Radio Free Earth part four

    Once, a long time ago, he had been a big man, a gangster feared and respected on his tiny turf on a suburban planet somewhere in Corporate space. Then he died. He had hoped his story would end there, but no such luck.
    He could not remember how long he had been tortured. Days, years, decades? It was all a blur to him now. His body, or, better said, the vessel that hurt, was now numb. His soul had found a peace he had never thought it would have. He head the heavy footsteps of the monster that held him prisoner. It called itself Jinx.
    The monster looked at him like a piece of meat hanging on a hook. It grasped his face and turned it, looked into his remaining, cloudy eye.
    You won't last much longer. I'm afraid I haven't had my usual diversions. I'll have to eat again soon.
    Small Boy didn't even whimper. He knew it wouldn't do him any good. This was, after all, Hell.
    Shiela awoke with a start and shook her head. She did not understand the nightmares she was having. She went to the kitchen and had a HotBev. The methamphetamine in the bitter hot black liquid soon brought her back to the matters at hand.
    Corporate Placement Services had given her a job as an exotic music broker. Her job was to buy the exclusive rights to broadcast and reproduce for sale music "found" by interrocitor hobbyists. This was, as she discovered, the main source of popular music on Sedgewick Station. Often, Entertainment Division would re-record the songs with Fe Arran studio musicians. Her days were filled with visits to strange, mostly male, hermits who sat in their apartments with racks of exotic equipment, scanning mostly the same 120 light-year wide sphere of space-time, searching for the perfect cut. They were pale and shy and taciturn, and she always thought of them as "Radio Miners".
    Today she had a full schedule. One of her better sources had claimed to have found something suprising in an interrocitor scan. He had refused to go into details; he seemed to imply that the material he now had access to was perphaps better destined for the black market.
    Shiela was curious - this was, after all, the man whose interrocitor work enabled Entertainment Division create the Beetle Boys, whose success among preadolescent girls and Academy students had brought much needed revenue into the once moribund Home Org of the Corporation's popular music division. Hits like "Please Please Me", "Fight For Your Right" and "Tell it to My Heart" had effortlessly attained an enviable market penetration, even on worlds like Magrige, where the daily struggle to survive seemed to fire on the need for light musical distractions.
    This put him in a risky position. He posessed the master recordings of many of the greatest hits to ever grace the media nets; he was forbidden by contract to ever reveal their existence to others. The songs were entered on a black list, and a fuzzy digital digest ensured that anyone attempting to submit the material for repackaging would be refused. Were the master recordings ever to appear on the black market, he would face a military tribuneral, and would quite likely be executed.
    Shiela looked at the clock. Damn! My immigration officer!
    Like many people after the war, Shiela no longer had an ID. As people slowly came back to areas under Corporate control, they were faced with the dilemna that the destruction of data networks and computer centers during the war had made identifying many Corporate citizens impossible. As a stopgap measure, temporary "Relocated Persons IDs" were issued. Of course, many criminals used this to obtain false credentials and escape prosecution, or sometimes persecution. In pratice, this meant biweekly visits to a caseworker, who would ask her questions ranging from the insulting to the absurd, in search of criminals exploiting the hole this practice had opened in the system.
    Fuck, she thought.

    Hello, Dr. Stain.
    Evan Stain was paralyzed. He had heard the dull impacts of pressure bolts echoing through the halls of the sealed environmental dome as Peter Cat had gradually killed the troops, one by one. With great effort, he tried to turn his head to face what he believed to be his certain death. It took almost a minute.
    You're going to kill me, aren't you?
    Whatever for? The shadow of death grinned at him.
    What do you want? Stain could not help bleating as he said the words.
    You are a doctor, aren't you? A healer?
    Evan sunk his head. Yes, I was trained in classical analytic prophecy. I was able to earn a doctorate, even though I had no telepathic, empathic, or prophetic abilities to speak of.
    So you mastered the talking cure?
    Yes.
    There was an uncomfortably long pause.
    Peter walked over and examined two chairs. I think there is enough material here for a couch, don't you?
    What?
    Your - experiment - has had a profound effect on me. I actually liked the alternative personality you wanted to create for me, and staying that way has a certain appeal. I suppose I can spend the rest of my life agonizing whether this figure is the "real me", or I can try to figure out why I should stay the way I am. Peter paused. You don't practice Optimizing Conditioning, do you?
    No, no. OC is very useful in dealing with psychosomatic illnesses, but the measurement of autonomic nervous system reactions and the overlong question periods tend to make it better suited as a system of mind control. It's a shame, really. They really were doing research for a while until someone decided to make a cult out of it.
    That's good. Say, you've messed yourself. Would you like to change clothes before we start?
    Evan Stain bolted for the door. Peter's voice chimed after him, And don't try that sleep pack, the injector cartridge is filled with water now. You aren't going anywhere until you've fixed the damage you've done.

    Camillo had impressed Penny deeply with his demonstration of the Cosmic Tube. He pointed to the heavens, counted backwards from 10, and pop! a tiny point of light emerged.
    She had joined him in the lab immediately afterwards. In the manic hours that followed, Penny had told him about losing not only her volunteer job at the radio station, and her paid job at the 7-11 - she had also revealed that she was able to scrounge carts, a cart player, a turntable, a mixing board, microphones - it did not last long until someone (Camillo forgot who) came up with the idea of "Radio Free Earth".
    They had devised a program. Penny would tap into her vast collection of obscure or forbidden music, Camillo would patch together highlights from his sessions with the shortwave; they would provide a simple FM signal, broadcast through hyperspace. Camillo estimated that the signal would travel many thousands of times the speed of light. He wasn't sure, though - he had some conceptual difficulties imagining exactly what steps a listener would have to take to get something decipherable out of the broadcast.
    What mattered to him was that someone could find an application for the wonder he had discovered. He had always been suprised by Penny's ingenuity. He took a short break from putting the finishing touches on the world-wide news roundup, and listened to his niece.
    Welcome back! We're on hour three of our Negativland show - and now, here's their most infamous track. This one is about kids, and pets, and a situation that we can all understand, whether we have kids or pets or neither. It got yanked off the shelves, but here it is -
    She dropped the needle on the turntable, and smiled. Camillo was happy, happier than he had been in decades.

    Shiela walked into the apartment. The interview with her immigration officer had been unusually tedious. The worst part was when they showed her a picture of a drug dealer found dead outside a settlement on Suburbia Prime. Somehow she managed to supress her reaction - it was the face from her dream. The man interviewing her had obviously been very active in OptCond, and he very nearly caught her. She shivered at the thought of telling such an unsympatheic stranger about her mad dreams, for hours on end. She did not want to think about which crime she committed by dreaming of a Hell inside her mind.
    Professor Barrel sat in front of his rack. There's a good one on now - I'm recording.
    Shiela took the hint and stayed quiet. She watched as the man laughed, and pushed the headphones hanging on his head deeper into his pointed ear. Oh, this is fucking hysterical. Listen to this! He pressed a switch, and the monitors cut in.
    This is a bunch of private transmitters. You can't sell this...
    Professor Barrel waved his hand. Wait a second.
    Something similar to music started playing. A nasal voice started reciting the lyrics to a song she recognized.
    What is this? Isn't that a Madonna song?
    "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - that is the song you're thinking of. Yes, they had Madonna do it, but it used to belong to an alien group called U2.
    Uh-huh. Some part of her liked it, which was odd. She didn't really understand why the Professor was cackling, but the strangely cracked voice on the monitors was funny.
    I don't think this is mass market.
    The Professor looked up. No. It isn't. But it needs to be heard, at least by the others. They'd understand.
    Shiela thought for a moment. A name occurred to her, and for a brief moment, she wondered where she knew it from. Floyd. Floyd does warez. I think he can get you the distribution you need.
    You know Floyd, huh? You work fast. He checked the level of his recording equipment, and smiled.

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David white, 1999, all rights reserved