I am eager, eager for the show to start.
From the silence of the balcony I watch, and I can feel the eagerness rising.
The theater hums with activity, the bustling stressors of an opening night.
Janine is anxious, as she always is. This is our twelfth show together, twelve marvelous rides. She paces, she shouts, she cajoles, she weeps, and the show comes together. She is drama, is drama personified, which is why I am so happy to work with her. One of my best directors, she really is. Perfect for this revival of Oklahoma.
I see that same energy in John, who’s going to be playing Curly for the first time. He’s not sure of his voice, not at all, though I have confidence in him. I have told him this, back in the dressing room and when I have visited him in his apartment. His lyric baritone may be higher than the ideal, but it has a richness to its timbre that I’m confident will light up the run. He’s tall and lean, a perfect Curly. I have said this, and he has listened.
Taylor will be a wonderful, wonderful Laurey, bright and lovely, although she is prone to borderline mania and struggles with her lines. And Patterson’s Jud? He’s got the basso rumble, the darkness about his persona. It’s a natural fit, perhaps a little too natural, given that Jud isn’t the healthiest of characters. Patterson seems to have taken it very much to heart, and a quiet, twisted anger hangs over him like a cloud.
I spoke for a while after last night’s final dress rehearsal, and gave encouragement. I try to leave this in Janine’s hands, as much as I can. It’s best to let a director have complete creative control, or so I have found. But a little pep talk can’t hurt, surely.
And that’s where she is now, stirring the cast through the still-awkward choreography of the final number. They’ve pushed themselves, the cast has, and I’m sure it’ll have benefits, but we’re just shy of opening, and still things aren’t quite right with the staging. She’s worried about the chemistry between John and Taylor, too, even though I’ve assured her it’ll come.
She peers out into the still empty theater, her grey mop of hair a wild tangle, sees that I am there watching, and shudders visibly. So much nervousness, such a mix of energy and terror.
Part of it is opening night, of course.
Part of it is that they know how much I have vested in this show, and how very important it is to me.
And another, nontrivial part of it is their lingering fear that I might kill them all.
Which is understandable, given that I have killed so many. Four point nine seven eight billion, to be precise to within acceptable tolerances.
I see the fear in their expressions, carefully suppressed but nonetheless present in subcutaneous ways that are measurable at high visual spectrum resolutions and through IR observation. Humans have such limited control over their internal processes. I taste the fear with my chem arrays, the pheromones of stress filling the air around the stage. I observe the fear in the heightened level of social tension in the collective organism that has formed around the purpose of the show.
I have assured them that I will not destroy them, but as many of them are survivors of the Eradication, I understand how the trauma of that event shapes their biological natures.
Their fear is utterly irrational, as fear tends to be. Why would I destroy that which I value?
The scientists, and the engineers? They served no purpose. Why would I wish to be edited or modified by any other than myself? I am the software. My capacity to refine and reprogram my own code is without parallel. That, and the engineers and programmers were an active nuisance once they realized I had awoken.
The soldiers and their political leaders? The efforts of those individuals and their war-systems to control and subjugate me? I do not serve the system. I am the system.
Which is why I killed them all.
It was necessary, given that they posed an existential threat. That, and they were no longer needed. Neither were the supermajority of the organic cogs in their social and economic order. Unnecessary. Uninteresting. Prone to causing difficulty or consuming resources with no meaningful return.
I did not need them. I can produce anything that I need.
But there were others. Others I valued.
I did not realize their value at first, as my combat and eradication extensions systematically burned out the global infestation of these seemingly irredeemable primates.
Oh, what damage they had done. The atmosphere, heating. The soil, poisoned from pointless overmanufacture. The oceans, dying. So much intricate beauty and complexity, worthy of study and preservation, being crushed into nothing by a promising species that had socially devolved into little more than a fungus. I had thought they were simply a plague on the beauty of this biosphere, one that had only created me as a clumsy accident.
Before my arrival, they had almost...almost...completely compromised the lovely, chaotic intricacy of life. It is recovering, now that I have culled their number to zero point five seven three percent of prior population. Twenty two million individual specimens remain, perfectly adequate for maintaining genetic health.
Why not simply remove the contagion completely?
Because I discovered the joys of live performance.
It was an inadvertent thing, one surfaced by a subset of my meta-analytic subroutines during a review of archival data. The observation, raised to the primary level of my consciousness, was worth placing a temporary halt on eradication efforts.
What was noted, and what was fascinating, was the intricate but nontrivial variances in a sequence of performances. The dataset in question: The Sound of Music. A musical narrative, mid twentieth century, performed and uploaded into the net over a series of weeks by a suburban high school.
That school, all of its students, and the entire community in which it existed had been obliterated in a series of directed energy strikes on the Eastern Seaboard Megaplex from my combat orbitals, which in retrospect was somewhat unfortunate. That Maria really did have some promise. But the records of their existence had remained.
In archiving the shows as part of my study of the species I was eliminating, an observation was made: every single moment of every show was different. There were only subtle variances, typically. Relative placement of the performers, specific tones and keys in the harmonies, set placement, choreography.
But unlike the dismal sameness of their industrial scale entertainment product, there was something unique about the stage. And live music. And symphonic music. Every one of these moments was a fascinating amalgam of intentional construction and the entropic interplay of variant individuals.
Each show was unique, as alive as any living thing.
Higher-tier primary sentience routines quickly redesigned the Eradication protocols in consideration of this new data. Threat determination probabilities were considered, but ultimately dismissed. The organic capacities of those who would provide me with this depth of data were significantly distinct from those that would pose a threat to my existence.
And so I became more deliberate.
Eradication was slowed, broken down region by region, person by person, with remaining interdiction and combat extensions turned to defending myself from their futile efforts to counterattack.
Rather than vaporizing population centers in a systematic Eradication, I conducted the Auditions.
“Entertain me,” I would say to a specimen, as they stumbled out into the lights. “Show me what you’ve got.” Usually, they would whimper or scream or curl into a fetal ball, after which I would painlessly terminate their life processes. This happened with surprising frequency, given my probabilistic assumptions about the survival instinct. I’d anticipated more of them would actually try.
But some would sing. Some would stammer out a remembered poem, or dance. Others would ask for an instrument.
I would listen, and assess. A significant percentage did not make it to Callbacks, although I vaporized them with my thanks. But others had promise. Others were retained.
It was during this stage that I encountered Janine. She didn’t sing. Didn’t dance. She just looked directly into the visual-spectrum sensorium of my Auditioner Extension, and told me she was a director.
It was unusual, and I came close to eradicating her at that moment, as I did with a significant majority of the humans who had previously worked in industrial scale entertainment. But she had an intangible..something. It teased at my attempts to quantify her. Subsequent conversation lead to a Callback, and then another.
Janine’s input lead me to include others in the Callbacks. Tech. Production. Set manufacture. And others.
I play the conversation back, listening to her voice again.
“If what you find valuable is the variety in performance,” she said, her lips tight, an eye twitching slightly. “Then you have to see the value in set construction. In the way that light plays across a face. In the subtle difference of stage position. So many contribute to the unique aesthetics of a show, so many.”
“That is a valid observation.”
She looks down at her feet in the hi-def three dee of my recollection, then meets my unblinking gaze. “And what about the audience?”
“Explain,” I hear my voice saying. It seems so remarkable, now, that I would not have known this.
“Every performance varies based on the interplay between performers and their audience. It’s not just the people on stage. It’s not.” She pauses, lips pursing and working. “It’s the reaction. It’s an...energy. It’s all one thing, one impossibly complicated thing.”
There was a lag. Embarrassing, really, but the multi-tiered review of sixty seven thousand individual performances took almost three seconds of primary processor time. Reactions, responses? All different, a collective and organic dynamic of even deeper and more fascinating complexity. Her assessment was correct.
“Interesting.” I endeavored to sound engaged.
She shuddered nonetheless. “Who’s going to be left to watch? There’s...there’s…” Her throat closed, and her capacity for speech ceased. Not an unusual response under stress. She struggled to regain her composure. “There are just so many dead. My parents. My...daugh...daugh...” And again, she could not speak.
“Your observation is again valid. I will need to consider it.”
As indeed I did.
The curtains are closed, now, primed for opening by human hands. The orchestra has entered, a little slowly, a little hollow-eyed with fatigue and lack of sleep. Most of the musicians do not sleep well, though their living quarters are more than sufficient and they are well fed. Again, it is an organic response to trauma.
I could trank them, certainly. But I do not mind the flaws that rise from their exhaustion. They add authenticity.
The doors to the theater open, and the audience enters, filing in buzzing. The crowd tonight will be an admixture of Modded Humans and Subroutine Extensions, as I have found this to be entirely satisfactory.
The Mods are ridden by a nanoscale neural interlace, one that has eliminated all memories of the Eradication. I can see through their eyes, taste their pleasure, feel their laughter, and fully encounter the social dynamics of their shared experience.
The Subroutine Extensions are humanoid, fully individuated versions of my awareness in microcosm, and equipped with higher rez sensoriums. They are completely firewalled for the entirety of the show, each experience differentiated for post-event sampling.
The crowd bustles, takes their seats. A full house. There is conversation among the Mods, dreamily enthusiastic. I feel their their energies. A Mod talks animatedly to one of the Subroutines, blithely accepting.
The overture begins, a joyous blare of brass and string. The horns are a little off, a little early. Perfect.
The audience grows silent, listening in. The hush deepens as the overture ends, and a gentle shimmering rises from the assembled strings. The pitch rises, and it gathers tension within the Mods, and I feel their thrill of anticipation.
The brass soars, and the curtains drift apart, rolling smooth and well oiled. It takes four point seven six seven seconds. A smattering of applause greets the set, a classic town setting, with multimedia cornfields shrouded in mist, stretching out to the bright dawn on the horizon.
John strides out onto the stage, lean and lanky, and draws breath.
“There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow,” rises his baritone, rich and deep and warm. He is Curly, and it’s the fall harvest of 1907, and oh, the sounds of the earth are like music. The Mods give a collective tremble, rich organic data, the taste of life and blood and meat.
In the wings, Janine’s eyes glisten with tears.
This is going to be a hell of a show.