MONTAG SHORT FICTION #005
MONTAG publishes curious short fiction, exploring our strange future and what it will feel like when we get there. They take the technology you already know as a starting point and show where it might take us. The stories are outré, evocative, and atypical; they're also closer to today than you think.
A Superstar Forever asks: "What if the world's biggest pop star was not quite as authentic as he seemed...?"
Her phone had started chirruping with incoming messages, and didn’t stop. Olivia swiped Snapchat into silence as the notifications kept rolling in, and pecked at the screen.
I JUST WON THE TICKETS!!!
WE’RE GOING TO SEE HIM ON FRIDAY
PLEASE TELL ME YOU CAN GO!!!!!!
Her best friend Tiffany had been calling in to Smash FM every hour, on the hour, all week, to try to win VIP tickets to see Justin Bieber. And she’d done it. Olivia couldn’t believe it.
Omg!!!, Olivia messaged back. Def going with u!!!
“We’re going to be right on the front row!” Tiffany shrieked with excitement, gripping the tickets on the way to the stadium. Olivia drove quickly and smiled.
“I hope he plays ‘Love Yourself,’ and ‘Heartbreaker,’ and – ooh, if he does ‘Baby’ I will literally die!” Tiffany was shaking with excitement as she swiped on extra swathes of turquoise eyeshadow.
“I like his old stuff better,” Olivia shrugged, adjusting her crop top in the mirror. “And his super-fans” — she glanced quickly over at Tiffany — “are a bit… weird, you know? Constantly tweeting at him, begging him to follow back, or ganging up on other fandoms. You know, the Gaga fans spread a rumour the other day that Biebs had died in a car crash, and so in retaliation the Beliebers left coffin emojis all over Gaga’s Instagram. Ugh, so childish.”
Tiffany wasn’t listening. Her mind was fully focused on Justin; so cute, so dangerous, and so mysterious since his much-publicised comeback. He never met his fans any more. From the look of his Instagram feed, his time was mainly spent hanging out with hip-hop stars in clubs and models at private resorts.
Maybe, she thought, if they could sneak backstage, and if they showed the right amount of skin, and if she could catch his eye – she could appear on his Instagram too…
“Is this too slutty? Or not enough?” she half-joked, tugging at her artfully-tumbling hair.
“You’re such hipster garbage!” laughed Oliva, and flung the Smash FM VIP badges at her friend. “And no, neither – you look cool. Come on, I want to be there early, let’s get to the front row!”
Bieber had been onstage for over an hour, and the two girls were dallying between elation and nervous exhaustion. Justin’s dance moves were, of course, metronomically-perfect, and the carefully-rationed glimpses of his washboard stomach elicited screams and purring admiration in equal measure.
After an opening half that was drowned out by shrieking (a lot of it Olivia and Tiffany’s), the show had settled into a series of surgically-precise pop songs, interspersed with cheering.
“He’s perfect!” swooned Olivia. Tiffany was too busy hyperventilating to hear. Justin bounced on the stage, just in front of them. His mouth was half bad-boy sneer and half poster-boy pout. His tanned legs could be glimpsed through impeccably distressed jeans, and as he finished singing, he swept his famous chop of hair up out of his eyes – and he finally smiled as he started to address the stadium.
A thousand teenage girls in the crowd felt like fainting, but only one actually did. Olivia gasped as Tiffany hit the floor, and grasped for her friend whilst waving frantically for help.
“Oh no oh no oh no!”
Two security guards in yellow polo shirts gently helped Tiffany and Olivia over the barrier, away from the crowd. As one checked Tiffany’s pulse, Olivia heard Justin’s patter over the screams: “…thanks so much for being here for me… you’re the best fans in the world… and this has been the best and loudest crowd of the tour so far… we’ve got time for one more song…”
The guard grabbed her elbow. “We’re taking your friend backstage,” he shouted. “She’s still not able to stand up. You need to come with us.”
Tiffany looked up from the floor and winked at Olivia.
Backstage, Tiffany slumped, not entirely convincingly, on a plastic garden chair. It wobbled on a floor covered in thick cables that ran from the stage to a huge desk of electronic equipment, where technicians were absorbed in a bank of screens.
Olivia stared pointedly at Tiffany. Tiffany shrugged and grinned, her eyes wide. Through a gap between speakers and flight cases, they could see Justin performing the final song of the show.
“Jesus! Get them out of here! Now! The show’s ending!” Their heads snapped right. A senior security guard ran towards them, waving her clipboard.
The music stopped and the screams spiked, the loudest yet. Olivia turned back to the stage - and there he was, waving at the crowd and then walking off stage. Towards them. Twenty metres away. Ten meters away. Five meters…
“We need to get them out of here!”
The other guard grabbed her arm. “Hey! What the hell?”
“You’ve got to move.”
Tiffany thought fast. “I need a minute… I’m feeling faint again, look…”
“What… but… Justin?” Tiffany stared over Olivia’s shoulder. The guards fell silent. Olivia slowly turned around.
“Justin!! Justin, over here! J… Justin…?”
Justin was standing stock-still, just off stage, out of view of the audience. He was staring straight back at them. He didn’t move. Or blink.
He’s not even breathing, thought Olivia.
And then he flickered. A millisecond shimmer. His blonde hair became a translucent blue. All the green hues on his body disappeared. Then he vanished.
An electrical smell – of high-voltage equipment shutting down – hung faintly in the air.
“You aren’t supposed to be here now,” sighed the guard.
“Justin!” Tiffany cried. “Justiiiiin!!”
“Shit, not again,” muttered the senior security guard, still holding her arm. She turned to the other guard. “Donnie, we spoke about this. OK, girls, you need to come with us now.”
She opened the door to a small, windowless side room, flipped on a fluorescent light, and marched them inside.
Olivia read the contract again, and blinked slowly. "So he’s, like… a robot or something?”
The guard stood with her back to the door, blocking it. “No. That’s confidential information.”
“What happened to him? What did you do to him?”
“Here. This agreement explains all you need to know. You witnessed a great show. You were invited backstage to meet Justin. It was a unique and exciting experience. Justin is a very private person since his accident; so you signed this non-disclosure agreement. And then we can all get on with our lives.”
“I want to talk to him! I thought we would get to meet Justin!” Tiffany stammered.
“Tiffany, he’s not real,” Olivia said quietly. “Just sign it so we can go home.”
The car crash. The story was that Justin had escaped from the fiery mess of twisted metal, injured but alive; his friends in the Porsche hadn’t been so lucky. Justin had recuperated; his comeback was front-page news everywhere.
The girls silently signed the contract, pushed it towards the guard, and nodded. They understood. The security guard squinted at them, opened the door, and gestured towards it.
“Now, go on, head home. No-one would believe you anyway.”