The final section! Interestingly, this is the section where I stuck closest to the original outline, and it’s also the section where I came closest to 1500 words (1482, to be exact). I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think the formula works, you’ve just got to be very dedicated to following it.
Music. It filled Liz’s head, a thrum then a beat then another beat, like construction across the street only there was rhythm. Then there wasn’t, then there was. Euphorically beautiful, unless that was the oxygen hitting her brain. She thought she might have slumped to the ground or perhaps the ground rose up to meet her. Either was fine. Either would be fine. The big man lifted her from the armpits, hoisted her over his shoulder.
Someone was singing, maybe lots of someones. Not the man, someone in her head, and it was like every nerve ending she had could hear it. She laughed because nerve endings can’t hear, then laughed at the sound of her own laughter in with the music. She thought it was familiar…
Then she remembered Brown, poor dead Brown. He was there now, his wrinkled hands clutching at her shirt, reaching for her. He was reaching for her and also whispering in her ear, saying “the man”. She listened to him, listened to the way he was stirred into the music, listened to him swirl and incorporate and separate. She knew the words, knew them like they were numbers, a string of numbers, until they became different words.
Different words that sounded a lot like “give us your money”. Liz closed her eyes, not like it changed anything, and opened them. Did it again. Breathed–she could breathe. She wasn’t sure where the thug was. The room was full of people, so many–no, no it wasn’t, she knew that it wasn’t. She coughed, just to see if she could, and she didn’t know if she had or not. She was in her accounts now, debating changing some of her corporate credits over to USD, debating sending it to an account number, a different account.
Whose account? someone sent to her. She wasn’t sure who is was, but someone was messaging her, and it sounded like her own voice. And then there was a beeping like the music, except not. It wasn’t incorporating. She couldn’t listen, she couldn’t focus, all she could hear was the buzzing in her head. It buzzed into her limbs, all the way to her toes, and it was saying something too. She stood.
She knew she was standing, she could feel her feet rooting into the ground.
For a second, the briefest second, there was no one in the room except the big man and her.
She kicked him, hard, right in the shin. He screamed and it jolted her, and she kicked again to see if it would help. He went down.
When she heard his body hit the music stopped.
She was backed against the wall when the others started coming for her, cracking their knuckles like the cliches they were. She swung her foot out hard, hitting a gangly blond in the stomach with the solid heel of her boot. He stumbled back, into one of the others, who grunted. But there were too many of them and she was alone, and dizzy, and she could feel the music clawing at her brain waiting to be played again.
The blond was up again and coming for her, and the other two were with him. She steeled herself for some hits, and was ready to take them when the door opened with a bang. The three thugs swung away from her to see Yates, standing at the door with a stun stick in one hand and a little man’s cuffed wrist in the other.
Liz wanted to squeal and fall to the ground, but Yates’s cams had gotten past security and were buzzing her way. She tried a woozy smile, and the cleverest thing she could think to say was, “you’re late.”
Yates didn’t play along. The first thug lunged for her, like the idiot that he was, and she zapped him like it was nothing. “I’ll do the rest of you, too. And him,” she thrust her chin at the little man beside her. “Again.”
The other thugs hung back, between Liz and Yates.
“Let me go,” said the little man, “and they’ll let her go. Deal?”
“It’s too late for you anyway,” Yates said. “So why bother arguing?”
Liz winced. Don’t tell them it’s too late, she wanted to send, but her brain was still buzzing and her mesh was damn near unresponsive. Too late anyway.
The little man was muttering something, lips writhing like earthworms in the rain. Then the music started. She heard it this time–really heard it, with her ears, it wasn’t in her mind but she felt it anyway, and she was so tired. She struggled to keep her eyes on the real people in the room and not be distracted by the two murdered college students and poor old Brown, all of them staring at her and… she shook her head. The thugs were wobbling, and she tried to force her brain to keep them still before she realized that they really were wobbling, their legs shaking and their heads nodding, and one by one they slumped back onto the sofas in a heap. Their mouths twitched. She backed away, pressing against the wall. She watched Yates–solid, real, still. Yates was looking around the room, brows furrowed.
Liz struggled against her own brain to follow what happened. Yates pulled the little man closer, glaring right into his eyes. It seemed like hours–just staring. Liz nearly lept out of her skin when Yates flung the man against the ground and started stalking around the room, cuffing each thug to the next like a barrel of monkeys. When she finished the job, she turned back to the little man.
“Get up,” Liz thought she heard Yates say. “And turn off this goddamned music.”
He did. The silence left a ringing noise in her ears. The thugs were shaking their heads. If they had noticed their cuffs they hadn’t responded yet.
He scrambled up, trying to make it to the door, but Yates snapped a hand out and grabbed him by the collar. “What the hell was that?”
Liz swallowed. “Petty theft. He’s been siphoning funds.”
“Explain.” Yates barked.
“The music was–” Liz started.
“Not you. Him.” She shook him for emphasis and he yelped.
“The music, it exploits a bug in some of the newer meshes. It’s hallucinogenic.”
I could have told you that,” Liz said.
“It’s pretty hard to make and it’s probably going to be patched away soon anyway. So I was just gonna run a club here but even with free drugs clubs don’t make money, and once the patch drops there’d be no money left. So I added an extra exploit. All it does is exploit a couple of neurotransmitters, nothing fancy. The listener is compelled to send something to the account number in the music. Sometimes it’s just a little, but then these rich kids started coming and the money was so good…”
“So you turned to murdering them?”
“No! No. That was… a bug.”
“In the meshes?”
He hunched his shoulders, looking away. “Or the song. Don’t know. It’s not really an exact science.”
Yates huffed out a breath.
“It’s true! I never meant to hurt anyone, honest.”
“Just steal from them.” Liz stood up, legs wobbling. Her head throbbed, but she made her way across the room. “What did Brown have to do with it?” 1
The man chewed his lip. “There are only so many sounds that work, you know. You can’t just choose. It’s pretty specific.”
Seriously? Liz sent to Yates.
Is that your way of saying I was right? But Yates looked across at her and caught her eye, smiling.
Is that your way of saying “I told you so”? Liz smiled back without even trying.
The cops took the little man and his thugs downtown. The money would be returned and the little man would be in jail for a long time. Morrison got to tell the girl’s family they were right, what small comfort that was, and Yates and Liz got to go home and wash the dust out of their hair.
While Yates was in the shower, Liz checked their viewers: they were way up again, and the show was trending across the whole world. Even Morrison had a good word passed up the chain for them.
When Yates stepped out, towelling her hair, Liz shut down the numbers and poured them a drink.
I had a TDK here that I missed when I was editing the last section: “TDK MAYBE SHE FINDS SOMETHING LINKING BROWN’S POETRY TO THE MUSIC IN THE PLANE!?”. Finding the story, man. Finding the story. I forgot about this idea and rewrote the whole section 3 without it, and while I don’t know if section 3 is better or worse for it, I kind of like this plan…↩