Griot Quarantine
by Scott Gregory

SOLEDAD ROLLED OVER ON the soiled mattress he shared with Fullurans, fumbling to silence the Vance, scattered among wires, fasteners and switches on a makeshift plank nailed to the loft bunk. She was still out, busking, and he remembered something about a practice; even though the previous night’s smuggling for “f&f”, food and fuel, snaking thru private compounds and corporate franchises co-joined walls constricting the districts, pretty much wiped everyone out, and they were sleeping it off, exhausted. His toe hit the sensor grid and Fullurans detached face projected drifting like dust at the ceiling. They had first decided, in the cramped confines of their corrugated steel rental, to sleep in shifts, one dot among a vast shanty town on the grounds of a former school’s playing field. The band equipment ate up its interior and Vance's mirrors needed high points to project. If they’d both slept in concert, someone’s feet would’ve stuck outside the door.
“Oh, you look like shit!” Cleverly, Fullurans had begged off from the run, protesting she’s the most talented in the group, having a knack for reading crowds. Soledad, even though tinged with a jealousy she’d escaped the bands ratline smuggling operation, admired her proficiency with the Eigenharp despite a professional envy. Seven years of emergency with quarantine-contagion suited units of armed medical personnel controlling the flow of goods, persons, and suspected carriers had yielded a low outbreak occurrence, regardless of preparations for a full-scale campaign to basically just collect the dead had been drawn up on contingency. Hell, at least they weren’t under water with the coasts, the latest morbid ghetto stab at humor went.
“Thanks,” Soledad rasped back at Fullurans observation. If practice was on, he’d have to get a shot in his neck.
“Is practice happening, then?”
Fullurans smiled. “No, we gotta gig at the Love tonight, remember?”
“Really?” He hadn’t, and pulling himself upright, blood swam to his head and he cursed himself for not taking it slower, an injection now a reality rather than suspicion. If Fullurans saw any discomfort, she didn’t say, continuing.
“So, yeah, it’s at Lorena’s, for pick up, same time it always is.” Her face vanished.
Fuck, Soledad thought miserably. Better be a paying one. He hadn’t taken off his cams and Scag wear from the previous night, and stuffed his feet into painted slippers feeling grimy, but knew he didn’t have the Voss to wash up. Shoving away that unwelcome thought, he hopped up, heading out to the jaundiced cloud dump pressing its porous thumb down on the ghetto with a steady drizzle like a fat man relieving himself on the people far below. This constant low pressure system yielded the entire city into a chipped yellow paint not unlike a stained cigarette filter after smoke’s passage. Lorena’s was a damp cellar directly beneath a butcher’s horse slaughtering floor that stank with poor drainage systems responsible for occasional standing water mixed with blood, generating mild node electrocution in Soledad’s gloves preamp. It was cool in the heat though, which would make him break out in rashes from the increased radiation ensuing from an atmosphere’s absence. The heat also required constant hydration, and there was rain, but not potable. Fresh clean water was a luxury enjoyed by people on the outside while in the ghetto they used vaporization towers in the dry season and colanders and boiling for the soot of collected rain in the wet. It was in this latter weather Soledad and Fullurans would trudge to retrieve the bands kit at Lorena’s.
The boulevard itself, broad and once quite grand, dissected the ghetto from north to south and acted as a pumping heart for the exiled community. It dead-ended into one of the main gates garlanded by a barter and trade market packed with stalls, unfolded curbside blankets and hawkers with anything that could command a price. Meat packets, nutrition powders, pills, hardware, ball-bearings, scrap of all kinds, crammed together and competed for limited space. Buyers with hard currency which had to be earned on the outside were few and far between, so trade was the call sign and expectation. Billboards peeling with images of young women wearing enticing smiles to beckon, holding up for consumption the various flavors of Nurpin, the one “Prinatril” that tasted better and is twenty percent better than the other flavor in combatting any potential virus. Soledad and Orion pushed a shopping cart with the bands equipment wedged tightly inside down the wide avenue devoid of anything engine powered, leading an onlooker to believe the street was permanently closed, which in fact it wasn’t, fuel was just so scarce. Still, the residual respect for the street’s meaning of commercial utility stirred the ghetto inhabitants, preventing any active encroachments on the avenue itself. Love was off the main avenue, a den of iniquity ironically not fifty feet from the main Mosque. They turned the corner with the slow-moving cart hindered by one warped wheel and another with a nail embedded in its lining, dodging a man riding a donkey while flailing a switch at its backside, onto a deserted cobblestoned alley that tested the limits of the carts endurance. A wind tracer sign hung at the mid-alley point, shaped into a black heart that glowed and sizzled in raindrops weeping hot. This was popularly known as a Griot club. They’d spread like an invasive species across the ghetto’s breadth and to the outside world as well, venues that welcomed an angry music that pulled a crowd wiling to drink the alcoholic fizz concocted from vegetable peelings and pay extra for that pleasure, in contrast to typical ferment bars that operated on every corner of the ghetto. Soledad and Fullurans had played together in a prior group, “Arroyo”, and had started out at house parties, and then block-unit parties, and finally moving up to these specialized ferment bars, XOXO, The Dot, and Love. Their seductive compositions, insistent shuffle beats, symphonic gestures and throat node singing stylings served as the launching pad for this current project, receiving considerable attention in the ghetto rags and on outside streams both, though not a radical departure from Griot music in it of itself. Griot’s doctrine was of passion for passions sake, a defiance to the numbness that had descended from the psychological warfare the elites engaged in. This extended to the clothing, a typical marker of a webbing of fat grey stripes chain gang prison-like, almost cartoonish, and when worn on the outside could led to harassment by security forces or thugs. This same persecution gave the outside Scags a certain legitimacy, and thus they were  accepted though resented as posers by those inside. Soledad bullied the shopping cart to a halt beneath the crackling sign and exhaled a gasp at the effort. He ventured inside to see the preparations for that evening's set, leaving Fullurans to begin disentangling the jumbled kit bags. The manager came up and gestured towards the back wordlessly.
The riser was small, but hollowed out in back, big enough for Orion’s drums; a halved geodesic dome of metal wrapped in black hockey tape with an opening like a cockpit window in the front for the audience to watch. This was a marvel of engineering, and something the fans never tired of, though his was of the basic standard set for Griot. The toms in front were acoustic, on top was an electronic set, and cymbals floated in rings, all set for maximum resonance. All percussion was kept in place by a magnetic system built into the metal of the halved dome itself, enabling the drums to float in their metal cradles melded into  the dome. The system was so elemental that the entire thing hovered 17 inches off the ground, and mini compressed jets of gas would drive the set slowly around the room, steered by the heels of the drummer, the balls for the kick drum and high hat, of course the fuel to do this was not always available. This was for Orion, a recent arrival from the outside. His father had been targeted as a disseminator, murk racking social/political ties and then selling blackmail information to competitors of rival companies, all the while journaling for an underground sheet encrypted on those very same targets. Obvious to everyone, it got him marked as a threat, labeled a terrorist, quickly convicted and placed in solitary to prevent prison populace contamination. His family was relocated to the ghetto due to a colleague’s fact-finding mission to a virus source country, though they had had no contact with said individual. Orion was sad mostly, but brought a ferocity in the shuffle beat that it cast a spell on the crowd that acted as a common release, while Fullurans, (who wrote most of the material with Soledad back in their room) played Eigenharp but a smaller model then Soraya. Soraya worked the low end, piano, bass, moog, complimenting Orion perfectly. Fullurans dueled with Soledad. Her 'harp dove into sax, lead guitar, flute, slashing high end sub-audibles, all this in as a trapeze for Soledad, the final and most important element of the band.
The band was loose; Soraya began with a whoosh of gritty Theremin sounding like a churning volcano tactile over igneous rock before eruption. After a few bars of this, Orion launched into the shuffle beat so integral a foundation it acted as a signifier to the crowd to begin bobbing heads and unwinding their limbs in a semblance of crash dance, the generally accepted type of movement. Over the metal friction, Fullurans began a bass line on the top neck, "buh, b b, buh, Buh Buh Buh; buh bb buh.... The music’s thread was then picked up by Soraya, her harp shooting out thorny spikes of guitar like a cage being shattered into steel shards. Before each instrument as it began, Soledad threw a ball of laser at the feet of his accompanist, the color of the gas dependent on the mood of the instrument.
These moving kaleidoscopes of lasers were crafted in the fingers of his gloves and real time fifty times sized versions grew from foot switches at each players’ front. After these were placed, Soledad started whole notes in dry reverb and then expanded them into a chorus plate that literally planed over the audience’s head in tandem with a dissipating echo that bounced off the back wall and back into the listener’s ears. The band held this pattern for another sixteen bars, allowing Fullurans guitar figure to crackle into shreds, and then settle down into a shuddering afterburner type of sound like a flying aircraft carrier passing over head. She came forward to Soledad shoulder and their twinned voices began the bridge of "Cochise's dilemma":
Seven years of rain
attest Sun do restrain
Ooh la la l-l la la
How sweet the sound
Ooh la la l-l la la
This will be my home!
The house of flesh 'n' blood
As the verse hit four, Soledad switched with his glove to a coronet, singing the instrument with the embedded implant on his vocal node. Two beats in, as he served a pickup note for Fulluran who began matching the ascending progression, her Eigenharp pushing a tenor sax line. Soraya, in the pocket with the bass the entire time, began blowing violins on the harp’s reed, layering the line in staccato. This momentum builds, with the looped in flying aircraft carrier dovetailing at the four on Orion’s drums. the sound eclipsed the crowd, enveloping them in sound, some frenetic in crash dancing as the political undertones embedded in the lyrics meaning of the seven-year plan and the ghetto as the house of flesh and blood unmistakable in this, their most popular song and one they always enjoy playing. The entire band shifted down, the shuffle continuing its pace, until the high end is pianissimo and the drums are alone, and then a recall with Soledad and Soraya on sustained whole notes of bagpipes into diminishing descent. The band’s sound is often described as transcendent by the rags, a provocation of out of body experiences. There was a moment of silence as the members of the audience compressed back into themselves from this and then, in simultaneous recognition that the song was indeed over, they erupted.
Afterwards, the crowd sweaty and pleased, cathartic, the band tearing down equipment and packing up instruments, three outsider Scags approached the band. You could always tag them, these kids, their clothes were too clean, no patches or loose threads hanging off, a clear sign of the outside. They also were always, though they tried to hide it by doing nothing, excited to be there. Granted, stealing into the ghetto through some gap in the wall was something that jolted one’s adrenaline, but the relaxed numb like quality of ghetto Scags was something you acquired from years of confinement. Soledad barely looked up as he de-calibrated his data gloves, disengaging the wireless lights that hung on pressurized hydrogen emissions over the band and were preprogrammed to change lighting in accordance with mood swings of the music. The three beamed, hanging back enough not to intrude but close enough to show their need for his attention. Soledad ignored them, until he just couldn't stand the fawning any longer. He decided to play dumb. He looked at the obvious leader, as he was standing in front of the little cluster. Fuck these munchie posers, he thought bitterly.
"Hi, are you the paymaster?" He asked as bored as he could manage with a voice still traumatized from the show, sweat lines streaked his forehead in paths of dried salt.
The individual, wearing a Uni with a fat racing stripe down its center, very mod, flushed in embarrassment. "No, no." He looked over at his friends to include them as co-conspirators. "We’re organizers of a festival, and we're big fans. The show was," he rolled his eyes, momentarily at a loss for words, "incredible." The others bobbed their heads, murmuring in assent like a troupe of souvenir bobbly heads on springs.
"Thanks." Soledad said, and when he didn't say anything else, he could sense their discomfort grow. Don't make it easy on them, he thought. Just before he turned back to his packing, he noticed Fullurans was about finished and the lead one spoke again.
"We want you to be our headliner."
Soledad stopped what he was doing, slid his hands into his back pockets. "Where and what?"
"Near victory plaza, but in the old town part, a festival we’re putting on."
Soledad thought fast. That was on the outside, on the other side of town, a lot of open ground to traverse. He’d also heard about the festival. Everyone had back in the zone, but dismissed it as a co-opted cash grab by munchies, which, of course, it was.
"No, too dangerous." He said simply.
The leader looked pained, like he'd been punched in the stomach.
"What if we said we could get you in and out without any trouble?"
Soledad straightened and considered the face of the lone woman among the group, a blonde with striking green eyes.
"I'm listening," he replied. By now Orion was stacking his drum tubes of Nano metal into his equipment bags, zipping them up. Soraya had already left, but Fullurans was eyeing the exchange curiously, amused by his disdain.
"We have a foolproof way," answered the Uni-wearer resolutely.
Soledad scratched his chin. "How much?"
The money was good, too good to refuse, and the date was right around the corner, (that Saturday), and with the repeated assurances from Sterling, the organizers mouthpiece, to succor, it seemed to be worth the chance. Unfortunately, the method of disguise was plain, assuming another bands name, a griot munchie band from the outside, and even borrowing their machine, (they were playing but had scavenged other transport) and even provided some matching clothes; that completed the mod look of the imposter band. Their equipment had been taken out piecemeal over the course of the week and after they stole through the sewer conduit Soledad favored for his smuggling runs, avoiding the med squads tightly patrolling the Ghetto perimeter, it waited at its end. The plan was to roll through town like any other Scag poser bunch of kids in the wee hours of the morning. Most of the Griot concerts on the outside were in local venues and out in the open, and so long as property owners didn’t complain, the government sought to not lend any credence to the community by recognizing it as a threat but just a bunch of spoiled brats letting off steam. The ghetto was the same, each neighborhood ran a local constabulary, thus enforcement took its cue from the outside, allowing the Scags unfettered movement, only clamping down when noise complaints required action. In a nod to a contrasting subversion, the festival location was traditionally kept an open secret, if it hadn't been Soledad wouldn't have committed, playing to Scag munchies had never been done before and the rest of the band was already skittish about the entire thing.
Sterling sidled up from a solar Econoline chassis with the stand-in band’s stenciled name spray painted in gray letters on either side, handing out disguises of wigs, large glasses, clothes to cover their obvious ethnicity and penury. Some of the more Glam ghetto outfits promenaded in similarly gaily painted carriages which the expense Soledad frowned at; much to Fullurans and Soraya’s chagrin.They were certainly pleased with this ride today, though
After passing through the salubrious streets of the city center to Victory plaza, the solar descended to a foreboding industrial landscape of pitted streets and nondescript loading docks. It slid into the back of an enormous empty warehouse, riding up to the raised stage at its opposite end. By now it was fully dawn, and it had been an easy feat to evade the smattering of tar-powered road trains that navigated to distribution centers from the high plains. Word had spread fast, and kids were out conspicuously walking (or had spent the night nearby) in or around this industrial district to get in early to what was the eleventh Vox Publica festival. The stage was huge, and the various crews as overly-enthusiastic to work with them as the initial group of organizers back at "Love" had been. A small coterie of roadies threw open the solar’s back doors, leaping at the equipment cases like starving predators, Fullurans and Soraya protectively shielding their harp cases before anyone laid hands on them. Orion was happy for the help, allowing them to take the bulk of the geodesic drum set off the carriage’s roof, wandering after them with his pouch of sticks slung securely on his back and enjoying the rock star glamour. Soledad grabbed his kit bags, staring at the vast empty space yawning in front of him as Mathias, the eager lead soundboard engineer, came up to introduce himself.
Without preamble, Soledad unzipped one of his bags, pulling out one of the robot stage lights and held it gingerly up. "Are you going to be wanting these?"
He was glad when Mathias didn't scoff at his cheap solid state, just shook his head."Not unless you want ‘em; everything can be uploaded to the board, it’s over there if you want to patch.” He nodded over to the sequined tortoiseshell squatting inelegantly in the floor’s middle. “Our concert cans’ll provide better coverage."
He wandered towards the shell, Soledad following him, both halting at the gaudy structure. Soledad peered inside in fascination at its cockpit’s wrap around control decks, surrounding flip buttons and dial oscilloscopes. He’d never seen one before and must have gaped because Mathias grinned. “It lifts above the crowd in vertical lift-off and has free motion anywhere.”
“What protocols is it using? I’m using sub-2’s.” Soledad admitted, instantly embarrassed.
Mathias frowned down at the pit. "R-4's. Going to have to jury rig something, but pretty sure I can get it."
Soledad gradually realized how far out of generation all the band’s stuff was. "Sorry." He mumbled, pulling out the rest of the vectors.
"It's okay," Mathias said, not having to remark why this was a foreseeable problem. Both knew the government had a tight clamp on any tech getting into the ghetto and this should have been expected. Consequently, the rest of the afternoon went into this delicate marriage with various bands members queuing up response units to board parameters while enjoying a buffet of real food laid out in their honor. They had to be careful not to gorge themselves or they'd be sick, their bowels not used to the difference. The other bands on the bill had come on by now, flocking like fans or studiously ignoring them. Their sound check was everyone’s template, though one group loudly complained levels were not to their specs. The other musicians didn't share one uniform but wore a mishmash of stylish clothing, ranging in mod to bohemian, glittery solar plastique matte suits configuring and reconfiguring themselves into different colorful designs like kaleidoscoped mitochondria escaping cell walls, Uni's, coveralls and finally the T's in the fat prison stripes so ubiquitous in the Griot scene. Some of them displayed the trendy scarification on their cheeks that had become so popular among the more fashion plate set.
All this reeked of wealth to Soledad and his bandmates, alienating yet alluring; every bit of Voss that most ghetto bands pulled in was reinvested into equipment, stolen or retro-engineered in small shops shoehorned into stalls, brick and mortar and dwellings to power from shell batteries made therein. Clothing was also all homemade using dyes from effluvia, ground pigments, and flowering plants, though the glam bands haute couture was quite creative. For this delineation, many of the outsider Scags, the "Munchies", stared at them like they were some lost magical tribe.
Here were representatives of the originators of Griot and a sense of awe pervaded these usually indifferent artists so preoccupied with status within their larger orbits. There was a lounge area behind the stage where musicians were largely left to themselves, huddling in their own respective groups. Occasional brave souls would venture over to them and ask for a "personal", a holo salutation to family, friends, or whoever the recipient wanted to impress. An earnest scribe from "Modal", practically begging for an interview on the over large couch, asked informed questions about their music, lives and influences.
Soraya and Fullurans fielded much of these in their excruciating sunny demeanors while Soledad remained sullen, distant, intense and Orion predictably disorientated by the whole affair. Though she was blonde, all teeth and mutant strain blue eyes in contrast to their olive complexions, he was pleasantly surprised about how much information she’d amassed at her fingertips, and was secretly flattered by the studiousness, but loathe to display it. The softball questions rolled slowly in for some time until a handler appeared and hustled her off to allow the band time to de-compress before performance.
The first two groups were a collective that shared members and duly warmed up the crowd with a few crash pits taking form. An MC came out between, alluded glibly to politics, talked up the bands and laid down some ground rules for safe behavior. The next three bands were gradually increasing the pitch of the concert, the lights gone, taken over by a new sophisticated arrangement called “Flower Flash” which intimidated Soledad’s sense of the band’s equivalent. Mathias assured him that he would boost their signal around the room, compensating for the older system, and adapt some tech into a Flower Flash generic copy. There was a consensus that the bigger bands were trying to blow each other, and them by virtue, off the stage, simply because all set times had been shortened to allow for their lengthy set. The final band had rung, timbre's diminishing above the head of the crowd and lights slowly rose, the MC bounding out with a megawatt smile playing on his lips.
The organizers had created an alias for obvious security reasons, but they were the real reason for the over-capacity.
"How about the Grandstream? Now, who all you've kiddies have come out for, no one needs to be shy." He yelled out their true name, not the surrogate, and the frenzied crowd boomed like a tsunami breaking onto a mountain. Backlit, the band began a slack key guitar rumbling like a cartoon locomotive bouncing down the track "Let it in," and to their surprise, the crowd sang the eventual chorus. This was as affective a party anthem as anything in the Griot canon. Mathias was good as his word with the light show, wobbling oscillating lasers surfaced in corners of the space, and then moving like spectral geometry thru the crash dancing throng, symbiotically reflecting the flailing limbs. The quality, the band’s sound and fury, was head and shoulders above their predecessors, and the reality of their existence in ghetto confinement stamped them as Griot’s true essence. The crowd response approached an ecstasy at this communal realization. The speculation to their legitimacy was now ratified, satisfying a real yearning and not an imagined pose for fashion or to achieve social identity outside the norm. There was revolution and there was rebellion, and Soledad and his band of like-minded compatriots were the former’s embodiment. Their set unraveled in a continual symphonic hum, saving "Cochise's Dilemma" for the finale and at its last punctuation there arose a stomping and yelling that didn’t subside for a full ten minutes with house lights on. Finally, the MC came out to announce they were off-premises, not untrue as they’d been swiftly packed back into their false identities and cruising the darkened streets to slip back past surveillance and Med units to the ghetto through a different sewer culvert leading to the bottom of a scavenge shop of an owner Orion knew who was willing to help this one and only time, (it was prudent to mix-up routes). They managed to wrangle their equipment back to Fullurans and Soledad’s barrio where Soraya and Orion left the two to pass out, Soledad drooling into his thin pillow exhausted, his feet sticking out the shack’s front.
The next few days saw a happy return to routine, even the boring aspect of daily survival was welcome; haggling over freeze-dried food, De-Sal water, and the tinkering with new found electronic toys. Fullurans lined up a birthday party gig for a friend of Soraya's while Orion got a lead on Hadrian cymbals. Nonetheless, the next month’s beginning brought a child courier clad in Griot rags to Soledad’s flat with Mathias’s request for a meeting, surprising him. It was to be at the same culvert they frequented to the outside.
Soledad had been eager to chalk up the whole experience, his nerves had been taut the whole time, only telling Fullurans about it so as not to create any contrary impressions of his unflappability among his bandmates.
Thinking it was another gig, he slipped out at dusk to the scavenge shop where the displeased owner was impatiently waiting, taking him to the back storeroom where the sewer grate was pulled back for him to descend into the culvert. After an unsettlingly dark passage, he saw its end framing Matthias furtively waving something flashing, a holo, smiling.
“Glad you made it, I was worried. If anyone asks, your name is Lucan." he handed him a cloak for thermal sensors with an identity chip on its top. Soledad thought fast about how his image could have been taken, then remembered the interview, a grab most have been taken while they were talking, making him feel uncomfortable.
"How did you get this?" He glanced down at the chip. Mathias gave him a blank look, uncomprehending, so Soledad emphatically nodded in its direction.
"Trust me, you’ll need it." He replied slowly, turning to follow the winding culvert beneath the Ghetto’s border now. No solar conveyance was waiting for them under the bridge this time, and without a word, Mathias climbed up to the avenue, Soledad scrambling behind, dropping the cloak at the bridge’s berm. People were out, strolling, alighting from some of the many eateries, an outdoor cafe hosting a party burbled voices. They came to a busy intersection and took an immediate right up a steep, narrow, twisting street, finally arriving at a black gate gracefully adorned with lush magnolia snaking around its top like its crown, a pink stucco tower set far back from its entrance. The courtyard grounds inside were equally well-manicured, and they took a lift to the ninth floor where thumping music could be heard. The elevator’s door opened upon a scene of debauchery, a group crash dancing in one corner, an open bar along the kitchen island that ran the length of the apartment, and overstuffed wine-colored couches nestled in between. He recognized several of the people from the show a month ago, and when he was seen, the music was turned down, and all turned to face him.
Matthias proudly regarded them with an expression of "look what I found", indicting Soledad, and then addressing the partygoers. "I want to thank everyone here for all their hard work putting together the package this past month, and wanted to give our honored guest this ..." He pulled out a gold medallion holo. "... talisman for a million packages sold." He ceremoniously handed it to Soledad, who momentarily felt a wave of dizziness overcome him.
"I think I need to sit down," he acknowledged and everyone laughed thinking it was a joke. He hung on gamely, weaving a bit.
"Thank you everyone, for this, though I'm unsure how this all came together." Laughter washed over him, "Thank you all,” he managed. He hoped they’d settle for a lame attempt of indebtedness, which to his relief they did when it was apparent he was not going to continue and resumed their own conversations.
Matthias took his arm. "I have, something else for you as well." He led Soledad to a back room, a study of sorts, with concert images of contorting Griot musicians in moments of climatic epiphany. An enormous desk dominated the west side wall, studded with tech, and a small container was placed at its center.
"I wanted to give you this, but not in front of the others. You’re going to have to be discreet with it when you get back inside." He placed it on Soledad's palm and the holo lifted, bearing an imprint of eighty-five thousand credit Voss.
Soledad took a step back. "The package was the concert?"
Matthias nodded. "Right off the board, distributed underground, and it was so big it got legit backing by one of the main causeways, snapped it up, went all the way to the gold talisman.
"What’s the money from?" His voice lifted at the question’s end, revealing his shock.
Mathias, taken aback, quickly regained composure. "This is your fee, the show. Your verbal was the contract, remember?"
Soledad remembered agreeing but it was the same as any other date. If you’re lucky, get a percentage of the door or get fed, libations, sex, whatever. Receiving a straight fee was a foreign concept to him. He noticed it didn't need to be drawn against an account. Mathias watched him examine the imprint.
"Also, you get a piece of the merc, you deserve it."
"There was merc?" Soledad asked, stunned visibly. The band had done some handmade stuff before, but nothing else.
"Yeah, clothes, stickers, jewelry, anything with your name on it or image, you get a licensing fee." Mathias said this casually, Soledad feigning understanding while simultaneously unnerved. "And your concert: 'cause you guys didn't sign, the labels gave it away as a free point of purchase for the rest of their catalog and saw a 300 percent jump, people just buying their back stock to get your set. We negotiated a residual royalty, so you get a piece of that, too. the government can’t ignore Griot now." He concluded this triumphantly, exuding confidence.
No wonder they’re happy, Soledad thought, they're getting rich. Mathias read his silence as a validation.
"There's no laws against freedom of expression for people in quarantine, so the government hasn't cracked down, yet." He smiled ruefully as he produced a griot shirt, factory torn and pre-washed to appear Scag appropriate, with a band photo appended to the back and across them "unauthorized" stamped in military block letters. Above their portrait was a "free" in mock red spray paint dripping wet.
Soledad's eyes went agog as an unease descended, turning abruptly on Mathias.
"They may after this! What the hell?" He demanded, but Mathias had anticipated him and, with an intense expression, rooted him to the spot.
"It's the next step. I know it might come as a surprise, but you're the face of the revolution, people are questioning the quarantine, all because of you."
Soledad bubbled in a swelter of conflicting emotions. He'd always wanted recognition, but this was happening too fast, and he never thought they'd become a phenomenon on the outside because simply no one had ever gotten out to play before. Also, an abiding fear of having a target painted on one's back, something the anonymity of the ghetto prevented, was a constant reality on the outside. He went mute, unable to fully believe.
Matthias gave him a light pat on the back. “It will be all right.” This was his cue to return to the party, which continued with frequent well-wishers approaching him in awe, telling him how important he was. Mathias never left his side, he was a personal property to be protected, to bask in its glow.
Upon returning to the ghetto, the news broke and suddenly Soledad, Fullurans, Orion, and Soraya had all these new friends. There was also an envy to deal with which required a certain humble finesse. One of the first things Soledad did was to organize and throw a three-day party for the entire scene at the My Responsibility, the best ferment bar in the ghetto.
This cycle of debauchery was impressive, even by the standards of the admittedly jaded locals; a celebration for the community that had bred them in its soil to sprout above its walls to the outside the effects of the conviviality.
Soraya, the most stalwart hostess among them, was ever-present, fortunately for the others, welcoming new-comers and bidding goodbye to those departing. The band’s generous homage softened the expected jealousy inherent in their brand-new celebrity, making them conversely heroes of the ghetto Griot scene.
One of the unfortunate aspects of this recognition was an unprecedented counterfeiting of their work, which, based on the principle alone, made Soledad furious. He frequently indulged in public shaming and outright vigilantism against those individuals who profited without recompense on the sweat of their labors. After gladly paying a hefty bar tab it took the owners two weeks to fully tabulate, Fullurans and Soledad were heading back to their shack, carefully skirting plastic blankets in perpetual display of scavenged odds 'n’ ends, while ducking in and out of the blue green tarps that covered them from the perpetual humid rain.
"Too bad Equate didn't play, it would have been surreal," her voice forlorn. Equate was an upcoming act they both enjoyed but had an unfortunate previous engagement.
Soledad merely nodded, eyes darting at the various merchandise thrown out on the sidewalk. "You’re not still looking for counterfeits?" She asked astounded, barely able to disguise borderline aggravation.
Soledad paused in mid-stride and shot her a murderous look. "Just because you don’t care doesn't stop it from being wrong." He replied defensively, still casting a glower across the multitude of desperate commerce they waded through like a sewer washing up around their ankles.
"I can't believe you just can't let it ..." But she was cut off as Soledad halted in his tracks, riveted to a narrow forsaken alley directly off the avenue.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a dwarfish woman, and even from where she was standing recognized the stacks of glossies arranged on a burlap sack cloth. They were repos of them counterfeited with signatures and everything. Soraya had found one scalper with bootleg 'vances of their concerts, hawking them brazenly on the main boulevard.
Soledad marched over to investigate, Fullurans watching his back recede, blocking her view. She could tell he was incensed.
“What the fuck is this!” She heard him shout, reaching down to pick up something off the burlap. she thought wearily, “When will this crusade stop?”
Soledad turned over a Vance with the holo-flashing “The triangle chart,” a new single they’d just wrapped. The dwarfish woman leaned towards him as if to innocently inspect the product in question while simultaneously raising an open palm with white powder piled at its center which she blew it into his face with one big puff. Soledad staggered back immediately stung, a burning sensation like drills applied to his eyes, causing him to cry in pain. The woman curled up into herself, disappearing into a nearby door that opened just as she turned to face it. He swooned and fell with a crack of his skull on the cobblestone, a circle of blood trickling out from beneath. Fullurans saw him fall and ran, finding the dwarf gone and her abandoned goods on the burlap cloth. Soledad’s face was bathed in sweat. She flipped his prison grey shirt over and dabbed his face with its griot stripes, and then ran to the boulevard to flag a cart down to get him back home while urgently calling the band.
They managed to get him to the Ghetto’s best clinic for the most stable treatment possible, but even with a flood of well-wishers and a popular movement growing around him every day, nothing could stop a martyr’s death. The government announced a new effort to combat the virus by tightening the quarantine which had taken out one of the leading lights of a generation.
A backlash from the Griot community of their unproven complicity demanded its lifting. Fortunately for the government, a violent windstorm wreaked havoc on the grid and a subsequent breach of the seawalls which destroyed several low-lying neighborhoods with an estimated damage of ten billion Voss. After the cleanup and given assurances of action, the political reverberations settled. Quietly, the government reinforced med squads with quick reaction teams to the gates of the ghetto, their presence largely unnoticed by the citizenry, and instituted building code regulations for the ghetto’s ferment bars, promptly closing those venues that held Griot shows. in the outsider Griot scene, a band emerged with Mathias fronting with a more watered down version of Soledad’s music, and successfully filled the void his death had created. He capitalized on his acquaintance with Soledad, transmogrified into a close friendship, granting him as Soledad’s natural successor, carrying the torch to quickly eclipse his "mentor." The Ghetto griot music community was subsumed as a mere satellite of the larger movement, consigned to irrelevance as the “munchies” music and artists now attracted media attention, many becoming rich and respectable. 🔺

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