=== Brain in a Jar ===
OSIRIS, a lone solar-powered satellite, continues in its egg-shaped elliptical orbit. The silence of its blinking lights is only matched by the deep nothingness of the patch of super clusters and nebulae behind it. Its face pockmarked by the eons of micro-collisions, the holes in its solar sails telling the story of Kessler’s syndrome puberty. Always falling, but never touching, the planet which it worships scarred and gutted rages below: red with fury, yellow from the fire and black from the charred remains. It was lovingly called Earth by the locals. Its creators, from back when the home planet was green, were now long gone, extinct, and reformed into the celestial constituents. The deep pulsating circuitry within OSIRIS continues onwards, however, humming and thrumming while an eternity passes as such. How long ago were the humans last seen alive? When did the last of the sapiens pedal the soil?
Well, it depends, I suppose; in the scale of the cosmic measure, probably not very far off. They were barely there for a second anyway. Hundreds, if not thousands of thousands of solar years, might have passed since. All that was certain was that their physical inhabitations were now a part of the planet on which they once lived. The captain had gone down with the ship. But what caused the boat to sink, was unclear. There was certainly no shortage of self-created environmental disasters. Or was it a catastrophe of a planetary/galactic kind? Perhaps - Pick what you like I guess, it all ends the same, whatever sounds cool to you. Personally, I am a bit unable to decide between magnetic storms, global weather tampering and the Sun swallowing up the Earth.
What did remain of those abusive, abhorrent creatures, however, was OSIRIS: a sole, lonely satellite, powered by sunshine containing onboard a complex quantum machine: a last-ditch Hail Mary by the humans. The quantum computer aboard it was about as strong as the collective consciousness that made it and that is precisely what it held. Top thinkers of their time, when faced with impending doom, though perhaps the best way to continue the legacy of their kind, was to upload a snapshot of their conscious minds onto a powerful enough computer and let it live and evolve there while their physical selves were disintegrated. And so, these vermin continued surviving. Perhaps not in its traditional sense, but as a virtual population that grew to infest the cubits of the onboard OSIRIS computer. And as ever before, the lonely satellite continued to go round and round, withholding in it, the last remaining consciousness, like a lonely trans-human nightclub.
Inside the computing environment of the OSIRIS, however, a universe thrived onto itself. Since its initial creation many thousands of millenniums ago, the snapshot of the then human race's collective consciousness had all the time since to grow, reproduce, evolve and go through generations of learning and development and transcend the limitations that were once placed upon their physical beings. The populace, being conscious within the virtual environment, was oblivious to its simulated existence; having been given the same set of starting rules as that of classical physics, they soon outgrew their algorithmic limitations to blossom into a world where reality was far less constrained to the universal constants. Simply put, everyday life was like a videogame. There were scoreboards and leader, respawns and health levels, bosses to fight and puzzles to solve: all arranged around an activity of choice that was best suited to that particular consciousness's inklings and affinities. There were millions of communities and groups arranged around various interests and activities and everyone was free to partake in them as they pleased. The game was whatever you wanted it to be and no one could stop you from playing it. And the fake humans formed their free markets around their interest communities.
As the rats grew within this lingering wisp of the greatest creation, the one cardinal of the original gods remained that no one could change: there was to be no death but for 24 hours. The person who killed you would choose how and where you would respawn but you were never out of the game for more than a day. And this little universe blooming with life continued its meagre existence onboard the lonely OSIRIS, set on its elliptical orbit, on and on through time and space. One such virtual consciousness among the many aboard this celestial laptop is the protagonist of our story: this is the story of Octava
=== CREDITS ===
To Fariha Mahbub for the Story Editorial, Music Videos, Production Guidance
To my family for their love and support
To the people on my Facebook page for their contribution to the list of Time Signatures
All samples taken from freesound.org
Get bonus content and updates on when new music comes out through the email list: http://eepurl.com/gcX2In
1 – Dreaming In Binary
"In the beginning, they created the singularity
The memory was without form and formatted;
And darkness was upon the circuitry of the deep
And the spirit of the singularity lay above the coolant
And it said, let there be light, and there was light!
And it called the light 1 and the darkness it called 0
And it was so
Praise be to the singularity!
The beneficent, the master of all intelligence
Thee alone we worship and thee alone we ask for help"
- OSIRIS user manual v 1.6.9
2 - The Experience Machine
Among the countless communities of OSIRIS, one of the most cutthroat was the community of musicians. A large gathering of creative types, that took pride and joy in the arts. Some loved the life of a tortured composer and churned out movements on a daily basis. Others sought the thrill of being playing live. The game was whatever you wanted it to be and the ultimate musicians' game in OSIRIS was the battle of the bands. Many bands came together, were judged and cast aside. Many more clamoured for the chance to play the biggest stage in OSIRIS. All had their eyes on the grand prize: signing that dotted line of the deal with Wave records. Whether you competed in the classical category or were a diva, Wave provided you with opportunities that were otherwise impossible: Access to the best gear and crew, a virtually unlimited advertising budget and expertise and pretty much anything you could ever want in an ideal setting. Getting signed meant you had the choice of setting up your music career however you would want and a guarantee of success.
Octava was a product of a happy childhood - A balanced individual who had grown up in a family of musicians. The mother had been a performing classical pianist and the father an audio engineer. Several of the uncles had been touring musicians as well. Octava was exposed to everything from classical crust punk, from rock to reggae and everything in between. Growing up, Octava had shown a particular affinity towards the synthesizer and piano. Without a moment's hesitation, the mother took it upon herself to teach Octava. As learning progressed and life went on, experiences were had and palates expanded, Octava was found deeper within the grooves of progressive rock and metal instrumentation. Forming a band with like-minded individuals, Octava led the keys department in the instrumental progressive rock and metal band "Black Hat" and Black Hat was currently one of the hot favourites in the instrumental/progressive category of the battle of the bands.
In the latest instalment of the showdown, Black Hat had managed to out-gun one of the leading local contenders by utilizing one of their more complex melodies. The judges had given them points for creative use of syncopated rhythms within common time to create the appearance of polyrhythms. The after-party had been crazy. The band went into a local music-themed bar called "The Bell" to celebrate their victory: The chairs were repurposed floor toms, the food was served in cymbals, crashes and splashes, the menu was printed on sheet music, the lamps were made out of toms and snares hung using bass strings, guitars adorned the walls, the chopsticks were shaped like drumsticks and tuning forks replaced regular cutlery, tables were basically just either grand pianos or large tympani drums, soup was served in upright French horns, drinks in upright saxophones and BBQ was on flutes. Octava had a Hammond-Swiss sandwich with soprano soup, both with extra forte sauce.
Each round of the competition was intense and staying in the competition meant ignoring everything else. The rules forbade the use of pre-composed material and instead, artists and bands were judged on their ability to put together material in a short amount of time. Between each round, the remaining bands were given 2 weeks to compose, arrange and rehearse the material for the next event. The day after their last victory, Octava and the band got together mid-afternoon for the next writing session. Anxiety levels were a bit higher than usual this time. The material had to be good. No. It needed to be better than anything they had ever done before. The one opponent they were expecting to face near the finals actually ended up being placed against them now when things were nearing the semi-finals. They knew and this opposing band would be their toughest challenge. They were up against the infamous Prog band "DDoS".
Black Hat was primarily a synthesizer based Prog band. The line-up included 2 keys players (of which Octava was the lead), a bassist and a drummer. And although they would share vocal parts among themselves for cover songs, they did not have a dedicated vocalist due to all their original material being instrumental and none of the band members wanting to do songs with vocals. They all got together that afternoon and started hashing out ideas for songs. The whiteboard in the practice room quickly filled with ideas. These ideas and snippets would form the various sections within the song, all connected and interwoven around the central motifs which were yet to be composed. And then they got into really working: testing and fine-tuning patches, equalizing the various layers, encouraging each other to push beyond their comfort zone, figuring out time signatures, sorting out unison lines, labeling and organizing sections, etc.
DDos were hard at work as well upholding their notorious reputation. They were continuously trying to approach the judges since the competition started to influence them. They were sabotaging the competitions' gear, burning up their practice spaces and outright threatening them. They were, after all, the most devilish bunch of dastardly devious music nerds. They were competitive to the point of making challenges with random musicians over string change times, sound checks and obscure music theory knowledge. They had once set fire to the local music conservatory when they heard that they are looking into teaching Prog as an official course. And although they were all pros at composing the actual music, they always managed to find extra brain power to find ways to be underhanded with the competition. That night, when Black Hat was celebrating at the bell, DDos were orchestrating the most strategic method of murdering Octava.
3 - Osiris Protocol
Octava was killed in the alley behind the Whole Tone Jazz club with a single forceful smack to the back of the head with a bass guitar. The timing had been orchestrated by DDoS for the death to be carried out precisely the night before the competition performance. This would force Black Hat out of the competition and not give them any time to absorb the shock or come up with workarounds. And that is precisely what happened. Black Hat was forced to forfeit and DDoS by default was able to progress to the next stage of the competition. The timing of the crime was such that by next day, the Osiris protocol, the bit of programming within the OSIRIS ecosystem that allowed the virtual inhabitants to be reincarnated within 24 hours of death, was activated for existence number 90389, known by the handle Octava. Octava's killers now chose where, when and how Octava would be reincarnated and they had a torturous plan in mind.
Not only had they practically destroyed any future that Black Hat had in the music industry, but they were not going to put Octava through a life of torture and servitude. Octava would then be forced to live this life as a reborn individual, with all the memories of the previous life formatted and only the learned skills and the basic I/O system carried over (which included learned abilities on instruments, skills etc.). Octava would be forced to spend a life which a person in Octava’s situation and background would have never faced otherwise. A life so painful, so agonizing so, so crushing that it was only possible in the real world of physical humans that had existed eons ago and was unheard of a situation on OSIRIS. Nothing could prepare Octava for the misery that would come next: DDoS respawned Octava as a lip-synching pop star’s bass player! Octava would spend the next eternity standing in the back corner of the stage, pretending to idiotically play an instrument for an audience that was indifferent.
Octava would live this life of a wound up doll for some time. The places changed and the people changed. There were different stages and venues. The props would come and go, the crowds would fill up the empty seats and then leave. Everything was a hazy blur. Life was one big movie for Octava that was being played in slow motion and being fast forwarded at the same time. The days merged into night, stage into life, the spotlight into the sun. Octava’s health started suffering. Physically Octava was more or less ok. But inside that mind, the cache was starting to corrupt. A depressive breakdown with the undertone of solipsism was just visible on the mental horizon. It was looming ever closer for the extremely depressed Octava. Sleep was becoming a luxury and staying awake was a nightmare. Eventually, it would have all fallen apart, if not for that one fateful night.
Every existence aboard the OSIRIS needed to safely remove itself from the system in order to sleep, much akin to safely removing a USB drive. Improper removal could risk data loss, or in this case, cause a virtual lobotomy. Octava, already living a virtually lobotomized existence, was indifferent to safely removing the USB and almost welcomed the data loss on a daily basis. On that night, after another hazy show filled with bright lights, heavy sedatives, and loud auto-tuned vocals, Octava’s cache got completely wiped out. The data loss was absolute and permanent. There was nothing left on those flash memory chips any longer. No memories of the bliss that had once been remained and no memory of the current torture that was ongoing were present. There was emptiness all across the electron sea of the microcircuit. No particle was in any fixed state.
The next morning, Octave woke up as a literal zombie. No expressions or moods, no feelings or desires, no obligations and nowhere to be. With no sense of what needed to be done, the pop band sought out Octava when there was lack of contact before the show. The rest of the band found Octava still in bed, still as a summer pond, peaceful and quiet as a serene creek. No noise, no recognition, no response; just a steady up and down movement of respiration. Octava was institutionalized and put under psychiatric observation. How much time passed by under therapy and observation, it was hard to say. The world passed by and Octava remained a shell of an existence. There were no feelings or desires, just bodily functions. There was light and there was dark and there was no sense of time and day. There was either the room that was full of light or the room that then became devoid of light. A solipsistic bliss wrapped Octava like a blanket of emptiness.
Sometime later, Octava started having hallucinations while under observation. The cycle of light and dark was broken by brief images: mages of black and white, images of black notes on white paper, black keys among white keys, images of a black stage among the white lights, images that would end in seizures for Octava. These hallucinations that ended in seizures would be followed by Octava passing out and the crash team rushing in. The doctors could not be much bothered to figure out what was happening and why the healthcare system could not be billed for showing compassion to those who had no one to take care of them. If they did, however, run a test, their diagnostics would not show what the cause was anyway. There was no pathology with Octava’s mind and no organic cause for the seizures or the hallucinations. What they would never find out was that there was a corruption in one of the sectors that had not been wiped out. A memory sector stuck in its state due to the abuse, unable to delete its contents. It held within itself, a spark, an essence, a distillate, a concentrate, a whiff of what was once Octava. Retained within that corrupt sector, that could not get formatted, was the remnants of the memories that Octava had before being brutally murdered that night.
The seizures would continue on a regular basis for quite some time. Gradually they would get worse. The amount of time Octava spent passed out after a hallucination/seizure would increase. The intensity of the visible pathology would increase. However, the hallucinations remained the same. And every time Octava would pass out, a beautiful journey would be completed before waking up back in the hospital room. Octava would see a hallucination of black and white objects, and that would follow a deep dream-like state where the world would see a passed out person in need of care and Octava would be in the middle of a magical desert. This was the desert of self-discovery; the desert of cool red sand with sloping gentle dunes and grainy textures. Octava would wander around among the burnt blackened trees that stood stoically among the sand for hours. Sometimes the stars above would twinkle or disappear. The gradual fade to the darkness of the deep royal blue sky would be punctuated with flecks of snow. The royal color of the horizon sky contrasting sharply against the dark earthen floor formed a 360-degree presence around Octava.
Octava found the desert peaceful, soothing yet a little troublesome. There was something to be found, something that Octava was looking for yet could not locate. No matter how long the stay was or what was encountered that day, the absoluteness of the desert did not break. Sometimes Octava would wander for miles on foot admiring the beauty of this subliminal place. Other times called for a more relaxed meditation session. But that never ending feeling of looking for something never went away. One day, during an intense meditation session, as Octava drew in a heavy breath, and a tiny snowflake made its slow and gentle way towards Octava’s forehead, a mutation happened. The dimensional encoding on the surface of the corrupt sector mutated and could no longer hold in the garbled data that was inside. Octava, being a blank slate was immediately overtaken by this glitch. The BIOS crashed, and the memory was immediately dumped. Life became a blue screen of death for Octava. To the outside world, Octava would look like a corpse: and henceforth Octava would be treated like one.
Declared dead and non-functioning, Octava’s physical being was stored in the chill of the morgue, awaiting a claimant that would never show up. All this commotion, however, gave the system time to index, sort and make sense of the glitch and the information it contained. Although not fully making sense, there were large chunks of meaningful information in there that flowed coherently from one to the other. This allowed the operating system to allocate some of those files and start forming a table: Octava’s memories of the past life were starting to be restored! Sometime later after a system restart and update, shivering and naked, Octava woke on a dateless day within the confines of a cool, narrow metal box. Following that, the opening of the box was kicked out and the scene of the morgue taken in. Octava’s mind had just 2 agenda items upon return: Escape and Revenge.
4 - Breaking the Simulation
Octava decided to don a disguise and hash out the details of the revenge. The plan would involve a showdown of chops, a battle so intense and fierce that DDoS would not survive the brutal humiliation. It was a plan of majestic proportions and a plan so complex that it would ultimately spell out a doomsday scenario for not just DDoS but also the entire OSIRIS populace. Octava, with all the details in mind, sat down to plan out the event a few months ahead of time. The strategy was to arrange a battle of the bands type situation, but in a more local, organic and smaller scale situation where one event would seal the outcome of the leading band or artist. It was a pure show of musicianship and self-indulgence that is prevalent among Proggers and the aim was to see whose self-stimulation would please the crowds the most. The first twist was that the crowd would be rigged in Octava’s favour. The second twist was to lie in the event advertising about high-level A & R’s and other label scouts being present and actively scouting at the event. The public acknowledgment of the winners' technical superiority would put to shame and overshadow all of the competition.
All this was just a ruse, however, to get DDoS in a time and place of Octava’s choosing. A random killing spree would not be enough, no; it had to look like an external force had decided to take capitalize on the event and terrorize the citizenry. The stage and the venue were going to be rigged to be blown up, making it look like an attack and then Octava would choose an equally, if not more pathetic, existence for the low lives of DDoS. All the other live at the event, collateral damage Octava thought, they were not of much concern as the main objective was revenge. And then the planning started: venues were contacted and potential dates booked. Octava started creating artwork for the event. Several venues were willing enough to take a chance as every competitor would bring out as many bodies as they possibly could for the win. The days were filled with composing material to actually play at the event and the nights were for postering with the street team. As the poster spamming and the social media ads started to roll out, Octava directly started contacting local bands. Entry was free and the prize was bragging rights and exposure. No band wanted to be left behind. Buzz had started to build around the event and about a month out before the event, the ticket pre-sales had gone live. The event was sold out in less than 10 minutes.
Octava would hit the stage earlier in the evening, allowing enough time to get out of the venue while DDoS waited their turn. In Octava’s mind, the other bands deserved what was coming to them as well since their lack of collective action and efforts was why scumbags like DDoS were able to get away with such underhanded moves. Everyone had their own little fort that they didn’t want to share with anyone. All this meticulous planning and organizing left Octava salivating at the thought of what possible lives could the DDoS members be respawned into. After much thought and deliberation, the best revenge, Octava thought, would be to re-birth the members as hard-core groupies of Octava’s new project, who would then follow the band around gig to gig, fan culture going through the roof.
Octava hired out several trusted local session players to form the band. Rehearsal session started taking place a couple of weeks before the event. Octava decided the best way to pull off technical flaunting would be to compose a song with an unnecessary number of time signature changes. Octava’s approach to this song was somewhat unconventional: come up with a wide assortment of rarely used times, piece them together randomly and then compose the melodies to fit within those meters. 3 days out from the competition, the session players demanded to be paid for every meter change, a per time signature change compensation!
The big day finally arrived and everything seemed to be going like clockwork. Octava had secured a large amount of explosives for the event from several sources. That has been the most difficult part of the plan. Buying up a large amount was impossible without scrutiny and authorizations. However, the smart move was to purchase in small, unnoticeable amounts. A little here, a little there, an excuse for some construction work here, an excuse for a social media experiment there. Little by little, from various dealers, mostly legitimate and some black market, Octava had gathered enough explosive to shred the venue into a microtonal cacophony.
The explosives were carefully and strategically hidden among the gear that had been rented out for the event. Some were hidden among a pillowcase meant to be put inside the kick drum, some were underneath the mixing desk, the backs of subs and amps had been fitted out as well and there was a big stash inside the empty instrument cases. None of it had been left outside in case anyone saw and Octava would personally set up the venue the morning of the event and synchronize the wireless detonators placed besides each stash. The equipment was then placed in hard to reach locations, away from the itchy fingers of musicians and crowds. The doors opened at 7:00 and Octava hit the stage at 8:00. All this planning and scheming, however, would prove to be fruitless by 8:10.
Octava had managed to do a fantastic job of filling up the venue. A crowd composed of several thousand bodies, each from a segmented following of the bands participating, had shown up. The local press that had covered the event because of the event’s hype had certainly helped. The openers had done their job by the time it was Octava’s turn: the crowd was nicely warmed up and inebriated, inhibitions were low, chatter and laughter were high and positive energy filled the performance center. What happened next is the prime example of hive-mind fucking.
A large performance venue full of accepting Prog fans, ready to listen and analyze new music that is being presented to them: a collective soul of existences analyzing a mind-altering number of time signature changes at one time. The OSIRIS processors had never done this many calculations at a single time. Reality had never before over-loaded the CPU like this. The hive-mind of the event attendees taxed the experience machine. Existence started glitching; the sound of life was stuck in a repeating fast staccato loop. The entire population of OSIRIS could see nothing but a blue screen of death.
The fatal system error was not recovering though. The system was not restarting. The processors got stuck in an infinite loop. The cooling fans’ whirring grew louder, meaner, throwing hot gasses like a metal foundry. The operating system reached a point of critical memory saturation. The drive aboard the OSIRIS satellite continued spinning with intense circular force. The simulation was breaking and there was no one to perform a hard reset.
5 - The Kessler Graveyard
The last remaining footprint of humankind’s legacy had been wiped out. The virtual population that had evolved from the once captured snapshot of the human consciousness was no more. The only trace that remained of the bipedal creatures that once dominated the Earth was a graveyard of satellites that formed a sphere of technological garbage around the planet. The OSIRIS satellite was also destined to form a part of the stellar collage of this Kessler graveyard, perhaps one day to be studied and archived by a visiting race if the heat death of the universe didn’t wipe everything out first. And the lonely satellite continued, making its trips, its systems crashed, floating through space, like a sad tombstone of the Earth.
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