"'Facing" by Michael Newsham

Michael Newsham is a columnist and musician from Philadelphia, PA.


© 2011 Michael Newsham


(This is an excerpt from a larger work.)

Prologue: Engines of Destruction


"Nor do I doubt if the most formidable armies ever here upon earth is a sort of soldiers who for their smallness are not visible." – Sir William Perry, Engines of Destruction



                "He's 'facing. Look at his fingers, tapping nothing. He's gotta be 'facing."

                "Look at him closer, dogbreath. He look like he can afford a 'face?"

                "Then he's base-'facing, dickhead."

                "No way. He'd have to be suicidal to take a used 'face. Besides, I don't see no jack. Only new 'faces are peggin'."

                "Peggin'? The fuck is that?"

                "Peggin'. They don't run outta juice, just keep runnin' forever."

                "Yeah? That's boss."

                "Your mom is boss."

                I hear them, in the distant way one hears things not worth giving attention. They're right, of course. I'm 'facing - using an interface, and one with a PEG, no less. Perpetual Electric Generation. One hundred percent efficiency, or close enough to spit. The technology is worth more than my life, and all I ever have or ever will earn; neural interfaces, even in these advanced times, tend to be cumbersome things with wires that run out of the back of your head into something about the size of the digital music players that came out when I was a kid. It's like having a tiny monkey on your back, if that monkey could provide you with instant access to the virtual world.

                What I have is, to those kinds of interfaces, what the aspirin-sized petabyte capacity interactive holographic media projectors the kids carry these days would be to, say, a Victrola. What I have is worth killing for. I edge my hands into my coat, ostensibly seeking warmth but really closing my fingers around the grip of an ampule. I have twelve, and I will reserve the last for suicide, if all else fails. Each contains several million nanoreplicators, which can convert a living human being to anonymous slag in seconds.

                Nano. These are the monsters I'm here to kill, and I'm willing to kill the ones that scrub pollutants from the air and unclog blocked arteries, too. Partly because I believe Thomas, the Shepherd, when he bellows on about how soft technology has made us, but mostly because I've read my fair share of schlock sci-fi. I know about the grey-goo scenario, and it was heady and hilarious when I was a kid reading books on a dim old electronic screen, but now that I'm on the trembling edge of being a centenarian and 96% of the world - even the barely existent Third world - has a body full of tiny machines, Herbert and Kurzweil, McCarthy, Walter Jon Williams ... they start sounding less like writers and more like prophets everyday around here. If I have a chance, even a small one, of stopping the world from ending at the hands of self-replicating machines of our own design, well ... you can call me … what you want. Extremist. Terrorist. Words are empty now.  

                Besides, this fucking place is a dump. If you doubt me, look at my neighbors on this shitty southbound Lev. One is sporting what I think of as the New Old Punk look. It's a freakish combination of a greaser's pompadour and a mohawk, and it's treated with some kind of gunk that makes it change color in the light. The other has blessedly normal hair, but has his eyes fitted with what look like large, matte-black contact lenses. The white of his eyes aren't visible. Why wear them? So that he'll be able to see, no matter what the lighting situation is. He never has to take them out because he has a few low-cost economy 'bots floating around fixing his eyes before they even have a chance to dry up. Both of them are what passes for poor these days - meaning they've got plenty to eat and drink, clean water, heat, beds, and computers that would have made NASA shit their pants in 2010, but no direct neural interface. No VR.

                Poor babies. They're going to live to be one hundred and fifty. The planet has a population of over sixteen billion. Agrarian 'bots produce the food. Don't ask me how. Others desalinate the sea, recycle, and reuse the water. People aren't dying of heart disease anymore. Same goes for cancer, stroke, diabetes, kidneys, Alzheimer's, infection, SIDS, hypertension, pneumonia, emphysema, and AIDS. Not to mention every other physical illness. People are still dying, though, otherwise the world would have long since turned into a seething pack of flesh, and we'd have all gone mad with claustrophobia. Oh, yeah. People still die. It's mostly murder now. Like what happened three weeks ago, and finally made me agree to be a part of Thomas' insane plan.

                My fingers are still on the ampule, just in case, but I'm wandering away from them, mentally. In a place that isn't exactly my field of vision, but is anyway, the interface is suggesting programs. I'm tempted. In fact, I'm so tempted that I hate myself. I'm scrolling through options anyway. That's the twitching fingers.

                I'm thinking maybe I'll turn the VR on and fuck Neve Campbell. Maybe Mandy Moore. I have a thing for old 2d movies, and for winsome brunettes. Maybe I'll fuck them both, maybe both together. I wonder vaguely if they're still alive, and if they are, have they ever used a 'face to fuck themselves?

                The 'face pipes up to inform me that a perfect semblance of me can easily be prepared and instructed to stimulate all five of my senses in the most realistic virtual sexual experience imaginable. I shudder. Neve. Mandy. That’s better. I think I have time for this. I'm a pathetic old man, and anyway, who fucks real people anymore?

                My justifications make me mildly nauseous, or at least they would if the teensy physicians inside me would allow me the luxury of nausea. They don't, and I'm out of excuses. This could be the last woman ... women ... I'll ever experience. I’m on Death’s door, and I’m knocking hard. Hell, I’m only alive now because I don’t have the guts to off myself. I have to go on a suicide mission instead, and hope against hope that I pull it off before blessed oblivion claims me.

                I find it remarkable that I can feel the mouth of a beautiful woman I'll never meet doing things she'd never do to a part of me she'll never see, but I can't feel nausea. I can see, feel, smell, even taste the two of them, but when I climax, I can't feel the nanobots who are, inevitably, cleaning the seminal mess from the inside of my denims.

                “Hey,” I am interrupted. “Old man! You ‘facing or just regular loopy?”

                I turn, fix my baleful eyes on the young punks. I know I look older than anyone else they’ve seen, since I haven’t had surgery, nano or otherwise, to keep my youth. I look middle aged – older than anyone else bothers looking. I know I have dark circles under my eyes from sleeping badly, and that the thin line of my mouth is white and pressed grimly. I look frightening, and these kids are just starting to realize that.

                “Sorry,” the other kid stammers. “Hey, sorry, old fella, his brain done zonked. He don’t mean it.”

                I laugh, an eerie sound, even though the mirth is heartfelt.

                “Oh, that’s alright, youngster. I don’t mind. Besides … I’m pretty sure he’s right. I am loopy.”

                I laugh again, and for a moment, the world almost makes sense again. Too briefly.

                Far too briefly.

                The kids don’t try to talk to me after that. They jump at the next stop with nothing more than a single, furtive glance backward.

                I rest my old bones, sink deeper into the black hollow place where all my thoughts live, and ride that southbound toward destruction.









All work is copyrighted property of Michael Newsham.







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