An Excerpt from Arcana Aeternum

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The Part with the Concert

The rules of transaction resolution are as complex as they are mutable as economists streamline the process and the Consulate makes amendments, but generally speaking, the goal of the system is for positive effort to equate to value.

Let a bomb threat serve as an example: Security systems would identify the bomb during its creation or arming, local samaritans would be notified, and by halting the event they would receive credit proportionate to the damages prevented. This credit is from the bomber and the saved individuals in amounts determined by another horribly complex formula, but it amounts to a fine for the bomber and taxes for those saved. Damages and injuries inflicted during the arrest are taken from the samaritan’s pay; this way, they uphold something like law by the most diplomatic means available.

The amounts are projected forward based on old data and adjusted after the fact in the event of inaccuracies. While these transactions are calculated to seemingly infinite detail, the system is more or less stable, and anyone in a steady career can expect a steady and simply stated pay scale, raises as a reward for increased skill, and bonuses for exemplary performance.

This system is fundamentally socialist. However, there exists a capitalist system atop the socialist system where an entrepreneur can demand a higher price for a qualitative advantage, such as charging more for naturally grown bananas, or undercutting the standard price of a product or service in order to gain a market advantage. Most occupations, such as that of Nikki Starr 3415, use both systems. The musician receives a government calculated pay scale based on his affect on morale, and his impact on plugged product sales. Then there are backstage passes, and private appearances which are separate, negotiated prices.

The Part with the Concert

Nikki was always amazed at the capacity of the human mind to neglect reason and personal health in order to cram into a tiny auditorium for the chance to barely be able to almost maybe watch him perform. Granted, most personal-grade sound systems didn’t have the combination of finesse and power that the stage speakers had, and the auditorium was specifically designed to enhance sound—even this neglected to mention the party atmosphere. Still, when the curtain was drawn, Nikki’s mind boggled at how many people were packed into the darkened auditorium before him.

Nikki stepped forward, carrying the top half of his mike stand, ready to address the crowd. The onstage character of Nikki took inspiration from several bygone artists, but primarily he channeled Queen’s front man Freddie Mercury. The sound of the artist’s boots echoed as the crowd hushed to hear what the man had to say.

“Lot to cover today, lots of news, if you will. But first and foremost, who’s here for some fucking music?”

The crowd exploded with cheers and applause.

“Well, if that’s all you’re gonna give me, Fennek, I may just have to pack up my shit and go play somewhere else!”

The crowd responded with uproarious resolve.

“We were just in Almonde, a spunky little quarter-spoke just off the meridian, and I dare say they wanted it more! Maybe I should go back there.”

Shouts of dissent and jeers mixed into the rabble.

“Oh, if you disagree, you’re gonna have to prove me wrong!”

A mindless roar broke across the crowd that set off the stage’s feedback prevention system.

“Alright then! Let’s get this thing rolling!”

Nikki returned to his position and took up his instrument.

Klive’s generated music score began to lace itself into Nikki’s heads up display just as Gavin began to strike out a beat. It was a rare occasion when Gavin abandoned the bass role. His drum setup did include things like bells, a xylophone, and even if he were using only the drums he was fully capable of taking the lead, he was just the kind of guy who preferred a supporting role.

Nikki paged quickly through the set, looking at the composition as a whole, and recognized the tempo and focus on vocals as a power ballad. With all the repetitive chords and predictable lyrics, Klive must have been in a sour mood. Nikki played a few plunky notes and adjusted the timbre of the instrument before addressing the crowd again in a somber tone, “this quiet little diddy I’m going to start off with is dedicated to a dear friend of mine,” Nikki let his hair fall into his eyes so he could shake it back for dramatic effect, “Yeah, no, that’s not true at all, actually. I just thought it’d be funny.” As the Queen of Hearts started in on the backup melody, Nikki cracked his knuckles and made a few subtle adjustments to his effects settings. As soon as he did so, a light in either peripheral started blinking his bandmates’ objections to what they knew he was about to do.

The rogue guitarist peeled into his instrument with a string of notes so inhumanly rapid the audio processor had to wait to pick up on the overall pattern before it could react by adjusting the sheet music. Vocals were switched from Nikki to Cielva and Gavin reluctantly redoubled his tempo.

Never one to simply tolerate a challenge, Cielva also ignored Klive’s cues, improvising lyrics in a Scotch-Irish nautical vein, setting her keyboard to imitate an accordion. With how often the band ignored Klive entirely, it was no wonder it cranked out such lazy drivel at the start.

The music continued at an operatic scale, Cielva and Nikki trading blows like a great pirate galley negotiating a tropical storm: the chords of the guitar swelling in waves and falling in torrents against the more structured attempts of the accordion to maintain a connection with Gavin’s bass-line.

Klive kept the group rolling by supplying them with the sheet music for things like a refrain that they’d just improvised off the tops of their heads, and therefore had no hopes of repeating on their own. As well as this, it spent its processing cycles formulating aesthetically appealing progressions and other structural minutiae until, according to some arcane and fundamental axiom of musical meter (the middle eighth) Klive generated an open bridge. Now, for those unaware, a bridge in a song is a short bit that ties two totally different parts of a song together, and in ImProc, an open bridge is a bridge with nothing generated after it. It was essentially Klive’s own way of challenging the rest of the band, or be incredibly lazy. If no one was able to pick up with a new melody, there would be a short, unnoticed pause, and Klive would generate new music.

Without missing a beat, Nikki set down a quick bass-line along the same theme as his prior scores and stomped a repeater pedal, handing the recording to Klive to automatically accompany Gavin’s strokes. Then, flipping the body of his instrument up to a violin stance, and drawing a bow from an audaciously ornate scabbard at his hip, he set out to introduce a cavalier armada to combat Cielva’s pirate scourge. Gavin even backed up the imagery with a few thundering hammer-falls on his big bass drum to simulate the exchange of cannon fire.

From there the composition fell together perfectly. The song built to a cacophonous crescendo, and a slow resolution.

Or, it would have, if the audience hadn’t rushed the stage.

Nikki never saw who first jumped the security fence, and, until a particularly un-coordinated fan tried to get a handhold on an unsecured bit of stage equipment, he thought his band-mates had stopped playing out of respect for his awe-inspiring skill. Klive, being deaf, blind, mute, and having absolutely no shits to give, certainly gave no indication of anything out of the ordinary.

When the fumbling fan tore the module loose, there was a shower of sparks and a short burst of feedback before the safety system kicked in and cut the power to the stage. For a brief moment everything was pitch black and the ecstasy of the music gave way to the roar of a crowd now forced by pure physics to rush the stage like a stampede of suicidal cows. By the time the backup lights cracked on, Nikki was assimilated by the roiling mob.

The dim backup lights barely distinguished positive and negative space, giving Nikki just enough information to tell up from down. Even so, it took his full concentration to keep his balance in the maelstrom of knees, elbows, and miscellaneous anatomy. Eventually, however, the crowd reached the back of the stage. The three small doorways leading out of the auditorium failed to accommodate the tide of limbs, which crashed against the wall, and those unable to clear the doorways were forced to climb over each other to avoid being trampled against both floor and wall.

Nikki was one of the lucky few who were able to maneuver to one of the doors. It likely helped that he knew where they were. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a clean getaway. To clear the frame, Nikki had to duck and roll, like a sports player, rebounding off of the frame itself and getting his arm caught between the metal reinforced wall and the crushing wave of meat.

There was a resounding crack followed immediately by an ear-splitting shriek as limb and body attempted to part ways.

Later, Nikki would recall that, through the entire ordeal, the very last thing the artist thought as his vision dissolved into a black fog was that he rather wished they’d let him finish that one. It was a pretty good song.
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