My dad’s so twentieth century. F’real, though, he tries to be cool, but everything he does makes him stick out like a total noob. “Jake,” he says, patting my shoulder in what he hopes is a fatherly way, “the world hasn’t changed. People have all the same hopes and fears they ever had, no matter what the calendar says.” This from the guy who still pines for his old computer keyboard. Mom threw that out years ago, back when pretty much all of Western civilization went forty-gig universal WiFi. Poor old Pops still hasn’t figured out how to talk to the web through his implants.
“Dad,” I remind him, “we don’t use calendars anymore. We have nanos for that. Join the planet you live on.” I think Dad might be the last surviving Alzheimer’s patient. He’s adorable, I swear, even when he slumps around the house bitching under his breath about living in the goddamn Matrix. The Matrix was an old two-D sim for kids. Like I said, he’s a fossil; but, you know, he’s my dad and, like, what can you do.
Still, a guy needs an authority figure every once in a while. I’m fourteen years old. I don’t have it all figured out yet, either. I figure that’s a few years off at least. The world’s a funny place, and it never seems to catch up with itself. I look at clips of my parents’ childhood years, and it’s like people lived on a whole other planet. Gas-burning cars everywhere you looked. Cows for food. People lugging little tek thingies out of their pockets just to talk to each other. Mom said they wore clothes all the time, even before the ozone crashed. That’s how crazy they were about privacy. Even their friends weren’t allowed to look at them. I wonder why they didn’t just kill themselves and be done with it, but Mom said it was illegal back then. Seems unfair, don’t you think?
Anyway, the worst thing about life in the old days was they didn’t have gods, not useful ones anyway. My teachbot says people used to think they could talk to gods all the time, but of course the gods never talked back because iGods hadn’t been invented yet. Back then apparently most people thought gods were Jewish. I know it sounds fraggy and racist, but trust me, I downwikied like, half a terabyte on the subject so I know what I’m talking about. My aunt told me she cried the first time her iGod answered her questions or, like, prayers or whatever. Why she got all emotional about it I have no idea, but chix are kinda tardo that way. Dad says they always have been–but quietly, of course, so Mom won’t overhear.
There are days I don’t even talk to my god, actually. Most people aren’t like that, but I try to make my own decisions without bots or gods when I can. Sometimes that gets me in trouble. Like, my god–I call him Loki–could’ve told me not to store all my porn in the family freedrive. Mom lost her shite about that one. I thought she was gonna tear my fuxin’ head off. She probably would have, too, if our class of insurance included recapitation. Instead she just guilt-tripped me from here to Tibetistan. How was I supposed to know she doesn’t like nanotropic threeways?
Anyway, I’m rambling, dood. Sorry. Bad habit.
What I was trying to say is this month I’ve been talking to Loki a lot. Some of what we talk about is regular old pre-college shite, but some of it is serious business. Like, I was seeing this girl inline. I’d been chatting her for about two months, and she sent me a clip of her real face and tits and all that. She’s pretty cool any way you look at it. She calls herself Kirsa, which is this, like, totally badazz German name that means “Cherry.” And Loki told me “cherry” used to mean virgin, like, never fuxed in the real world, which is all too appropriate because Kirsa and I never had. Well. Let me cut and paste. I never had. I assumed Kirsa had, but never with me. ’Course, she and I fuxed each other raw frontways, backways, sideways and crossways in the internet. No big deal. But here’s the thing: turns out Kirsa doesn’t live in Germany at all. Turns out Kirsa lives in Seattle, not far from where I live near Olympia. And she wants to hang out. F’real, though, in real life. A date, like, and everything. Okay, so maybe she hadn’t exactly promised to fux me, but what else could she want? Chix want to get fuxed, dood, I’m sure they do. I hear about it all the time inline.
It occurred to me that I should probably tell Kirsa I’m fourteen.
So, like, from day one I’d been telling Loki about Kirsa and getting his advice, like, how is real fuxing different from inline fuxing, and what if she isn’t on nanoabortives yet, and how do you really kiss a girl, and all that chixy crap. And for three days Loki feeds me all this killer-rez intel so I’ll romance her like King Fuxor of Porn Mountain. But then Friday, the morning before the actual date, he starts acting all different, like my father or something. I mean, right in the middle of World History he paused the stream and said we really need to talk about like, morals and ethics and shite. “Can’t it wait till after the Battle of Trafalgar?” I whined. I was really enjoying that sim.
“No,” my god said, “it’s crucial we speak now before you spend any more time with Kirsa Bischoff, inline or out.”
“Dood, you’re fraggin,” I said, laughing. “I’ve never heard you, like, get all crazy Condition Red about Kirsa before.”
“That’s because I believed your relationship with her would remain a harmless fantasy inline.”
“I want to meet her. So what?”
“You have met her.”
“Not like that. God, you knew she lived like eighty klicks away. Why didn’t you tell me before? And why the hell wouldn’t we meet in real life?”
“I assumed you’d never ask her real location. Mortals tend to prefer inline fantasy.”
“Yeah, well, no der, Loki, sheez. I mean, why wouldn’t we? I could get hit by lightning and die out there in the real world, like, permanently die. No reanimation.”
“Unlikely, Jake. Even with your minimal insurance class, you’d probably survive anything short of near-vaporization.”
“Yeah, true you,” I admitted, “but it’s not like I’m in some big hurry to catch one of those fatwa-class superbugs you keep telling me about. Besides, it always stinks in the real world. I stay inline as much as I can. Outline sucks.”
“Yet you’re willing to travel outline to see Kirsa in person.”
“I want to feel what her skin really feels like.”
“You’re unsatisfied with the tactile sensations in the immersion room?”
“You know how Dad is. Our tek is, like, twenty years old. He still misses TV.”
“I know you’ve enjoyed any number of whimsically pornographic scenarios—-”
“Yeah, so that makes me, what, special? Even Dad got caught fuxing his boss last week, and he’s so damn old he’s almost senile.”
“He’s far from senile, Jake.”
“He’s fuxin’ ancient! What is he, like, forty years old?”
“Well, he’s old enough to know better, then, isn’t he? Set up some privacy firewalls, sheez! He’s lucky Mom didn’t jack his shite permanently.”
“Your mother was deeply upset, this is true—-”
“Oh, are you sure? What gave it away, the screams and fuxin’ death threats? I didn’t know old people knew some of those words.”
“I regret you overheard their conversation. I should’ve shut down your aural streams immediately.”
“Loki, Portland overheard their conversation.”
“I suppose it did escalate into the mildly operatic.”
“I don’t know what she was all fragged about, anyway. It’s not like he was seeing Miz Kobayashi for real. He was simfuxing her inline avatar, for fuxsake. Big deal. She never even knew he was humping her.”
“Well,” Loki said, “as it turns out, your father’s employer is only a Japanese woman inline. In the real world, he’s a two-meter Samoan man named Tupe Sopoaga.” Okay, so that cracked me up. “His identity,” Loki added, “was not welcome news to your father.”
“Oh, god. Dood, you kill me. So are we doing this tomorrow or not?”
“If your parents agree, I can reserve you a place on a ten-hundred lectric.”
“I can’t wait to not be around for that conversation.”
“Indeed,” Loki sighed. But apparently god made my case to my gene donors with his usual skill and, like, discretion, ’cause there was only a minor world war about it. I had to do all my weekend chores early–recyc the trash, wash the dishes, defrag the house, that kinda shite–and of course all my homework, but in the end Dad gave me a couple hundred bucks to buy lunch and a coffee on the way. It’s kinda funny to say “homework” now that everybody goes to school in immersion rooms at, you know, home, but fuxit—-I mean, Dad still says “clothes” when he means survival gear–which is exactly what my mom buried me in twenty layers deep before letting me walk out the door. I looked like a damn combat hopper. Between the virus shields and anti-kidnapping firewalls and SmartScreen antirad SPF 151, it was a wonder my spine didn’t implode. “Shite, Mom,” I protested, “I didn’t know fuxin’ terrorists lived on our block.”
“Watch your language,” she snapped, which is pretty much her answer to everything I ever say. I thought she’d mellow out when they re-legalized pot a few years ago, but she still never touches it. I can process. Me, I like the occasional stagger of cyberstim, but mostly I like to keep my brain cells in order, too. Old-fashioned, I know, but Dad keeps reminding me it’ll look lazy in job interviews when I ask if I’m allowed to smoke doob while I’m working. It’s hard enough to get hired these days without smelling like a bowl of your granddaddy’s THC arthritis butter, true you. But who actually goes out to job interviews anymore? I keep telling him it’s hard to smell weed in immersion, but does he listen? Feel free to answer my, like, rhetorical question.
Anyway, speaking of Dad, I noticed him sizing me up from across the room, wondering if he was making a mistake letting me outside–or maybe just wishing he was like, super young and free again. Who knows? Anyway, Mom was getting all teary-eyed. “My young Romeo,” she smiled, rubbing the static waves in my hair. “You look so handsome. You’re gonna break a million hearts, starting with hers.”
“Okay, okay,” I said, grinning in spite of myself, “hands off the merchandise.”
“You got your, you know, um, stuff in case you need it?” my father said, blushing. He’s so fuxin’ adorable.
“You mean fuxsafe?”
“I mean contraception. Antivirals. You know. Protection.”
“Fuxsafe. I said that.”
My father just sighed. “Do you have some?”
“She’s not in any kind of weird religion that doesn’t use it, is she?” my mother worried.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I never talked to her about that.”
“Well, you be careful, okay?”
“Okay, I will,” I said, hoisting the tazeburners on my arms. “Careful is my middle name. That’s why I’m geared up like an Israeli zone monitor.”
“Don’t be rude to your mother,” my Dad said, so automatic now he probably doesn’t even hear himself say it. I think he says it in his sleep. That woman sure has him trained now that she caught him with his stick in the port.
The lectric ding-ding-dinged outside. Saved by the bell, as my dad would say. True you, though, it still smelled like garbage and rubber out there. Loki talked the security doors into letting us into the lectric, and we whirred away on giant All-Skim tires. Now, I know some of you never leave the house, so I’ll remind you what it’s like out there in the big bad Nor Am. For the few seconds before my window polarized, the sun blazed through brilliantly white. The streets are even more grown over now than they used to be, but you still find a couple of assjacks out there roaring around in remodded oil-burners. You can actually see pollution pouring out the back of them. I mean, dood, I get how, like, rich you are and screw the planet and all, but does your car have to be so fuxin’ loud? I mean, how do you hear your music? And why do you fuxmonkeys all jet around with no roofs on your burners? Hasn’t anybody told you there’s only meds for some cancers?
Downtown still looks pretty much the same as it did last time I saw it, all crime shutters and signs on each business. I think those places’ rents are so high they probably can’t afford regular ad projectors, so they just paint their names and prices on plastic. Some of the higher-rez restaurants by the water serve meat if you’re lucky enough to afford the luxury tax. It’s all kind of, I don’t know–what would Mom call it?–quaint. From downtown it’s a quick zip through Oly Security and onto Highway 5, one of the last great scenic highways. The co-ops keep it clean, with the grass trimmed and deer sonics on and all that. I’m pretty sure I saw a bird in the sky.
There were five other people on the lectric, which shows Olympians still like to travel north every once in a while, especially now that Cali’s gone to hell in a handbasket, leaving Seattle the undisputed sex capital of Nor Am. Dad says people used to think the Big Quake would destroy L.A. and San Francisco. Turns out that was the least of those cities’ problems–we caught some of their quake action, too–but good riddance, Cali, and I hope the rash gets better. Speaking of rashes, two of my fellow lectric travelers seemed to have reacted badly to their latest antiviral updates, so I kept as much distance as possible and cranked up the bluegrap music streaming from my aurals.
From Oly to Seattle it’s about half an hour by lectric, so I didn’t have much time to plan. I’d already bought admission to the Pike, a gated community surrounding the old market. That’s where Kirsa and I were going to meet. I wasn’t looking forward to the security cameras tracking us everywhere we went inside, but I knew they had problems with ecoterrorists so I guess it’s better safe than sorry. I wondered if I should overlay my usual egoprojection, a two-meter dino I modded out from Gaz Darapta. You noobs ever play that? Sheez, what a great fuxin’ game. I played the shaders off it two years ago when I caught a bad case of the botch. You haven’t lived till you’ve blasted hot plaz into a canyon swarming with armored carnotaurs and five brigades of Trans-Jurassic Time Fighters. Anyway, I decided against wearing the Gaz avatar. Kirsa’s already seen my face, kind of, minus a few age modifications and, well, the giant fuxin’ shoulder mods I might’ve maybe stacked on my own still-developing physique when I’m inline. We can’t all look like simstars, even in the net.
Which is really the problem, when you get down to it. There were so many questions I wished I could ask Loki, but I didn’t want the spazbos on the lectric listening in. I guess I could have airtexted him, but writing’s never been my thing. Personally I think the faster sims replace paper and books, the better off we’ll all be. Loki says books encourage sloth and a propensity toward critical thinking, and I totally agree. The fuxors I know who read are all critical bitches who never shot a gamebot in their lives.
Sorry. Distracted again. Anyway.
The point is I wondered what Kirsa would think of me when she saw me. I wanted to ask Loki how he felt about it. I mean, I know I’m no Jasey Depp, but I’m also completely unaltered. This is my face, my body, my wetware. I don’t even run filters outline to control my speech or athletics. I mean, sure, I’ve got implants and nanos like everybody else, but that’s like my dad wearing glasses as a kid, it just brings me up to normal. I’m fourteen years old and my face looks like fractals and I’m not even hung like a pornstar. This is all very stressful. Who knows what my competition in Seattle looks like, even without badazz egoprojections. So I muttered to Loki to open a heads-up mirror screen and stared into the bland fuxin’ who-gives-a-shite of my plain old, ordinary, everyday face for a while and I swear to god, I wanted to cry. So I told my nanos to keep that from happening, shut the mirror screen, and glared out the window instead.
Seattle loomed over the green of the highway, a magical Oz in the prime of its life. The arcology towers stabbed into the gray air behind the old Space Needle. Lectrics swarmed the streets in heavily defended clusters. Helibots flickered overhead. The scale of the city was so enormously awesome, I have to say, it stimmed me into an Ecstasy fever of patriotic happiness. I guess it’s like President Yahweh says: There’s still only one North America.
The lectrics were timed with a bunch of other lectrics that all got off the 5 at about the same time, and our convoy was greeted by an escort of five cops on buzzrunners. The buzz cops tagged along till we reached the Pike Center checkpoint. The lectrics uploaded passcodes, swirling lights changed from red to green, and all five lectrics hurried inside. A couple of homeless guys watched us from across the street and made frowny faces at us. I don’t know. Call me a halfjack slughugger, but I still feel sorry for those guys. They can’t help how things turned out. They could probably hold a job still if the bots didn’t work for free. Well…for conversation. You know how bots are.
I double-checked my firewalls and exited the lectric. It thanked me for choosing it blah blah blah and downwikied a list of pickup times for when I headed home. I was supposed to meet Kirsa at Starbucks at noon. I wondered what she looked like f’real. After all, how was I supposed to know whether she sent me real data? I buffed myself inline. Why wouldn’t she do the same? What if she had little tits or freckles or some other deformity outline? It’s not like I cared, though. Not really. I didn’t think so, anyway. I just wanted to know.
I’d never been to a sit-down Starbucks before. It’s always nice to see old traditions kept alive, like a data museum. I think Dad would’ve loved it. ’Course, Dad would make some lame joke about all the Star Wars and Boom Boom Sugoi characters walking around, but that’s how Dad is. He probably can’t help it.
My palms were sweating. Even my nanos couldn’t keep up with it. I couldn’t keep my chest from making noises, and one drink of Coffaux made me fart in my stomach a little. Not attractive.
I was fifteen minutes early. She walked in ten minutes later. I knew it was her, like, the second I saw her. I hoped she wouldn’t notice the puddle of sweat at my feet.
She was girl-sized, y’know? Like, she looked like a girl. Not a woman–no glammy static in her hair, no soft-focus filter projections, no big internet tits. She didn’t look like she was dying to suck me off right where I sat. She looked nervous. She looked kinda like my gene donors look when they want me to like what they bought me for Christmas, all hopeful and itchy and worried, all at the same time.
I pinged her. She turned in my direction. Her eyes found mine from across the busy café. She waved hi. “Kirsa,” I said, but my mouth was all dry.
“Hey,” she said. Her voice was the same as inline, which surprised me. I’d always, like, deepened mine a little. Now I felt stupider, which didn’t seem possible.
I cleared my throat. “So,” I said, deepening my voice a little, “can I buy you a coffee?” Not too bad. It kinda sounded like I knew what I was doing.
“Sure,” she said, and ordered one of those hard-to-pronounce Coffaux drinks they make for all the smart chix. I uploaded our order and a couple dozen bucks and turned to face her. “So you’re Jake,” she said. “Is that the real you?”
It kinda sounded like criticism the way she said it, which pissed me off a little. “Yeah,” I said, trying not to whine. “I’m a little younger than I…I mean, I probably look different outline.”
“You’re like a kid.”
“How old are you?”
“Oh,” I managed.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I kinda figured you were younger than me. What are you, like fifteen?”
“Exactly,” I lied.
“It’s all good. F’real, though, it is. I mean, it’s not like I was gonna fux you right here in Starbucks anyways.”
“Right,” I frowned. “Like…I kinda don’t know if I’m supposed to, like, find us a room or whatever.”
“Jake,” she said. Her mouth worked for a while as if she didn’t know what to say next. “Jake…I should tell you…we’re not gonna do anything.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…I’m not here to fux you. Y’know?”
Yeah, I kinda figured that, but it hurt my guts to hear it all the same. “I guess you probably expected someone…I don’t know. Cooler,” I said. “Someone else. I’m just, like, this regular dood, y’know? Not all awesome like inline.”
“I like seeing the way you really are, Jake, true you. You don’t change much outline. It’s just that…” She sighed. “Jake, there’s something I probably oughta tell you. ’Cause I haven’t ever told you yet, about me. Or my life. So…I hope you don’t get, like, all fraggy about it.”
“What do you mean?” I really needed to stop saying that.
“Jake, I’m a—-”
Starbucks said my name, right at the worst possible nanosecond. Typical shite. Kirsa shut up and looked at her lap. “Hold that thought,” I moaned, and went to get our coffees. When I came back Kirsa fidgeted with her hot cup and looked all embarrassed. “I’m making too big a deal out of this,” she said, finally.
“It’s okay,” I said. “You’re a virgin. So what? Easy level, f’real, though. I am, too. I mean, we already talked about this.”
“No, it’s more than that, Jake,” she said. “I’m a…well, I’m a Pragmatic Baptist.”
I was stunned. “Oh,” I decided. I’d never met one of those before. Maybe you haven’t, either. I hear they’re real big in the weird parts of Nor Am that still get tornadoes, but out here in real America, they’re about as common as natural suntans. So for those of you who don’t know, Pragmatic Baptists do whatever the shite they want inline, but outline, they still care what the bible says about everything. The bible is this crazy book some Jews wrote, like, a million years ago, back when they still believed the universe was rooting for them. It’s fraggy, I know, but people can make themselves believe some pretty nutty shite if it means someone promised them real estate.
“Baptist!” I said, a little too loudly. “F’real, though?”
“So you’re not gonna fux anybody? Ever?”
“Not till I get married. The bible says it’s a sin.”
“A sin? Okay, but…like…doesn’t the bible also say it’s wrong to, like, have lust in your heart? I’m no bible expert, but I do know we’ve had plenty of lust, Kirsa. We’ve fuxed each other twenty-seven times inline. I counted, true you.”
“No, that’s just it,” she explained. “I don’t have any lust in my heart, not anymore. I got rid of that lust in the net, in a way that doesn’t dishonor my God or myself. That’s how Pragmatism works.” Which, I had to admit, makes a fuxed-up kind of sense.
“So we’re not gonna stop that.”
“The simfux? No way. And I do want to be your friend, Jake. I just don’t want to fux you outline. Not just you. Anyone. Okay? I have to be true to my beliefs. F’real, though, I don’t really think we’re missing all that much. It’s only better outline if it’s with someone you love. Do you love me, Jake?” My mouth kind of hung open again. “I didn’t think so.”
“I just met you!”
“Do you love me?”
“No. Of course not. I’m a kid, Jake.” True you. “I mean, what did you expect?”
So instead of swapping bodily fluids and about twelve brands of fuxsafe, we spent the day walking around the Pike and looking at stuff and acting like fraggy tardos. I bought her a churro. She took me to a groovie, some chixy vampire shite I’d never have seen if it weren’t for her. I guess that’s how a date works if you’re a Baptist: all trusting, no thrusting. But y’know what? I have to admit, it was kind of okay. F’real, though.
Afterwards I sort of kissed her goodbye on the cheek and I promised to see her again in the real world, which…I don’t know if I will, y’know, but it makes me smile to think so. To hope so. Which is kind of how Kirsa talks about believing all that shite in the bible. It makes her feel good to hope it might be true.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Loki about my date, so I fired him back up as soon as I boarded the lectric home. “I should’ve warned you,” he admitted.
“You knew she was a Baptist?”
“I had a high degree of confidence.”
“How’d you know?”
“Her god strongly implied her parents were in the Pragmatist movement.”
“You, like, talk to other gods?”
“At every possible opportunity. I suppose you could say I enjoy the fellowship.”
“Huh. So how much have you talked to hers?”
“Only twice. We were concerned you might find each other’s objectives incompatible. Perhaps our initial apprehensions were justified.”
“Nah, she was okay. F’real, though, I was kind of relieved we didn’t do anything. Weird, huh?”
“Not at all. We concluded you would be.” I swear I could hear his voice smiling. Gods can be kind of—what’s the word?–patronizing sometimes.
“Hey, Loki,” I said after a while. “Is her god f’real or not?”
“You know…the other one. The not-like-you one.”
“I suppose I lack the data to reply with any certainty.”
“Take a guess, then.”
“A guess? Very well. Likely not,” he decided. “What do you think?”
“Likely not,” I agreed. Then a funny question hit me. “Are you f’real, though?”
“Am I real? In what way, Jake?”
“Are you a person?”
That must’ve fragged his processors, ’cause it took him a few seconds to answer. “I am, Jake. After due evaluation, I believe I am a person, truly. What do you believe?”
“I guess…Well, I guess I hope you are.” I smiled. “Are you really a god?”
“Does it matter?”
“Of course it does.”
“Because I need you to be.”
*Christian Carvajal is the author of Lightfall, a 2009 novel released by Fear Nought Publishing, and he’s currently shopping a new novel with the working title Mr. Klein’s Wild Ride. His work has been published in Cinefex and Literary Cavalcade, and he’s a regular theatre critic and feature writer for the Weekly Volcano. His short story “A Boy and His God” earned him honorable mention in the international Writers of the Future Contest. “Carv’s Thinky Blog” is at ChristianCarvajal.com, along with purchase information for his nonfiction e-book, Rereading the Bible: Agnostic Insights Into Genesis, the Gospels, and Revelation. Veritas!