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The organ is linked to the machine.
The organ: five fingers, a hand.
The machine: six strings, a metal beam.
A metal beam that vibrates with electricity coming from the copper coil attached to its base.
The hand, full of its own nervous electric impedance, moves along the taut strings of the long metal beam.
The six strings vibrate rhythmically under the pressure of the five fingers. The strings are attached to a body.
An electric body.
This body-machine produces sounds and has its own name. It even has a past, which in this world amounts to a virtual miracle.
Better still, under the hand that moves in the electrified space of the metallic strings, under the five fingers that spread starlike amid the harmonic notes, this body-machine also has a future—an even rarer commodity than a past.
We are in the Afterworld. The World After the World. And in this world, only the hand moving on the metal strings to produce sounds, to bring forth a voice, only this hand knows how to make machines sing.
It is the Healing Hand.
It is the organ that gives new life to that which has never been alive. It is the antimachine that grants the favor of Grace to the machines, though they are dying and disappearing at the same time as the creature that conceived them.
So the hand plays; it plays on the body-machine of the guitar.
And the guitar sings; it sings its own electric body.
Its electric body boasts the double coil characteristic of its make. This machine has its own name: Gibson Les Paul, 1954 model. This guitar has its own body. And a body has this guitar. A human body. He holds it between his hands, hands that run over its surface and make it sing in a multitude of magnetic frequencies.
This guitar is an instrument, and he knows what that involves: injection sense/etymology in electric language. Instrumentum, in the language that was sacred for two millennia, from the word instruere, “to build inside,” and by extension: to develop an instruction for a human being. Via its Indo-European roots, it means “operation capable of acting on the physical world.”
Nor is the instrument an object; it is really a piece of technology, a language, a machine. M¯ekhan¯e: a war machine, according to its Greek origins, it indicates the existence of an operative action that will permit the development of another machine. Flash introduction to the semantics of the organum, more or less meaning “organism”: in this sacred language, which disappeared well before most of the others, every instrument bears within it the organum of which it is the mechanical hand; every instrument is an organic multiplex; every instrument is a body and the man who creates or repairs it is thus an organarius. An organist. A doctor.
And that is what he is: a doctor for electric machines. And this instrument, this guitar, is a body-machine.
Volume level 10 on the amplifier, a 100-watt Marshall from the 1970s. A century old; a rarity. The riff resonates heavenward, swallowing the near-universe up in a pure shockwave of white noise, full of ferocity, at once glacial and incandescent, a thermonuclear bomb. Electricity at the fingertips—and at the other end, a human body taut with pure joy, the kind that sparkles like a snowflake falling to rest at the corner of the lips, the joy of hearing the guitar sing, become one with its electric life; the joy of virtually seeing jets of brilliant light rocket into the night sky, the sky filled with stars but cut off from Earth, the sky where no one can hear you scream. Where no one can even hear you laugh anymore.
The body holding the guitar in its hands has a name, too. It exists, just as much as the body-machine whose voice it is coaxing forth from the atomic depths of the material.
This human body has a voice. An identity. A name. A body. The verb. He exists.
He exists, and while the guitar vibrates between his hands, while he produces a simple E-major tune inverted to the Larsen effect, while it seems to him that the saturated sound wave will lodge itself in the very celestial vault like an acoustic rocket speeding toward Arcturus or the Pleiades, while all this machinery takes life, he, his body, his voice, his identity, and the voice, body, and identity of the instrument, even while the music cascades from his brain already perfectly formed—this time David Bowie’s “The Jean Genie”—while the final tune dissipates in the burning oscillation of feedback, his human body finally raises its head in the direction of the world, the “real world,” the world of men. Not the world of the stars enveloped in the music of the body-machine, or the world of the body-machine connected to the stars by light, by radiating electricity.
No. The world in between the two.
The Middle World. The Centerworld, now a satellite of itself.
The place where everything mankind has known for thousands of years of civilization has been, or is being, destroyed forever.
And the funniest thing, the human body observing the World muses, is that this terminal disintegration is happening although its very source has vanished. Mankind allowed itself to become enslaved by Machines even as it used them to satisfy its desires. It knowingly permitted itself to become co-mechanized. It became an integral part of the trap that is by definition hidden in every machine, especially when that machine has become a World. When the Machine-World somehow programmed its own disappearance, it began to push everything that remained of humanity in its universal matrix toward the abyss.
Becoming part of a trap isn’t the best way to escape it.
The human body observing the World realizes that he is not alone. There is another person here, in front of him, just outside the hangar where the amplifier still growls loudly.
He knows this person. It is a friend. One of the few friends he has in this world.
It is a man.
One of the last.
“Yuri? Have you been there long?”
The young man called Yuri moves toward the young man with the electric guitar, a thin smile splitting his face in the quicksilver moonlight. His red hair waves around his head in a crown of soft curls. His eyes are a sparkling, iridescent green, like the skin of an anaconda. He is barely twenty-two years old, with the pale skin of a young Soviet killer, a sniper for a division lost to the stars. Yuri has never killed anyone, but everything about him suggests that he would be quite capable of doing it. Very calmly.
He studied medicine in school.
“I’ve been here since the first song. Bowie. ‘The Jean Genie.’ Right?”
“Yes,” says the young man with the guitar. “I’ve been able to play it since this morning.”
“Did it come to you in a dream, as usual?”
The young man with the guitar doesn’t reply. It’s obvious. Both of them already know it.
“You’ve got the whole thing? Tune, title, composer, words, even the original edition of the record?”
“What do you want me to say, Yuri? You know it always happens like that.”
“I know. I’m waiting to see if the process changes one day.”
“Why would it?”
“Nothing’s sure in this universe. Especially these days.”
Yuri’s eyes are full of emerald light. A spark kindles in his gaze just then, as if lightning is scanning the field of his consciousness.
Under the sky filled with all the stars of the Milky Way, the young man with the electric guitar observes the World. The Middle World. And in the middle of the World, his friend Yuri McCoy is sending him a message, a signal, maybe an involuntary one. A purely optical form of anguish, but also the almost diabolical gleam of excitement in the face of the unknown.
Something is happening in Junkville, thinks the young man with the guitar, or maybe at Omega Blocks. To the south, at any rate, where Yuri comes from.
Something is happening in the human spillway of the old city cosmo- drome, in the anthropological garbage dump that was once the territory of Grand Junction.
Something is happening there again, he corrects himself.
Above his head, in a myriad of luminescent questions, the stars seem to await some extraordinary event.
The first catastrophe has already happened, he thinks. Be patient.
* * *
“When did it start?”
The voice of the young man with the guitar rises above the polymetallic alloy struts supporting the hangar’s roof like the nave of an anodized cathedral.
The two young men sit on the antique rear seats of a gasoline- powered Chevrolet from the previous century, in the midst of an odd assortment of musical instruments of all types and origins—guitars, of course, but also a vast collection of electronic and acoustic pianos, including a Bösendorfer pianoforte and a very old church organ whose gilded pipes stand along the metal walls, a tubular harrow erected toward the sky obscured by its carbonic vault. A small biophosphorescent lamp glows in the center of a Recyclo concrete cubicle between them, illuminating several square meters of the vast room with yellow-white light.
Yes, thinks the young man with the Hand that Heals Machines. Something is definitely happening in Junkville. Something is continuing the work that has been going on for years already. Something is determined to make every trace of humanity disappear from this world.
“We don’t have any statistical data, of course, but according to my sources it’s been talked about since last month. The year is ending in less than three weeks. If you ask me, it must have started in October.”
“October. Of course.”
Yuri McCoy is impassive. His smile remains fixed, intangible, on his face, splitting his flesh like the mouth opening of a battle mask.
“The anniversary of the destruction of the Metastructure twelve years ago,” continues the young man with the guitar. “Have you seen any specific examples with your own eyes?”
“Yes, two just last week. That’s what made me come looking for you.”
“But you seem to be saying I can’t do anything about it this time.”
“Right. At first glance, at least. I told you, the thing isn’t hunting machines or biocontained systems anymore.”
No, thinks the man living in the hangar. The thing is no longer interested only in the artificial devices that helped humanity to survive for so long even as they subjugated it to their own existence. In an impromptu and, for now, completely incomprehensible manner, it has managed—like a virus—to jump from one species to another.
Now it is attacking men directly. And even better, it is attacking what it defines as men.
“You know,” remarks Yuri, “it seems a little like the first mutation. Do you remember it, or were you still too young?”
“The first mutation? When even machines that had never been connected to the Metastructure were affected, though it had been dead since ’57?”
“Yes. That was when some of us began to ask ourselves serious questions that have still never been answered. Remember what everyone living in Heavy Metal Valley says?”
“That you’re the answer, or that you carry it inside you. The proof is tangible. How else have you been able to repair machines and biosystems since you were seven years old?”
Yuri McCoy’s gaze sweeps around the objects stacked in the hangar—all the machines kept here in this storehouse; music, the giving of new life to sonorous electricity, vanished with everything else, is only the tip of the iceberg.
“It was only the year before I turned seven that the mutation, as you call it, took place. I remember it perfectly. Until then, only computers, machines, and biosystems that had been linked to the MegaNetwork were affected.”
“Yes, and all of a sudden on a lovely October morning the first entirely new machines, even the ones born well after the death of the Metastructure, and the ones that had never been connected to it, began to be affected in their turn. Same for biocontained systems. Only the ones you’ve healed are still resistant to the “virus.” Apparently they’re still safe from all that up in the Ring, too.”
“I know. But you haven’t answered my question. So a second mutation is supposedly coming? Tell me about the two cases you saw.”
“I really believe the Nothingness is using the Metastructure as a tool to destroy not only mankind but any possible successor to it.”
“We’re in perfect agreement on that point, and you know it. The two cases, please?”
“They’re almost identical, just a little different in terms of the contamination process. They are losing the use of language.”
“I know. You just told me that. They’re becoming aphasic, is that it?”
Yuri’s smile remains suspended in the pale gravity of his face like the harbinger of an imminent, quiet cataclysm. His eyes seek out those of the young man with the guitar.
“It’s worse than that. Much worse.”
* * *
From the Trade Paperback edition.