No one notices the invasion. A few instruments on orbiting satellites flicker at the unusual gravity-wave fluctuation. But the anomaly passes so quickly that monitoring systems simply log it for later analysis. No alarms are raised, either in orbit or down on the surface…
Johnny J sat on his balcony, strumming his acoustic guitar under the stars of the Arizona night. The cicadas sawed away in the trees, giving him a backbeat. He needed one more song. His comeback album was complete except for that killer lead-off track. A hook to get the fans excited again, get them talking about him. He’d been out of the game two years. There were singers out there whose entire careers had come and gone in that time.
He made himself stop thinking about it. About anything. You had to open your mind, be receptive. Feel the music. That was how it worked best. He picked away at melodies, letting his fingers go where they wanted. Letting it flow.
It was then the riff came to him, like it had just appeared in his brain. He loved it when that happened. And it was good. Damn good. He felt that old surge of excitement in his stomach. It was complex, though. Shifting harmonies. He played it again. And again. And again. Each time it sounded sweeter, as if his guitar was growing to like it, or as if the riff was adapting itself to the six strings of his battered old guitar.
This host had potential. Like all corporeal beings it was a creature of cycles and rhythms, its mind a product of its pumping, beating, cycling biology. And rhythms could be wormed into. Patterns could be inhabited. Altered. Reprogrammed.
The only danger was the change going too well. It happened with susceptible beings. The change overwhelmed them. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen here. A dead carrier was no use at all.
Johnny J worked away all night, not noticing the crescent moon scything through the sky above him, not noticing the cold. He experimented, trying out new rhythms, counterpoints, key changes. Some of the variations worked, slotting beautifully into place. Others jarred and refused to sound right. He let the music go where it wanted. Let it evolve. That was best. Let it grow into the song it needed to be.
The eastern sky was shading from black to deep purple before he had it perfect. He looked up and seemed to breathe for the first time in hours. Now he had to get it out there, let others hear. It became an overwhelming urge. A strange thought came to him, suddenly alarming. If he died now the new song would be lost. The world would never get to hear it, and that was unthinkable.
He raced inside, legs and back aching from the hours of hunched inactivity. He didn’t care. Quickly he tuned up his Telecaster, sat in front of a webcam, hit record and began to play. He started slow, introducing the theme in fragments, dropping in more and more of the notes. Building to a crescendo with, finally, the whole hook played out in strident clarity. While, underneath, he picked and strummed at those beguiling harmonies.
When he was done, he played back what he’d recorded, heart thumping with excitement. The video was scratchy, just his hands spidering up and down the neck of the guitar. But the song was clear. Gloriously clear. His hand trembled on his mouse as he clicked the upload button on his YouTube page.
He was still well-known enough for people to notice. He had his legions of devoted fans even now. The runaway success of the first album had bought him that. And each of them would tell a bunch of other people about the song, and then each of them would tell a bunch of other people, and so it would spread. Reproduce. Go viral.
Johnny J sat back for a moment, satisfied but spent. He began to strum the tune again, just for himself. Already it sounded like an old friend. The damn thing was irresistible. And he had written it. His comeback would be a triumph.
He strummed on. Distantly, he was aware of growing thirst and hunger. The heat of the Arizona day. He didn’t care. Those things weren’t important. He needed to hear the tune. That was all he wanted.
On his computer screen, unnoticed, the hit count on the video began to climb. One, ten, a hundred, a thousand. Within an hour it had been watched over thirty million times. Three days later it hit the two billion mark. Johnny J still hadn’t noticed. Not because he was busy playing, but because by now he was slumped over his guitar, dehydrated, exhausted. Every now and then his fingers twitched as they tried to play the riff again, but his eyes remained closed.
He dreamed for a while. The melody was a living creature. A wild horse. He rode and rode it and never wanted to get off. After a while he slipped into deeper unconsciousness, down towards his death.
Johnny J would be the first of many to die.
In space, the fluctuation in space/time drifted on, out towards the larger masses in this system and then, eventually, to other stars. It was in no hurry. There would be other minds out there. Other complex systems. Some of them wouldn’t even have evolved yet. But that was okay; it would get to them all.
SIMON KEWIN writes fantasy, SF, mainstream and some stories that can’t make their minds up. He has had over 250 stories and poems published. He lives in England with Alison and their daughters Eleanor and Rose. His cyberpunk novel The Genehunter and his fantasy novels Engn and Hedge Witch were recently published. Find him at simonkewin.co.uk.