Short Story by: Oleg Roschin
Jaffa, March 2121
Again that dream.
This big thing is leaning over me. Hovering, haunting, hypnotizing me with the pleading eyes. Commanding and begging, telling me to connect to my inner voice before it’s too late. Then there is a woman’s face. Looking timid, humble, like one of those sheep that used to be slaughtered in the old times. One moment – and it’s torn apart. Disintegrated. Flames consume it so fast that I can’t imprint it in my memory. My heart explodes. And then it’s the end of the world.
Fuck that shit.
I wake up. Drag myself to the bathroom. Open the little window. It’s March, but it’s also Jaffa, so it’s hot. Can’t get used to the moisture. My Russian genes must be longing for Siberian cold. Thanks a lot for moving back to the historical homeland, Mom. My mother is Jewish, and my Dad has some remote roots in the old tribe as well. But I’m a product of the Northeast. Vodka is my poison. And women will be my death.
Speaking of which: she is lying right there on the bed. A vaginal Westerner, as they say. Melted mascara, pierced belly, shaved down there, round rubber ass. Name? Something Filipino-Norwegian. Can’t remember. Too many spiked Bloody Maries yesterday. She yells:
“Maaax!.. Have you seen my iDevice?”
I’m Max. Citizen of the United States of Democratic West, non-smoking, non-injecting, non-black, non-LGBT, non-CPX, non-registered in the League of Global Acceptance, position to agnosticism: agnostic. Mother: Rita Steinman, the fucked-up poetess of forbidden poetry. Father: Vitaliy Men, the dude who did nothing special. They hooked up after Dad got arrested for verbally sexually molesting her. Lived together as a straight couple the whole life, how about that. By the way, my bloodline is a joke: my great-great- whatever Grandpa on my father’s side was a priest; on my Mom’s side a rabbi. Those words mean guys who promote religions. Like in the Caliphate.
I yell back:
“How should I know, stupid cunt?”
She gets up and storms into the bathroom, naked, barefoot. She is small. Slightly enhanced boobs, smell of yesterday’s mixed drugs emanating from her mouth. Purple eyes – lenses. Hair dyed acid gray and Navi blue.
“Hey!” she shouts. “Dirty mouth!”
“Less than yours yesterday when you went down on me,” I say.
She giggles and goes back and starts putting on her clothes – lace G-string, maxi-top, even a skirt. Wow, old-fashioned.
“My FSP and both my MSPs want to meet today,” she says. “And I can’t find my fucking iDevice.”
“Why didn’t you have it implanted?” I ask.
“I’m old-fashioned,” she says. “For example: I’m, like, not really bi, but I do bi because, you know, everybody do bi. But I’m not, like, really, really bi.”
“Got it,” I say. “You aren’t really bi. Bye!”
She finds her iDevice under the bed, picks it up.
“Max,” she says, now fully dressed, fake eyelashes already attached, giving me a weird look. “Max. I feel… strange. I had this dream tonight. Like… all those things I’ve been doing… Like… everything… like… it has no meaning, you know what I mean? Like, totally pointless. Like, it’s not me. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Less ecstasy, stick with coke.”
“Max!” she says. “I’m serious. I’m having those weird thoughts… Like… this life… what does it mean?”
I look at her, nano-toothbrush in my hand, smearing super-anti-age cream into my face.
“What does what mean?” I ask. I don’t understand what she wants from me.
“This,” she says, suddenly looking pale.”This. Me. And you. And everyone. For example… you don’t even know my name.”
“I don’t need to know the name of every cunt who fucks me,” I say politely.
She gives me a long, attentive look and gets quiet for a second. I brush my teeth. Super-white, cell-regenerating. Guaranteed protection.
“You know, my grandmother was a professional sex worker from Shanghai,” she blurts out.
“And?” I couldn’t care less.
“When I was little… Like, six years ago… when she was still alive, she used to tell me this story how she, like, once met a very special man and it changed her life… Made her see stuff differently. So I get this feeling sometimes. Like now.”
“Like I said, choose your drugs wisely,” I say, patting myself on the cheeks. Smooth, no beard, everything laser-removed.
Looks like she gets upset for some reason. She walks to the front door. Turns back. Looks at me again. Her tone is different:
“My name is Celia.”
“I’m Max,” I say. “Nice meeting you. Let’s iChat. Good luck with the FSP and the two MSPs. Treat your sexual partners of both genders with respect and plenty of nano-condoms, or so the health brochures say.”
Then I turn and look at her. And then I see it. It’s the same face. She has the same face as that girl from my dream.
“Hey,” I say, and I don’t like how my heart starts beating way too fast. “You ever got cloned?”
“No,” she replies coldly and purses her lips.
“Got a twin sister?..”
She walks out. And I still stand in the middle of the apartment, cream trickling down my neck. It’s cold. Like a snake that crawls down so that it can sneak into my body and eat me from inside.
The sun is blazing. I do something I usually don’t do – just stand on the street, looking up at the sky. It’s so blue. I’ve never really noticed before how blue the sky is. With those puffy, fluffy clouds forming odd shapes and dancing with each other. It’s soothing. For some reason my Mom’s face flashes in my memory. I feel weird – tears are pushing up, gushing into my nose like soda water.
What the fuck.
I’m thinking I should spike my Bloody Maries with something else next time. I start walking towards the Clock Tower. Trying to calm down, make a schedule for the day. Need to renew the super-viagra supply for the month; subscribe to the new subconscious nano-knowledge streaming course so that I can apply for the next job; upgrade my iDevice to 11.0.57, because the sex videos have authentic smell emulation in that version. Lots of things to do. I need to stay busy.
I keep walking. Haj Kahil restaurant is right around the corner. It’s an old place that used to sell a dish called shawarma in the old days, made out of real animal meat. Now they make great bio-organic protein cakes. I get in. The owner and the staff are all Muslims, so I bow and say as-salamu alaykum. Jaffa is part of a tiny USDW enclave all surrounded by the Caliphate. Walk two kilometers out of it and it’s open warzone. We are agnostics, but we need to be respectful of Islam.
I order a compound basil curry sushi with hummus imitator. I take the tray with my dish on it and make my way to one of the booths. Someone is already sitting there, drinking coffee. It’s my brother.
He stands up and almost knocks down the table. Everything waggles and the coffee gets spilt all over the plastic covers. Napkins are soaked with brown liquid, drops lazily fall from the edge.
“Maxim,” he says.
I put down the tray, sit down, and take a bite. He clumsily wipes the coffee off the covers, takes the shrunken napkins and at first doesn’t know what to do with them, then just stacks them near the wall. I ask him:
“What do you want, Alyosha?”
We speak Russian. There are three official languages in the 57th State: Arabic, English, and Hebrew. But we like conversing in the tongue of Dostoyevsky, Sorokin, Kandybin, and all those other wankers.
He looks at me with those funny, serious brown eyes of his.
“They are dropping the bomb,” he says.
“Who is dropping the bomb?” I ask.
“What does it matter who?!..” Whoa, temper. “Maxim, listen. This planet is going to be destroyed. I’m leaving on one of the spaceships. Come with me.”
I laugh heartily. I stick a fake octopus sushi into the hummus imitator, put it into my mouth and start chewing, smacking my lips loudly. He used to hate it when I was doing it as a kid. But now he just keeps looking at me. I can see he is worried.
“Alyoshka, you’re a funny character,” I say finally, wiping my mouth with one of the dry napkins. “You just believe everything you see in the news. It’s propaganda, sweetheart. The three fucking powers have been duking it out for over half a century already. Nobody is going to drop any bombs. They aren’t crazy.”
“The problem is, they are crazy,” my brother says. His voice has this nervous intensity that has always annoyed me. “All of them. Everyone has abandoned God…”
“Here we go again,” I say, rolling my eyes and reaching for the next sushi piece.
He grabs my arm just below the elbow. His touch is hot. I can feel he is really desperate. Part of me wants to be comforted by this caring grip, another part resents it. The other part is much stronger.
“Hey man, hands off!” I say angrily and jerk my arm out of his grasp. He looks hurt and almost scared. “Don’t give me this God bullshit every time we see each other. Respect other people’s opinions, okay?”
“I do respect other people’s opinions,” he says, his face turning slightly red. “But for some reason no one seems to respect mine.”
“Well, that’s because your whole Christian crap is no better than… “I lower my voice. “...the mumbo-jumbo those Caliphate idiots believe in.”
“Let’s agree to disagree,” he says firmly. “Allow me to think that my crap is better. And anyway, that’s hardly the point. I’m not here to convert you. I know it’s impossible. And that’s God’s work anyway, not mine. My work is…” he coughs and continues: “...to save the life of my little brother, whom I love.”
I look at him and I know he really means it. I feel uncomfortable. There is heat in my stomach. It’s threatening to burst out. I don’t understand what’s happening to me. I suddenly feel small and weak. I want to cry and let him hold me for a long time. Then I regain control. I take another sushi piece, stick it into the hummus, and say:
There is laughter in my eyes. I feel good again. He suddenly stands up and turns away. Something changes in his vibe.
“Hey, Lyoha, come on,” I say nonchalantly. “Don’t be like that. I’m kidding. I’ll be fine, okay? You go, explore your space. Brave captain Alexei Vitalyevich Men, right? Discover an alien planet and sow the seeds of faith and wisdom. Right? Me, I’m cool where I am. You come back in a few years and tell me all about it, okay?”
He turns to me.
“There is a cave below the construction site just north of the harbor,” he says. “When you are going through the Zodiac streets it’s right there under Sagittarius. This cave leads to an old underground bomb shelter. Promise me… promise me you’ll go there tonight. And take whomever you care for with you. Promise me.”
I’m tired, laziness starts creeping in.
“Sure,” I say. “I promise.”
When night falls over the Mediterranean sea it’s always like an intimate meeting of two lovers who were separated by the cruel daytime. One by one the stars pop out on the firmament, like little shy candles, preparing to cast their lights on the reunion. The warm sea is sighing peacefully, longing for the powerful embrace of the black sky.
I’m a poetic motherfucker, aren’t I?
My iDevice keeps flooding my senses with sounds and images. Short voice messages from drunken friends, bleak holograms of unknown people selling illegal virtual reality adventures, flashy video clips promoting new group sex houses, and so on. It never ends. My brain is swimming in the endless ocean of effortlessly obtained information. My life is fully regulated by GPSs, instant maps, instant services, instant learning, instant jobs. Everything is being calculated and processed within the omnipresent world-wide web, by tiny robots tirelessly producing and directing infinite streams of data. I don’t need people any more. I see people only for sex. It is the last remnant of human touch I have in my life.
I walk out of Jaffa’s old town, towards the beach. To the north is the appropriately named North Jaffa, formerly known as Tel Aviv. The old name fell out of favor because it was used by Zionists. Zionism is uncool because it’s a form of patriotism. Patriotism is uncool because it’s love to your homeland. Love is uncool because it’s discriminating. My brother loves me. I can’t think of anyone else who loves me. I can’t think of anyone I love. Or anything. Suddenly, I feel a sharp pang in the left part of my chest. Too many pills?.. My heart is racing. I turn my head towards the sea. I hear the rhythmical humming of the waves.
Then everything becomes bright.
The orange glow is beautiful. Intense in its proud splendor. I look up and see a giant fireball growing in the sky, triumphantly illuminating the quiet night. The handiwork of human mind, the fruit of human genius, the crowning achievement of human science.
Then I almost go deaf, because the sound is impossible to bear. A cacophony of crackling shots and low, menacing rumbling, as if a mythical monster wanted to break the crust of the Earth and emerge on the surface. The heat is even worse than the sound. The shockwave sends me tumbling on the ground, and I can see how the gorgeous fireball turns into a hideous pillar of smoke, like a hellish tower claiming possession of the planet.
Then it’s just screams and wailing and horrible shrieks. I know I’m still alive. But I also know that the end has begun. I get up and start walking in the direction of the shelter my brother told me about. Like a zombie, I walk instinctively, automatically. I keep walking along the beach slowly, blindly, stepping on bodies and still hearing the waves on my right.
Words keep pounding in my head. It’s just a stupid Bible quote. My brother shared it with me once, and I had no idea it was still hiding somewhere in the depths of my memory.
Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness more than light.
I want to say I don’t love darkness, but then I realize I do. I realize with a horrifying certainty that whatever is happening right now is my fault. I can’t explain why I feel this way, but this knowledge streams down into my stomach and turns my guts upside down. I close my eyes and see red pulsating matter with sickeningly glistening horns sticking out of it. I vomit on the ground and I want to keep vomiting until there is nothing left in me anymore.
Then I see her. The girl I had sex with last night. The one whose face I saw in my dream. Her name’s Celia.
She is lying on the sand. Flames are licking her face methodically, eating the fresh flesh step by step, consuming her with artistic elegance. Just like in my dream. It is a sight of majestic decadence, the likes of which I’ve enjoyed many times in 3D horror movies.
I rush towards her. I kneel in front of her body. I try to put out the flames with my bare hands. I hold her disfigured, charcoaled face and gently caress it. I know that she is dead, but I want her to be alive. I’ve never wanted anything so much in my entire life.
So I raise my tear-stained face towards the sky and howl. I weep and sob and shout and screech. I cry out to someone whom I never cared about.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Please, please, God, please, take this back! Don’t let this happen! Oh my God! Please! Pleeeeeeease!!...”
But it’s too late. After a while I calm down. I lift Celia’s body and carry it in my arms, slowly walking towards the cave. I enter the cave and follow it through into the shelter. It’s a huge underground vault. There are many people there. Most of them children, but many grown-ups as well. Everyone stops talking when I enter. I make a few steps. Gently put Celia’s body on the floor.
Then I just stand there. I can’t really see what’s around me. And my implanted iDevice powers down in my temple. Maybe the whole web has been exterminated, I don’t know. I only know that the world has almost ended, but not yet. I’m not dead, so I must keep going. I guess that’s my inner voice talking to me, the one I heard about in my dream. Then another Bible quote surfaces in my head, but I don’t remember exactly how it went. Something about hope and faith, and something else that’s even more important.
© Copyright 2017 Oleg Roschin. All rights reserved.