Somewhere Out There
(You're falling back to me
The star that I can see
I know you're out there, somewhere out there)
There are ten thousand Stars on the planet, and David's in love with one of them.
He doesn't just mean he loves a Star in the sense of a rock star, pop star, movie star, in the sense of a human icon of vidscreen and bioprint that's idolized by millions of inhabitants on teeming Earth and its brave new worlds, the terraformed flagship outposts of the solar system.
He does actually mean a Star that's one of the multitude of bodies strung out and glowing red and orange in the night sky, because that's the Star's home now.
If he looks out of his bedroom window at night, he can see the Star, his Star. Brighter than the others, floating in the vastness of space, a capsule satellite of high-tech perpetual polymers and electrons. He fancies the Star's looking down at him, watching him.
He knows it's ridiculous to think the Star might feel lonely and lost and out of place, when the Star now is kind of more than human and has everything it could possibly desire: fame and fortune, millions of fans, every view and experience and pleasure in the known universe at the touch of a simulator. The dizzying black pistes of Courchevel in France, the delights of Puccini and original oratory of modern and ancient Rome, the roar of Manchester United fans at Wembley Stadium in London, flights over the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the spectacular desert landscapes of Mars, the taste of coffees and Coors and cask-aged cognac.
He watches the Star enjoy these things every day, together with the millions of the Star's fans. He sees what the Star sees, hears what the Star hears, feels what the Star feels. When the feed cuts, he fancies the Star's dreams make their way into his.
When the Star is happy, the Star makes his music: sings in a voice like the hot solar wind, plays his vidguitar like a supernova. The ratings of the Star's feed are one of the highest on the 19 Network.
He's watched the Star's feed every night in the year since the Star was launched into space and onto the ether, jacked into every vidscreen in every home.
There are a thousand networks in all the worlds, and ten thousand Stars, but there's only one he loves.
The Star hadn't always been a Star, of course. Once upon a time, before talent agents and competition and tests for compatibility with the worlds-wide neural network, the Star was a boy named Dave Cook.
Dave had travelled from his home town in the fair country state of Oklahoma to the big City; he was a small town boy, same as David.
David hailed from Utah, where there were wide open fields and mountains and nobody played the piano like they did here in the City. David's father had sent him to university in the City. Many kids chose to study remotely, jacking into instructionalvids on the ether and then getting a degree after the requisite amount of credits were obtained. David's music teacher, however, had felt that the right way to get a music degree was to learn in-person and watch concerts and get a real up-close and personal experience of the way music was played and how it ought to be played.
So here was David, a scholarship boy in the big City, hopefully with an accompanist position in an in-person orchestra at the end of his degree, or a job with one of the City music conglomerates like Sonycorp that made music instructionalvids and sold real and virtual music instruments for people who wanted to play in-person or on the ether.
At first the rows and rows of megamalls and residentiablocks scared him - everything was so different from the country. There was serious population overcrowding in the overbuilt City, everyone living cheek by jowl in tiny apartments which they were loath to leave, and pushed and shoved each other on the sidewalks when they did venture outside.
After a year in the City, David learned to cope with both the crowds and the isolation. His classmates and neighbors preferred to message each other than chat in-person, even though they lived a scant few feet from each other, chose to jack into entertainment feeds for sport and music and scenes from another country rather than play a game or watch a concert or travel. Given a choice, people seemed to prefer to work as well as study from home. David thought it was a little depressing how you could go for weeks without leaving your apartment and not experience simple human contact.
David took an evening job at a coffee shop at a corner of the university, one of the old-fashioned stores like they had back home in Utah where they ground coffee in machines and sold freshly-baked goods. In-home food synthesizers were still prohibitively expensive, so people needed to either come get their coffee or have it delivered, but David's boss would occasionally remark how it would be a matter of time before Starbuckscorp sewed up some deal with the new food dispensing tech conglomerates to deliver coffee into every home and put them out of a job.
Unlike David, Dave Cook had come to town to become a Star.
He'd started out playing in an in-person band in Tulsa, where he'd been scouted by a City agent. "The new season of 'Search for a Star' is starting in the City," the scout had told him, "and I think you could be the new breakout artist. So you should get your butt over there to that big City and try out, y'know?"
So Dave had done as advised, packed up his white guitar that had "A.C." carved on its side and a satchel full of t-shirts, and with a head full of red-purple hair and pointy-toed boots on his feet, he showed up at the coffee shop one evening.
"New in town, need a place to crash," he'd announced cheerfully.
David had looked suspiciously at him, but despite the purple hair and questionable baggage he'd smelled clean enough (smelled rather nice, actually), and he'd obviously been able to afford the extra grande latte with whipped cream, so he wasn't destitute.
"You might wanna come talk to my landlord?" David had suggested; the rent was low, the rooms were small and populated by student types, so he figured even an out-of-towner with pointy boots would be able to afford it.
"Awesome, how can I ever repay you," Dave had said, grinning the grin that would later make millions of fans swoon and squeal and vote for him, which was how Dave ended up living in a tiny apartment across the hall from David on the eighty-fifth story of their residentiablock 116 on Fifty-Second and Park.
David couldn't figure out how it was that he ended up feeding Dave dinners, leftovers from the store sometimes, or if there weren't any, he'd cook. After dinner, Dave would bring his guitar over and play for David and David would forget about getting online or watching vids or someone's feed (Discoverytravel was his favourite channel) and listen raptly to the in-person music in his small living room: artists he'd never heard before, U2 and Chuck Berry and Our Lady Peace and Kingston Rossdale, whom Dave said were awesome, and, listening to Dave's amazing, evocative singing, David had to agree.
He discovered Dave liked to experience things in-person as well.
One night Dave showed up at the coffee shop, and David had ended up playing him some Chopin on the nice old-fashioned piano in the back of the shop. By this time David had already played for Dave on many occasions, on the crappy little keyboard in David's apartment as well as the vidkeys online, but it was different in-person, on a good instrument.
When David was done, Dave burst into tears, and David was so shocked he didn't resist when Dave put his arms around him and murmured, "So fucking awesome, man, it should be you trying out for this thing."
After that, when David wasn't in school or at work and Dave wasn't going through the battery of preliminary tests and rounds at Idolcorp, the conglomerate that ran 'Search for a Star', they spent their evenings together walking the streets of the City, experiencing the graffiti art on its buildings and watching the buskers on its sidewalks, visiting museums and watching concerts. They both liked the Park, and they sat on its benches, walked under its trees, lay on its grass and looked at the stars that Dave hoped one day to join.
"You're not like the other guys who wanna be Stars," David confessed one night, and Dave grinned.
"Not like them how? Like I don't have my head up my ass?"
David blushed hotly. "No, nothing that nasty! I mean, you like in-person things. If you win Search for a Star, you're going to live in space for as long as your contract lasts, right? Also, people will get to see everything you do and jack into your experiences and stuff, till your feed cuts for the night. Won't it be, I dunno, intrusive?"
Dave shrugged. "I'll get to broadcast my music to millions. And I'll live like a king, with the best tech and comms and synthesizers. Plus adoring fans watching my every move, seeing what I see and tasting what I taste, et cetera. What's not to like?"
David's turn to shrug. "You might be lonely."
Dave grinned fiercely. "Ah, I've been alone before. And I'd have millions plugging in to watch me, right, so I don't think loneliness is gonna be a problem." He leaned over and punched David on the shoulder.
"Anyway, most of the other guys I'm up against are way better than me. More buff, camera-friendly, sensitive: folks will wanna watch and ride their feed all the time. I have this crazy hair, I can't do many sit-ups, I don't even have an agent. I probably won't win."
But of course he did.
By the time Dave made the final 12 in 'Search for a Star', he didn't have a lot of time to hang out with David, though they did chat online and Dave called from the Idolcorp Mansion a lot and they had dinner a couple of times a week.
David watched the show week after week, jacking into the Idolcorp feed together with millions of others. And he saw that Dave had something the other contestants didn't have. His songs were awesome, no doubt about it, but he was so smart as well, and felt things about art and music and other people like nobody else on that show. And his feed made everyone feel good about themselves, like he cared about the same things, like he was one of them, except in a bigger and more magnified way.
Week after week, David saw Dave becoming a Star.
Until, finally, during the last week, under a shower of confetti, the final votes are tallied, and a Star was born.
On their last night on Earth before the launch, Dave and David have dinner, and then take a walk in the Park.
They find a spot overlooking the lake, and lie side by side on the new grass. The spring night is warm with the promise of summer, the wide swathe of earth beneath them, the bowl of stars overhead.
The night is cool, but Dave's broad body is warm. David's fingers press into his. David knows Dave is happy, a little strung out, nervous but looking forward to his time in space, to being the Star.
They watch the bright pinpricks of the perpetual satellites of other Stars overhead, a bright web in the night sky between the slower-moving planets and celestial bodies. Tomorrow, Dave will be among them, watching the blue-grey earth from his lofty vantage point in the heavens.
They don't say anything, but they both know they're also watching their easy companionship, the life they'd known, float away on the solar winds.
Finally, Dave squeezes David's cold fingers, presses his lips to David's cold cheek and then his mouth, as chaste as any Victorian-period courting lover.
"I'll come back," he whispers, and his warm breath is the only thing that holds back the feeling that David's falling into a night from which there's no escape.
It's only after Dave's been propelled into space in his own perpetual capsule that David realises he loves him.
After the Star leaves town, David's world seems to be filled with garbage and city lights.
David stays in the City, keeps going to college, because that's what Dav-- that's what the Star had wanted. Sometimes, rather than jacking into the class feed, he takes the maglev train to the University, and slots himself into a cubicle and watches the instructorvids on the big screen. Occasionally, his professors show up, and look vaguely surprised to see David there, the only in-person student in the class.
David serves coffee at work, takes out the trash, and goes to museums and concerts by himself. At night, he walks the streets, among the bright lights of the City, amid the wide avenues of the Park. He looks up at the sky; he always thinks he can recognize the Star when all of them appear in a blaze after sunset.
Down here below the atmosphere, everything is grey and tired and there's no Dave to play piano to or to sing silly songs with and walk in the park with. There's just the Star, all day and every day.
Each morning before classes start, David turns on the vidscreen and jacks into the Star's feed to find him in his satellite. The Star's always there, musing star-thoughts and hitting a couple of balls online or watching his favorite sporting activities, sometimes reviewing the newsvids or answering fanmail. Stuff that seems of paramount importance to the Star and the Star's other fans, but which depresses David somewhat, though he can't seem to stop watching.
Each day after work, David jacks in again, and the Star is usually watching a concert or talking to one of the other Stars or some fans; later, the Star might jack into a club feed or hang out out at a virtual bar. This is the Star's most active time of day; he'll have had dinner, a vibroshower and maybe a massage and will be all nicely styled, and his thoughts and online voice will be all relaxed and smooth as fine blend coffee.
If there's songwriting to be done this'll be the time he does it, often late into the night, and David has spent too many nights falling asleep to the sound of the Star making music, faint and thrilling and wonderful on the ether, as if the Star's been curled up in David's bed and singing his star-songs right into David's ear.
When that happens, David wakes with wetness on his face, with his body aching.
(And all we are is all so far)
Sometimes he wakes in darkness, and he watches the sky and the stars until sunrise, as if waiting for the sky to fall, waiting for a sign. Waiting for something.
Too many months after the Star's departure, David gets a call.
David has just gotten home from work and is about to jack into the Star's feed like he always does, when the vidphone rings. David picks up and there's a gravelly, familiar voice on the other end.
"Dave?" says David. His own voice has suddenly become kind of shrill.
"You remember me, great!" Dave chuckles in his ear, and it's the same low, infectious rumble that the Star makes on the ether.
"I watch your feed," David says, by way of explanation, then adds, cautiously, "Are you sending-- Is this-- ?"
Dave - the Star - laughs loudly. "No!" he says. "The feed's off. Y'know, sometimes a guy wants to keep things private and not share with the whole class."
"In your case, the class is the size of the planet," says David, and he hears more uproarious laughter.
"Wiseguy. How is everything at home?"
"Everything's the same," David tells him. "The coffee shop, school. I'm going back to Utah for Christmas, and I've sorted out my electives for next year." He babbles on for a couple of minutes, acutely aware of how insanely expensive this subspace call must be. Then again, the Star probably doesn't have to worry about how expensive anything is any more.
The Star is silent, which makes David even more nervous and inarticulate, and which is why he ends up saying, "...And, y'know, you never called or messaged me, so I kind of thought you're the one who doesn't remember."
And then he claps his hand over his mouth, because you don't say that kind of thing to Stars. (He'd say that to Dave in a heartbeat, though.)
After a long while, the Star says, quietly, "You never messaged me, either."
"Oh, like you'd notice! You seem to get a million megs of fanmail everyday," and David's officially taken leave of his senses because his face is burning and he's on the verge of ending the call.
"I'd've noticed," is what the Star - what Dave - says, and he sounds so sad that David's anger suddenly drains out of him, making him feel hopelessly petty and over-emotional.
"I'm sorry," he tells the Star, who groans and says, "Fuck, no, I'm the one who should be sorry, I shoulda called, messaged earlier. It's totally my fault."
"It's okay," David says, cautiously, and there's silence on the line again; David can hear the Star breathing, and the little blips and clicks and crackle of subspace.
"I will definitely message you," the Star says finally, "and maybe I'll get some time off next year, and, we can hang out again. Okay?"
"You need to think about your career," David points out. The Star sighs.
"These days all I think about is my career. Sometimes I think I won't care if I burn out or fade away."
"I'd care," says David softly, and the Star laughs.
"Thanks, man. I'll call you again."
"Night, Dave," David says, and, when the Star disconnects, he says to the empty room, "I miss you."
Hey Dave, I'm back from Christmas break. It feels kind of weird to be back in the City after being home.
I feel kind of lost sometimes now.
When that happens I think about the good times we had here. It makes me feel better! I see your hair's still purple haha. Everyone in the shop says hi.
(I know you'll come back some day.)
Apparently when it's springtime, all young men's thoughts turn to love. The Star seems to be no exception.
That's quite plain to David (and probably millions of others, oh gosh). The Star's feed is kind of cloudy, like a heat sink, like his star-limbs have been unusually heavy, and for the last few weeks he's been permanently tuned to love songs and sexy paintings, like the one of Zeus deflowering Ganymede on eagle's wings which they've seen in-person at the Metcity Museum; he's also been watching a lot of romantic old movies like the 2007 movie Shelter, which David hadn't seen before, but which he now watches through the Star's feed over and over again.
David hasn't wanted to think about it before, but he guesses he assumed the Star had previously taken care of all such physical needs offline. All the pleasures of the universe available at the touch of the simulator, surely the Star would have readily availed himself of all the alone time he needed.
After all, David hasn't got a simulator, but he's managed to make do during these long months.
But now it may be more than just a physical need for the Star. The Star writes an aching, longing song about letting go and setting free, and another about holding on to love, waiting for him to come home, and when he plays them on the ether his feed is hazy and dark red, and makes David feel clenchy deep in his stomach.
And then... and then the Star spends too much time gazing at the face of Sareceni's famous Saint Sebastian painting, as if he recognizes something about it: the slender, dark-haired youth pierced in the groin by a single arrow.
The Star runs his star-hands down his body, slowly, to the place where the arrow had entered the saint's pristine form.
David feels like his own body has been placed over a fire. He wonders if the network will yank the Star's feed if the Star does something his channel isn't rated for - if that'll trash his career or make the ether explode with lust. He wonders if he should jack out of the Star's feed before he sees or feels something he won't like, or will like too much.
Fortunately for David, the Star scrolls away from Saint Sebastian and boots up something with jangling guitars and visuals that flash by almost too fast for David to decipher. Then the Star dials down the sense-connection, until it's just a hum on the feed that's otherwise full of jagged sounds and lightning images - faces and gyrating bodies and cuts from musicvids. You wouldn't feel anything unless you were straining to reach that connection, to feel what the Star feels.
(I know you're out there.)
David touches himself, and at the same time he reaches out to the Star, somewhere out there; on the ether, circling the Earth, holding on to himself as well, and falling in love. Together, they're floating, defying gravity, a solar flare rising above the wide world, slowly at first, then faster, shuddering, spreading light and heat and a million images of love all at once.
Afterwards, they fall. Spinning, drifting out of reach of each other, and for some reason David can't stop crying.
David? I'm sorry I haven't called in a while.
I, I think I'm homesick. I think I need a change.
(I miss the way you taste.)
I'll try to call you again when I can.
David's falling apart. He can't eat, can't sleep. It's too hot to go out to school, and he stays inside with the instructorvids. He staggers around the coffee shop in a daze, drops mugs, serves people full cream milk in their fat-free chai.
He watches the Star's feed obsessively, and it seems the Star watches back. The Star's feed feels shaky, not entirely stable, a little out of control. How does the Star's satellite fly, anyway? Is it remotely piloted? Or does the Star influence the flight path, with his star-thoughts and feelings?
What happens when the Star feels burnt out, or like he's fading away? How about when he feels like he's falling? What happens then?
(I know, you're falling out of reach.)
David feels like he's lying on a bed of nails, and prays that nothing bad will happen. It feels like something's on the way.
David reads about the satellite fail on the public screen in the maglev subway capsule on the way home from work. The networks don't make a big issue of it, and no identifying details are provided, but David elbows his way to the public jack and immediately sees the Star's feed is a recycled one.
There's usually new realtime feed from the Star at this hour, when the Star gets out of his shower and orders up something carbo-loaded and liquored for dinner. Instead, there's this morning's old feed: the Star waking from star-dreams and listlessly perusing newsvids, flicking past them, screen by silent screen.
David breaks off the connection and feels sick. He's not sure what's happening, but the subway capsule feels stifling and he can't wait for the ride to be over.
Instead of rushing up from the station to his apartment to check if the Star's feed is back on, he decides to take a walk.
The evening's balmy, the same kind of warm summer night as when Dave had left the City to become the Star. There's the usual gridlock on the roads, but the pavements are as quiet as usual; only a few hardcore Friday night partygoers headed out to the clubs in-person.
David walks the quiet streets with his head up, ignoring the cracks in the concrete and the blank faces of the commercial and residential buildings, the bright lights of the malls.
He's searching the evening sky for a sign.
(Where are you, Dave? I know you're somewhere out there.)
He's terrified; he knows something's happened to the Star.
(You're falling back to me; I know.
You're falling out of reach; I know.)
He makes his way to the edge of the Park, and stands there for a long time, looking up.
He stays there, getting colder and colder, keeping watch on the skies as night falls slowly around him.
And then, just when he's about to turn around and go home, his eyes hot with frustration, something else falls as well, big and bright and heading straight for him.
He manages to run to shelter before it hits the ground.
The Park urinals are reinforced to withstand vandalism and theft and nuclear strikes, but even so the impact leaves a serious dent on its side and the top nearly caves in and the permaglass in its vent turns black.
Eventually, the walls stop shaking. The door has deformed around its frame so David has to kick it open. He's a little worried about radiation and things, but he figures he'd rather die from space sickness than suffer the indignity of being trapped forever in a public toilet.
It seems reasonably safe outside; his skin doesn't burst into flames upon contact with the atmosphere.
In the distance, he sees a plume of smoke, and he breaks into a run.
It appears the perpetual satellite that has housed the Star in orbit around the Earth is now spread in a mile of very thin permasteel across the Park. In the middle of the pool of metal is a crater.
In the center of the crater lies the Star. His suitcase capsule is lying beside him. There are spilled star-clothes and hats and those ridiculous pointy boots he loved to wear strewn across the landscape. His protective clothing and the magnetic shields around his person seems to have evaporated into the stratosphere, and he's as naked as the day he was born. His purple hair looks like it's on fire.
David has crawled to the edge of the crater and is looking down. He can't believe his eyes, and for long moments, he can't say a thing.
The Star seems to be able to see him, but it appears he's a little dumbstruck himself. After a while, the fires at the end of the Star's hair go out by themselves.
Finally, the Star gives a little finger-curling wave, which galvanizes David into speech.
"Dave? What are you doing here?"
The Star shrugs one bare shoulder, as if he does stuff like this every day. "Told you I'd come back."
They eye each other for a moment longer, then David climbs, very carefully, down the crater. The crater is actually not that large; it's as if the Star, in a last burst of his power, tried to ensure the slowest, safest re-entry possible, to minimize whatever impact his reappearance might have on the Earth and persons he might have left behind.
The metal on the ground is still smoking, but it isn't too hot to the touch.
The Star's skin - Dave's skin - ah, that's a different matter.
"I missed you," David tells him softly, the Star that fell to earth, that fell back to him.
"I know," the Star says, Dave says, and he holds on to David as if this time he'll never let go.