A newly revised omnibus edition, 3 novels in one volume, of the A SONG CALLED YOUTH cyberpunk trilogy is coming out in April from PRIME BOOKS. Here’s are a couple of related excerpts from it. This is the real stuff, pure and undiluted:
A nightclub among the dock warehouses in London, England…
“Sure, Brit Customs believed it,” Jerome-X said. “But if the Second Alliance or M15 take an interest in us, we’re fucked. They know we came overseas on a private jet. They know most of the jetlines aren’t open yet. They know that some of the biggest, bands in the U.S. couldn’t get over here and I’m like a nobody in the bone scene— ”
“Hell no, boy, dey don’t know that,” Bettina said. They were sitting in his dressing room on the sagging, cigarette-charred sofa, waiting for his cue. They were in the London club, Acid Bum, once an Acid House nightclub now basically gone bonerocker. In the background, filtered by the cracked concrete walls, was the rumble, rattle, and hum as a band cranked on the stage, from here sounding like a thunderstorm approaching across a mountain range.
“Yo’ bein’ paranoid.” Her accent seemed to have thickened since coming to England, as if in defense. She was a three-hundred-pound New Orleans black woman; she was Jerome’s contact in the Resistance; she was Jerome’s lover; she was his computer-systems guru; she was the Sage. “You think dese cock-biting English prigs know anything about American rock?”
“Lots of ‘em do, actually, but—You really think I’m just being paranoid?”
“You bet yo’ skinny white butt. De jet was loaned to us by a guy who admires yo’ music, is all. Dat’s our line. A fan, is what we telling people. He got it registered under a different name. Ain’t nobody knows it Witcher.”
“I’m nervous, I guess.”
She slapped his rump. “Boy, I guess so. Relax, kid!” She took his head in a playful armlock.
“Don’t be doing this shit in public!” he wheezed.
“Just playin’, son, don’t get all—”…
The rest was drowned out in a tidal-wave magnification of the careening noise from the stage as the door opened and the club’s manager looked through. He was a weakchinned rocker with sections of his depilated scalp shaped into three-dimensional figures like those on ESP testing cards: wavy lines, star shapes, squares, circles — like little flesh antennae on his head, made of transplanted skin and collagen. “Scalping up” hadn’t hit the States yet, and Bettina found the fashion disconcerting. Whenever the guy came in, she stared at his head, which pleased him enormously.
“Are you ready, then?” the scalp-up asked.
“Yeah,” Jerome said, standing up, so the guy would think he was coming right that second. So he’d leave, thinking Jerome was going to follow. He left, and Jerome turned to his shaving kit, took out his shaver, took off the rotary heads and found the plastic-wrapped aug chip. Bettina got hers from a tube she carried in her vagina. At her size, she had to wrestle with herself to get it out.
Jerome took the chip from the plastic; wet it, opened the flap of skin on his head, and inserted the chip, activating it with his thumbnail mouse. In a way, it was like doing a hit of speed, only it was isolated in you; one part of you hummed with restrained power, and the rest paced itself normally.
He ran through the password code, ran a quick program to check that the chip had gone through Customs without being magnetically scrambled, and then, nodding to himself, headed for the stage, Bettina coming along behind him, moving like a sailing ship in high seas. “I’m not that much into the concert part today,” he said over his shoulder. “I’m, like, totally out of practice, and I was forgetting about performing anyway when you guys thought this shit up… “
“Oh, yo’ love it, yo’ little ham.”
“Sometimes I do, sometimes l don’t. I was never in a band much. I used to do little concerts with tape and maybe one player, and the recording was all electronic, except for a couple of musicians I used in the studio and never saw after that. A band is such a hassle, it’s like babysitting, I’m not really into it. But you can’t get up enough crowd energy just using purely electronic backup, you got to have some other people, live… ”
He was already picking his way over the gear on the stage, looking to see that everything was in place.
Bones was there, waiting, at the synthesizer. They called him Bones, but he couldn’t stand bone music normally, calling it “neurological masturbation for bored middle-class white kids,” and he could barely play the keyboards. It didn’t matter much that he couldn’t play well, though Bones didn’t understand that. He was as nervous as a kid auditioning, running through the simple keyboard lines over and over, behind the polarized screen that was the stage’s curtain. Club roadies moved equipment to either side of him.
Andrea, the guitarist, was dialing her tuner, and the wire dancer, a faggy Spanish guy named Aspaorto, was taping his wireless transers to the electrodes on Jerome’s thighs and arms and calves and hips — Jerome-X used some of the minimono techniques — and the mikes were whining with feedback as the soundman turned them up. It was a live, noisy, electrically charged space, and that would help mask the aug signals, Jerome thought.
He sighed, and shook himself. His hands were damp. He wasn’t in the mood for the music part. He wanted to break into the system, do the work, get it over with. Only, the way it was set up, it wouldn’t be over with, in a sense, for a long time. A long, long time. Because they were infecting the system for now. Not destroying it. Bones had gone all stress case over this approach. We oughta wipe it out while we got the chance, not fuck around, he’d said. It’s taking a dumb chance.
Steinfeld wanted it done this way, though. Slow infection.
Steinfeld could plan, long-term, Bettina said. That’s why he was going to kick ass, she said, when the time came.
Jerome took a headset mike off its stand and slipped it on over his head. Heard his own breathing come back to him on the monitors.
Get into the mood, he told himself. These people paid their money, and there ain’t much of that around London nowadays.
He was still invisible to the audience behind the black plastic screen, but he shouted over the mike to see if he could prod them in advance a little. “Maybe we shouldn’t bother playing, nobody fucking cares anymore what anybody does!”
“Sod off, ya barstads!” someone shrieked in gleeful reply, and the audience set to whooping and howling. He could see them in foggy silhouette through the translucent screen, a gallery of faceless busts from here, joggling up and down. Some of them, he could see by their outlines, had scalped up: tombstones of cemeteries atop their heads was a favorite. Others were still in flare hairstyle variations, in multimohawks, in retro spikes.
“Yeah, well fuck off, or we will play!” Jerome threatened.
“Uhgitta chezick!” someone in the audience yelled in technicki. Meaning, I’m getting chillsick, and the rest of the audience laughed, because it was a joke, a sort of pun. Bone music gave you the chills when you heard it, very literally sent shivers through your bones, but between bands the club played tapes without the shiver frequency to give you a rest, otherwise the audience got sick, “chillsick,” and to say you were chillsick while you were waiting for a band meant, essentially, Don’t bring ‘em on, I’m sick of this shit already, especially when it comes to these blokes. Which was in fact not really an insult, just affectionate, mockery, taking the piss.
Jerome laughed, liking it. He was getting some attitude on now. He had to slip into a kind of split subpersonality, a schizy character that was all authoritative punkiness, in order to pull off a concert. It didn’t come to him naturally, not like some — not like, say, Rickenharp. Jerome had to work on getting the right attitude in a public place. It was a lot easier to do video graffiti at home alone with your minitrans and camera. He was a little embarrassed on a stage playing underground pop star. His boyhood idol had been Moby—and he found himself pretending to be Moby in his own mind. It was okay to be a pop star if you were Moby.
He checked that everyone was in place. He glanced at Andrea, who nodded to signify readiness, one spike-heeled boot poised over the sound-control box on the floor; she wore a video dress that was showing an old movie, Apocalypse Now, exposing her long, seashell-pink legs and tattooed shoulders; her bald head crawling with anima-tattoos. He could never quite follow the animation sequence; something about a grinning Jesus smoking a pipe and firing an AK47. Andrea herself was smoking a glass pipe with an all-night THC/MDMA flameless-smoke capsule in it; tonight, a hot-pink smoke that matched her boots and belt. Her eyes glazed from the X-dope. She always looked as if she were going to fall over, but she never missed a note. She was a real find.
Jerome glanced back at Bettina, saw her glaring at him from hooded eyes, her silver-robed hulk of a body emitting an unexpurgated body language of angry jealousy. Evidently he’d spent too long looking at Andrea. He grinned and mouthed, “I love you” at her, and she relaxed and grinned, put on her headset mike for backup vocals.
He nodded at Bones, who hit the program for the percussion, the shivery thuds rolled out into the club like stark milestones in a sonic landscape, and the screen rolled aside and Andrea hit the bass programmer with one toe while segueing into the guitar lead with her hands. Bones shakily skrilled out his keyboard part, frowning with concentration.
Jerome hadn’t turned to the audience yet, he just stood there, back to them, looking over the band, like some kind of inspector, moving a little to the music but not acknowledging the crowd till he was good and ready. Bones was a pretty lame keyboard player, all right, but it was adequate, and when he missed, it somehow sounded like the deliberate “noise factor” that many bands used; much of it was masked by the undulating sheets of sound Aspaorto rippled out of his limbs, dancing music out of his neuromuscular impulses.
Jerome was chip-linked with Bones on the Plateau. He transmitted a readout to him that said: Scan for surveillance.
No shit, was Bones’s reply. Smartass.
Rather tardily, the soundman did the introduction, yelling “Jerome-X!” over the house PA, but that was washed away by the torrent of sound from the stage, and the audience knew who he was anyway, they were his small but intense London cult following, and they were already shivering to the sound …
As Jerome turned to them and bellowed,
The thing that lives in Washington
It’s a kind of living stone
The thing that lives in Washington
Its makes the planet groan.
Jerome letting the shivers carry him, getting into it now, letting his pelvis tell him what to do. More vigorously, as he found the groove and delivered:
The thing that lives in the temple
The temple with five sides
The thing that lives in Washington
Takes children for animal hides …
The room itself shivered, and, on some secret molecular level, the walls themselves danced….
He was into the system. Jerome felt it before he saw it. He was in.
The computing work was done by the left brain — and the camouflage by the right brain. The right brain was singing. Singing the chorus to “Six Kinds of Darkness,” while the other part of his mind worked with the chip. The right lobe singing,
Six kind of darkness, spilling down over me
Six kinds of darkness, sticky with energy …
The left lobe hacking:
London UNET: ID#4547q339. Superuser: WATSON.
The music was camouflage, cover for the mole-signals, the piggyback signals that used updated palm-pilot tech to reach out, to access…
The left lobe of his brain working with the chip, which emitted a signal, interfaced with a powerful microcomputer hidden among the micalike layers of chips in the midi of Bones’s synthesizer; Jerome-X seeing the Herald on the hallucinatory LCD screen of his mind’s eye:
London UNET, ID #, date, assumed “superuser” name. Then he ran an E-Mail program that was his encryption worm, executing his diabolic algorithm, overflowing the input buffers receiving the data, the overflow carrying him into the target computer’s command center. Bypassing the passwords and security, now that he was in the computer’s brain, and then commanding: CHANGE DIRECTORY TO ROOT. ROOT: superdirectory of the system. Scanning, at the root, for the branch of the system he needed.
Scanning for: Second Alliance International Security Corporation: Intelligence Security subdirectory …
Watching from the audience, Patrick Barrabas remarked (and was unheard in the blare) that Jerome-X had a funny, contortionistic way of dancing as he sang. His eyes squeezed shut, his hands moving as if over typewriter keyboards … Not playing the “air guitar,” but typing on the air keyboard …
Jerome was typing the commands out. Using a technique Bettina had taught him to implement more complex commands; sending through his aug chip by radio trans to a powerful mainframe; typing physically on a mental keyboard.
The chip fed him tactile illusions and read out his responses through its contact with the parietal lobe, reading the input from the proprioceptive sensors—sensory nerve terminals — in the muscles, and kinesthetic sensors , tactile nerves in the fingers: Jerome’s movements translated into cybernetic commands. His rapport with the aug chip essentially creating a mental data-glove, a data-glove that materialized only in the “virtual reality” holography of consciousness.
As Jerome sang,
Darkness of the Arctic
Six months into the night
Darkness of the eclipse
forgetting of all light
Six kinds of darkness
Six I cannot tell …
Finding his way through the darkness in the forest of data. Taking cuttings. Taking information. Planting something of his own …