth never stopped watching.
When Sinsational had finished their third encore, Rayjay found Beth standing next to Brett, talking non-stop.
"Hey." Rayjay announced simply.
Beth stopped talking and stared at him for a moment. Then she launched herself at him and squeezed. The hug had caught Rayjay of guard, but he quickly returned it. She released him after a few seconds.
"Rayjay, II don't know what to say. That wassublime. Absolutely life changing. I've never felt anything like that before. I want more, I want to hear o much more!"
"Not a problem, chica." Brett said from behind them. He pulled a disc from his blu-ray camera. "The whole show. High Def sound and High Def vid. Free of charge."
Beth took it with a sense of reverence and awe. She tucked it away inside her purse and turned back to Rayjay. He looked at her with a crooked smile on his face.
"So, you liked it?" He said.
"More than you know." She replied with a smile of her own.
The rest of the night was dedicated to more rock and roll through the giant speakers, more shots of Beth's new favorite beverage, and more moments of pure life and enjoyment. #
Beth woke up the next morning feeling more tired and trodden than ever before, but still had a smile on her face. She went through her normal morning routine, except for two exceptions. She overloaded the caffeine setting on her processor without a second thought, and decided to wear her hair down.
Work simply wasn't the same. Every video she saw she gave a thumbs down. Nothing compared to the spectacle she had witnessed last night. She saw Rayjay twice that day, and wanted to smile and wink at him, but knew she had to behave. It was strange, she thought to herself, it was like she never knew she was being oppressed until now. The day seemed to drag on. She hoped it wasn't becoming a trend.
She talked to Rayjay on the phone every night. He told her the entire history of rock and roll, how musicians used to create and inspire others. She finally realized how far culture had slipped. Moreover, she realized how much her line of work had destroyed people's ability to understand music as a statement. No one knew how to give society the finger anymore.
Her hopes for the dragging days not becoming a trend were proverbially dashed upon the rocks. The week dragged all the way until Friday. Beth and her team had been busy prepping their new "musician" for the big debut on Friday. They had ended up choosing David Whitestar. It was evident that he wasn't as talented, but Beth's team loved his charm.
Suddenly, Beth couldn't stand the sight or sound of him. She had to submit the video file by the end of the workday to make the seven o'clock broadcast. The thought of introducing yet another easily relatable pop star into society actually sickened her. Her attitude had been nothing but venomous towards this process since last weekend, but she simply couldn't deny the power of what she had seen. No one would understand.
She made up her mind right there. They would understand. She looked at the clock. 4:27. She inserted a disk into her computer and opened her editing program. She would walk down to the processing station herself and deliver the disk. She closed her computer, grabbed her purse, and walked out her office door.
An elevator trip and a few hundred feet later she was in the nerve center of Cultureworks' website and global connections. She handed the disk to a bored looking technician who loaded it into a drive and began to load the file into dozens of different servers. The technician thanked her in a lackluster fashion and she left with a pleasant smile on her face. The smile turned wicked as she crossed the threshold of the door.
She traveled back to her office and caught Rayjay as she was walking in her door.
"Oh, Raymond. Could you throw this out for me?" She said, barely winking.
Rayjay looked confused, but replied the affirmative. As Beth walked back into her office, Rayjay opened up the crumpled piece of paper she had thrust in his hand. It simply read; my place, tonight, 6:30.
An address was scrawled underneath it. Rayjay raised an eyebrow and smiled to himself. Finally, he thought, something to actually look forward to after work.
6:30 came quickly that day, despite the anticipation building around Cultureworks. The automated load system for the video was already set up to deliver and broadcast at 7:00 sharp. The Cultureworks building was empty.
Beth's apartment was not. Rayjay had come over and Beth had immediately offered him a glass of whiskey bartered from Sinsational's last performance. Rayjay readily accepted as Beth began to chat.
"I want to show you something." She said with a smile.
"Is that a fact?"
"Come with me."
She led him from the small kitchen of the apartment to the main room. She flicked on a wall screen to the Cultureworks channel. The countdown timer in the bottom left corner was overlaid over the current program.
"Wow, for real, Beth?" Rayjay drained his whiskey, more than slightly disappointed.
They sat there and waited the remaining three minutes and twenty nine seconds. The screen blanked, and after the Cultureworks logo was displayed, a typical beat mixed with computerized, synthesized sounds began to play. The blackness faded in to an image of a fourteen year old boy wearing the latest fashions and singing into a gilded microphone. It almost physically pained Rayjay to watch and listen.
"Come on, Beth, what the hell would make you think I'd want to watch this? This is nothing but grade A, homogenized, dime a dozen bullshi-" He was cut off as the video changed.
The image flickered and began to die. It was an effect. The image changed into a series of frames on a film reel and slowed down. Fire consumed the film reel, and the sound died. There was blackness for a moment. Then a new sound emanated from the speakers.
It was a guitar. A glorious, loud, raunchy guitar. Power chords hammered out from the speakers as a snare drummed snapped into existence behind it. A bass and another guitar later, the song was in motion. Rayjay looked at the screen. An image had appeared. It was Sinsational. They were playing their favorite original "Burn it and Laugh." He glanced at Beth, who was smiling, and then back to the screen. It was the high def video from their last performance. The song played in its entirety. When it ended, the silence in the city was unnatural.
They both silently walked to the window and stared towards downtown. They could see the lights of Times Square. The crowd there was silent.
Slowly, like a brewing storm, the noise reached them. It was a massive cheer. They could hear the crowd going crazy all the way from the apartment. Rayjay started to laugh, and Beth just smiled on.
They ran back to the wall screen and turned to the local news channel. A reporter stood in the midst of a crowd, all of whom had smiles pasted across their faces.
-are calling it the "Rock Revolution." No one knows exactly what happened or how the bootleg video was shown, but the crowd does not lie. Traffic has stopped as people are demanding the song be played againohhere it is, yes, they're replaying it.
Rayjay looked at Beth, completely awestruck. "YouYou've done it. You've turned everything upside down. You-"
Beth just shushed him and looked in his eyes. Relation finder sites be damned, she thought.
She kissed him on the lips as "Burn it and Laugh" revved up yet again.