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.
F•©k 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 f•©ked-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 f•©king 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. You don’t even know my name.”
“I don’t need to know the name of every cunt who f•©ks 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.”
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 f•©k.
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 f•©king 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.”