A Word of Caution

Welcome to the realm of the Unseelie Court. Feel free to wander and browse, but know that the content you will find here is not for the faint of heart. The visions portrayed are often darkly erotic, even disturbing, and should be traversed only by those with the appropriate character and mental age.

You have been warned.

 Chapters

Rhythm

Chapter 6 – Asada on the Brain

Ethan knocked on the door and waited. In one hand he held a plastic grocery bag with two large styrofoam containers and a couple of smaller ones, and in the other a school backpack. A few moments later, the door swung open and Shara greeted him with a warm smile.

“Come on up!” She exclaimed, excitedly. “You have to see what I found out… It’ll blow your sock off.” With that, she turned and started up the stairs, leaving Ethan still standing at the door. “Don’t be shy, and bring the food. We’ll eat in my room.”

Stepping inside, he kicked the door closed with his foot and watched the girl until she stopped at a landing.

“Relax. My folks are out for the night. They won’t be back until tomorrow afternoon, earliest.”

His hesitation wasn’t entirely regarding parental supervision, however, and had a lot more to do with the girl’s state of dress. She was barefoot, wearing a blue bathrobe that seemed just a tad too big for her. The result looked very comfortable, but was perhaps a bit more casual than he had come to expect. After all, he rarely saw her out of the various outfits she wore to school, which were usually quite formal in a rebellious victorian sort of way. Of course, he had seen her in little more than a short skirt just that afternoon, so the comparison was a bit moot.

She looked down at herself and then grinned. “I took a shower when I got home. I was a little whiff after… well. I started into the files while I dried, and I guess I got so distracted that I sort of lost track of time. Come on then.” She urged, and continued up out of view. He followed her, taking note of the various family photos that decorated the stairwell.

Shara’s room was at the end of the hall, and was certainly worth a pause upon entry. Aside from a few pink Hello Kitty items on a shelf near the window, there was very little in the room that would indicate a girl actually slept there. An elaborate computer setup on a massive wooden desk occupied one whole wall of the space, with three monitors, several workstations, a laptop, and an indeterminate number of other computers in various states of disassembly. The wall next to her bed was a built-in bookshelf, which was filled to overflowing with all manner of topics, and though most were technical in nature, he did spy a collection of manga he recognized.

The rest of the open-ceiling room was decorated as an anachronism. There were giant magnifying glasses, and leather bound lamps, brass gears, and cloth-covered wire. It was as though he had stepped into a area that was half victorian era science lab, and half NASA space command. It was amazing, and a little overwhelming.

“Wow.” He said, still standing in the doorway.

She laughed softly and took the food from him. “Yeah, it takes a bit of getting used to.” She replied, knowingly.

“And here I thought you just dressed steampunk…”

Shara extended a dark wooden table from a hidden recess in her desk, and set the containers of food out. She sat in an odd looking brass and leather desk chair, and Ethan pulled up what appeared to be an old wooden cable spool with a cushion on top.

“Oh good, you got the green and red salsa… I forgot to mention it.”

“I asked for limes as well. In the little bag…”

“Ooo! That will go great with my carne asada. So,” she started, as they each began to eat, “you ready to hear what I found out?”

“Lay it on me,” he replied, then took a big bite from his burrito.

“Okay, first of all, I was right about there being way more here than just music. I took the files and ran them through a signal processor, separating out various frequencies and repeating modulations. I suspected that there could be all sorts of complex multiphase layering going on, and oh boy! I wasn’t disappointed.”

Ethan had stopped, mid-bite. Now he just started at the girl.

“Want to try that again, in basic high school english, please.” He said after he had cleared his mouth. “You lost me after ‘more than music’…”

She made a slightly embarrassed grimace. “Sorry. I tend to go all geeky when I’m excited about something. Alright, all you really need to know is that this isn’t just erotic sounding music. There’s way more going on.”

“More how?”

She paused, scrunching up her mouth in a cute way. “You said not to get too technical…”

“Okay, a little technical. Stick to short words if possible.”

After another bite of food, she tried again. “It’s sort of like it’s layered. At the top, there’s the music itself, that dance techno stuff with the heavy bass beat. It’s the sound that we notice.

“Then below that is another layer of deep, almost monotonous melodies that switch back and forth from ear to ear, playing on certain special stereo qualities called, binaural beats. Uh, think of it like a melody line that is tuned to the frequency of your brain.”

“Really? Okay, go on.” He said, waiting while she took another few bites of her meal.

“So then below that is another layer, tuned to another part of your brain, and using a different frequency. In all, there were four distinct ‘control’ layers other than the music, and one final layer that I’m calling a data carrier. It’s that last one that is the most interesting. Contained in that last level are patterns specific to certain conditions in the brain, including sexual arousal, but other stuff as well. This music creates an almost hypnotic condition, then inserts that last pattern in a way the listener can’t resist. It’s like directly hacking your mind and inserting a template to get you to do or feel something.”

Ethan looked worried. “That sounds… dangerous.”

Shara tilted her head back and forth. “Yes and no, but I need to walk you through the playback of the music to really understand how this works. Don’t worry, I’m not playing anything through my speakers, I’m just looking at waveforms on my computer screen. In fact, I disabled my audio to be absolutely sure I didn’t accidentally hear something. Look at this…”

She turned in her seat so that she was partially facing one of her computer monitors. Ethan didn’t really understand what he was seeing, but he recognized the spiky line of an audio file. There were several more lines below it on the screen, which he assumed were the ‘layers’ Shara was talking about. She pointed to a point along the top line.

“For the first thirty seconds, the music is very subtly shifting and changing so that the listener’s brainwaves are gradually brought into exact synchronicity.”

“It can alter your brainwaves?”

“Oh sure, but that’s no big deal. All music can do that. Music can make us feel sad, excited, angry, annoyed… you name it. And the pace of the music naturally puts a rhythm into our head. We find ourselves unconsciously tapping to the beat of a song, or bobbing our head. We fall into sync, you know?”

He nodded. “Okay, and that’s what this is doing?”

“Exactly, but at a much finer level. It’s not just putting a beat into our head, it literally changes the underlying brainwave patterns to match that of the music.”

“Why?”

She pointed to another spiky line further down. “Once the listener is in sync, they become susceptible to the carrier signal. I wasn’t sure what this was at first, but on a hunch, I searched the net for examples of different mental states… Ethan, this stuff at the very bottom, they’re brainwaves… literally. This music is inserting brainwave patterns into the listener, that’s why it works so well.”

He mulled this over while he ate. “But that… that would be like brainwashing, wouldn’t it?”

“Like it, sure, but this is actually a lot worse. This stuff would be practically impossible to resist. Once you’re in sync and open to new patterns, they could insert anything in there they wanted, and you wouldn’t even know until it was too late!”

“Couldn’t you just stop listening?”

She hesitated. “Maybe, but I’m not so sure. Once you’re in sync with the music the addictive conditioning kicks in, as well as the… distractions of arousal. Something else happens at the two minute mark. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I suspect that it could be nearly impossible to stop on your own beyond that point. The brainwave patterns just seem to repeat and reinforce themselves after that.”

“So, earlier, when you listened to the music, did it… damage you?”

She took a deep breath. “I don’t believe so. You said I passed out and was unresponsive for about five minutes, then you splashed some water on me and I woke up, right?”

He nodded.

“I looked at the last part of the control pattern and I found a brainwave signature that matched what is basically found in someone who is unconscious. By listening to the music, my brain was set up so that when I had an orgasm the last part of the control pattern would initiate and I would be knocked out. How long I would have stayed like that without an external stimulus is unknown, but most people stay unconscious for few minute to several hours. The sexual arousal was mostly gone when I awoke, so I assume that as long as the music is no longer playing, the effects should fade fairly quickly. But there’s something else…”

“This just gets better and better.”

“We’re not that lucky. When I saw that last pattern for unconsciousness, I got curious about that other file on the flash drive. At first I thought it was just a copy, and most of it was… save for that last bit. Ethan, the final brain pattern matches someone who is going into autonomic shutdown.”

“Is that bad?”

“The autonomic nervous system is the part of your brain that controls breathing and the various functions of your vital organs like the liver, kidneys, even your heart rate. Listening to this other file would almost certainly have a singular result after orgasm… Death. This music can kill you, Ethan. Where the hell did this thing come from?!”

“I told you, it was just sitting in my passenger seat when I got out of work. Do you think someone was trying to kill me with it?”

She chewed her lip, thinking. “If they were, they sure wanted you to jump through a whole lot of hoops to do so. It was encrypted, remember?”

“With the key on the same drive… Why not just give it to me unencrypted?”

“And why the other file, the one for unconsciousness? No, that doesn’t make sense. But I’ll tell you what, this technology would be a great way to assassinate someone. It’s a big file in this raw form, but I bet you could convert it to a compacted lossless version that would still have the same results. Slip a certain song onto a target’s iPod and just wait for them to listen to it. It would look like they had a heart attack during sex.”

“Damn…”

“And that’s not all you could do with it. The control layer can be any pattern. You could record a person in complacent acceptance and send it out to the general public. Record the pattern of a Republican and distribute the file to Democrats right before an election. Fuck, you could insert psychosis or dementia, memory loss…”

Ethan reached out and took Shara’s hand, calming her. “Okay, okay… I get it.”

“This is uber scary shit, Ethan. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to exist.”

He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “So, what do we do with it, take it to the police?”

“Oh hell no! We need to keep this as far from any government office as possible.”

“But, wouldn’t they be able to help?”

“Think about it… There isn’t a government on Earth that wouldn’t kill to have this technology. The police aren’t going to believe you, but they would almost certainly tip off the people who do. Someone made this…” She pointed to the screen. “Someone who is a frickin’ genius with audio took the time and put this monstrosity together, so somebody out there knows what it is and what it means if it’s released to public knowledge. So I ask you again, do you have any idea where it might have come from?”

“I swear, Shara, I really don’t. I just noticed it sitting in my car seat when I was on my way home from work today.”

“Did anything strange happen while you were at the mall? Odd people?”

“Oh fuck…” he replied, remembering. “There was a jumper.”

“A jumper? As in someone who commits suicide by jumping off a bridge or whatever?”

He rolled his head back. “Shit, I totally forgot about it, what with you coming over and… and… uh…”

“Losing your virginity?” She quipped, smiling.

“Yeah. Everything else sorta slipped out of my mind after that.”

She just grinned knowingly at him for a moment. “Alright, we can forgive you being… distracted, this time. So… there was a suicide?”

“At least that’s what Lenny told me. He’s a friend, a security guard there.” He added, when she shook her head in confusion. “But there were more than the usual police. The place was crawling with DEA agents, but they were weird.”

“DEA? I suppose you might classify this thing as a drug. It certainly has some of the same properties. But… I don’t know. It doesn’t really seem to fit.”

“Well these DEA agents didn’t fit the profile either. All in suits, and well armed. Expensive stuff. Lenny seemed to think they were looking for something… Something they hadn’t found yet.”

They both turned to Shara’s computer, and the little black flash drive sticking from the side of a USB port.

“I think maybe you found it, Ethan…”

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