A jet of electricity into Arjan’s arm woke him up, as normal.
The Speedfeeder app on his phone gave him the rundown. It was twenty past six and twenty-seven degrees Celsius in London, with expected highs of thirty-eight or nine, humidity eighty per cent, precipitation unlikely. Song of the Day was null – recommendation unavailable and the No.1 Show to Watch was also null – recommendation unavailable. On the upside, there were ninety-five HOT SINGLES matching Arjan’s socioeconomic profile, weight, height, age, muscle mass, penile mass, body hair coverage, interests, intro-extroversion and sexual proclivity spectrum scores within a nought-point-five mile radius of his bedroom.
In travel news, strikes had paralysed SubTrain lines one through three; a failed terror attack had closed line six; a suicide had closed line four. SurfTrain EcoBus routes were expected to run today at five hundred per cent capacity and commute time was expected to be one hour forty-two minutes per mile.
In the rest of the world, the death toll from flooding in Bangladesh had reached one hundred and fifty thousand; sixty-eight rocket attacks had been shot down by the Judge Defense System in three hours, over Tel Aviv; scientists had warned that the western areas of Amsterdam and Rotterdam would be lost within three years to rising sea levels; the Fairness and Equality Board had ruled that the films Die Hard, Terminator, Star Wars – A New Hope and Mamma Mia were problematic and offensive, and should not be publicly shown; and finally, protestors had destroyed more than a thousand books held in the Bodleian Library after the institution had refused to give up offensive texts for destruction.
As Arjan dressed, there was a familiar sound of aluminium grating against aluminium from next door: his neighbour was relocating, and the large cuboid they called home was being removed from the modular block where they all lived by a large forklift. It would then be taken across town to another modular block with a free slot, where it would be inserted again like a shipping container into a stack. This was the cheapest way for people to move closer to the centre.
He happened to catch his outgoing neighbour on the way out, and sidled into the High Metroparl he used when talking to other yups.
‘Didn’t cop it was today you were allering, amiko,’ Arjan said.
‘Oui, mon cher. Going to a modblock in Zone One, spare slot. Cushy deal. Ne-peux-pas with the commute from here anymore.’
‘Faire you a chah before you quit?’
‘Kava if vous pouvoir, hombre – that’d be bona.’
It was one minute past seven by his coffee machine, which recommended a hybridised robusta bean newly debuted on the market which could be secured by monthly subscription and drone-delivered within thirty minutes. He opted out.
‘Merci, mon hombre.’
‘Pensering you’ll be gone when I return. Snap me your deets when you’ve a min, non? High time for an old ca-va-ca-va.’
‘Ano, my good man. Ca-va-ca-va over a bevvy in Central.’
As they talked, the doorway and the section of wall around it retreated, sliding out of the building like a Jenga block, revealing daylight. It was already up to twenty-nine celsius. The cuboid making up his neighbour’s home was borne away by the forklift, a machine six storeys tall, and loaded onto one of the city’s many large transporters for relocation. Meanwhile the outgoing neighbour ambled off for work, joining a conference call as he did.
An identical cuboid was being lifted into place as Arjan left for work. The only personalising feature was a heart-shaped sign saying ‘Love your life – love this home – love wine.’
He ran his phone over the unit’s serial number, below the doorknob, and in so doing brought up a raft of details on his new neighbour, who was a young woman named Kayla. Four seconds later he had her work history, habits, relationship status, and credit rating. This was the usual way of greeting someone; within half an hour of him having started for work, he saw that Kayla was performing the same scan on him. As was customary for an incoming neighbour, she sent him a message to introduce herself.
The message said: ‘Servusz ma voisin nuova!’
Arjan did a double take. It took him several moments to realise that Kayla was using Regular Metroparl to say ‘Hello, new neighbour!’
Regular Metroparl was pleb speak. Nobody in polite society spoke it, least of all in carefully-selected blocks like Arjan’s. Any Regular speakers were screened out of higher-end urban blocks by the relocation algorithm; it was why people paid so much for lessons in High Metroparl or Old English. It was certainly why Arjan had done: the only time he spoke Regular was visiting his family outside the city, as these were the only people he knew who weren’t yups. To be confronted by it here, by another yup, was quite shocking.
Arjan very pointedly replied in High Metroparl.
‘Bonjour, nouveau neighbour. Aimering your style! [Here he added a smiling emoji.] Have you just arrived en l’environ?’
Kayla’s reply: ‘Quoi? Nee, muz! Mi logas in le micto pour cinq ans! Moy langue confusez-toi, non? [here she added a winking emoji]’ Meaning What? No, I’ve lived in the city for five years. Does me speaking Regular confuse you?
‘Non ma’am. Just don’t hear it beaucoup dans les blocks.’
‘Neh? Bien, preparez-vin pour parlas en plus encore. Havas-vin oublier ton micto?’ Meaning ‘Well, get ready to start speaking it more from now on. Have you forgotten where you came from?’
Where you came from?
‘And ou-est-ca, ma’am?’
‘The same place that I’m from, amiko.’
And so it was that something very strange started to happen to Arjan.
Kayla knew his oldest friends and his parents. They were two lost members of the same small tribe that had somehow found one another in the Metropolis. Such predestination was not the result of the sorting algorithms, as Arjan took great pains to hide his connection with his hometown from these systems. Outside of there possibly being some long-forgotten piece of digital residue marking him out as a Provincial, there was no way of the algorithm knowing enough to match him with Kayla. In fact, Kayla had blown his cover by saying what she was saying on an electronic platform – so for all he knew he would now be grouped with other Provincials wherever he moved.
But as they spoke, Arjan found confirmed and re-confirmed minor and major details of the streets he knew, of nightclubs, of strange characters from school and elsewhere. Typing onto his handheld at his desk he began to feel a strange exhilaration, a giddiness. It was almost a frightening feeling, a kind of surprised joy, crossed with a kind of terror at what was happening: he was losing control, and his feelings were no longer his own, but independent from him, sweeping his thoughts and decisions after them. Every question they asked each other, and every topic they talked about, gave more wind to their feelings, to the hunches they both held about what was happening. After an hour or so, Arjan’s hairs were beginning to stand up. His heart was racing; his fitness tracker told him that all of his indicators were too high, blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism; his work tracker was warning him that his productivity levels had gone far below those deemed acceptable.
It didn’t matter. He found himself thinking, again and again: Yes.
‘Arjan, what faire you?’ his manager said. ‘Travailing hard or hardly travailing?’
Arjan’s matchmaking app confirmed his and Kayla’s suitability for each other: near perfect matches in philosophical outlooks, spiritual beliefs and stated aspirations. And so a week or so into having Kayla as a neighbour, Arjan found himself thinking of star-crossed lovers in ancient books. Elective affinities.
It was the way that each seemed to know – even before they could properly be called close – when to call on each other, or how to work in a trip to a café they both liked into their busy schedules, and how they would always, despite everything, find themselves available when one called on the other.
It was, of course, strange to speak in person after conducting so much digitally. An emoji had no parallel in a look, an eyebrow’s arch, or an expression. The words on a chat had their meaning, but these meanings changed completely with inflection, pause, and a body’s movements. And when, while they were talking, the involuntary things their eyes did, or the way goosebumps came and went – these gave away things that text and image could not.
The first doubts came when Arjan met his old neighbour for a coffee in the city. After a brief-enough wait of forty-three minutes, the two sat down with a pair of caffe-salutaros fortified with levodopa, tryptophan and vit-D. The two of them took the opportunity to practice their Old English, as they were in town and would be seen by people of influence and importance, and Arjan talked about his new bout of monogamy.
‘I’m happy, my man, I’m happy,’ his neighbour said. ‘You fall out of condition if it’s been too long and it can be good to do a run with one person to get back into it. When are you going to switch, then?’
‘I hadn’t thought about it.’
‘Amiko. You’re too young to settle. You need to switch up. People will think you’re having kids or something.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
‘I know, I know. Who is this lovely lady, then?’
‘Whoa, risky my friend. What do the others on the block think? I tried that once, and I had so many complaints.’
Sure enough, in the neighbourhood chat groups, there was both speculation and worry about the fact that two strangers were exhibiting such familiar and intense relations. It was felt that such a relationship was putting the harmony of the block in jeopardy.
A note was slipped under each of their doors. Arjan and Kayla discussed these notes.
Kayla: ‘Malbona, mais pas fatal. Homoj havas peur a szokatlan.’ – Bad, but not terrible; people were frightened of unusual things; their affair was one of these.
Arjan: ‘Je nye sais, amour. Je nye sais. Les voisins sont tournent a nous dvah.’ – I don’t know, my love, I just don’t know. The neighbours are turning on us.
In a way, that the neighbours would turn as they did, like antibodies upon a corrupted cell, was completely justified. Kayla and Arjan had become a terrible threat.
They still talked about home and why each had left and how they had found each other. It seemed impossible. But Arjan realised the steps towards their meeting were utterly humdrum in their logic:
- Kayla had left for one particular job; Arjan had left for another particular job.
- Arjan had applied for habitation within a block closer to Central and had ended up here.
- Kayla had, likewise, applied for habitation within a block closer to Central and, again likewise, had ended up here.
- The two had bonded over their similarities.
And there was nothing else to the affair.
But what if there was, Kayla asked him one evening. What if there really was predetermination, and soulmates bound to find one another? Wasn’t it weird that two people who were so different and yet so similar had been thrown together and fallen so quickly in love, in a city of twenty million people and two hundred million distractions?
Perhaps it wasn’t, Arjan said. Perhaps many more people fell in love and never acknowledged it, and moved on to carry on living. Perhaps there was nothing special about them in that regard.
Kayla’s eyes went cold.
And she said: ‘Perhaps not, amiko. Servusz.’
And so within a week, Kayla confirmed that she had been wrongly assigned to the block, and was accordingly being moved somewhere else.
They met at random in the city many months later. This in itself should have proved Arjan’s suspicions correct about a higher force being at work in bringing two souls together. But it didn’t, because Arjan was on his way to a night-shift, and gave it no further thought.
Kayla had returned from their shared hometown recently and had been thinking of Arjan. Arjan had been thinking of her since they last saw one another.
They did not talk about anything they wanted to talk about.
‘Servusz! Ca va, m’amikino?’
‘Servusz mon cher. Mama i tato donnent son amour, kune avec Petra i Ciceli. Et tu? Bona?’
Neither of them ever spoke to nor saw each other again.
SpeedFeeder told him it was twenty-three minutes past six and thirty-seven degrees Celsius in London, humidity ninety per cent, precipitation unlikely. Song of the Day was null – recommendation unavailable and the No.1 Show to Watch was null – recommendation unavailable. As of Arjan’s recent weight loss and shift in muscle mass, there were now four hundred and fifty-eight HOT SINGLES matching his socioeconomic profile, weight, height, age, muscle mass, penile mass, body hair coverage, interests, intro-extroversion and sexual proclivity spectrum scores within a nought point five mile radius of his exact location. Kayla was one of them.
In travel news, SubTrain lines one through five were running normally, but another failed terror attack had closed line six, and a stampede on line seven had closed the latter. SurfTrain EcoBus routes were expected to run today at two hundred and ten per cent capacity, and commute time was expected to be one hour per mile.
In the rest of the world, eleven women had been executed for having illegal abortions in Saudi Arabia. The women were said to be victims of miscarriages. In the Pacific, North Korean rocket attacks against Japan, Guam and Hawaii had been thwarted. China had warned the United States not to retaliate. The floodwaters had receded from Bangladesh with a final death toll of four hundred and sixty thousand. And lastly, a video by an acclaimed influencer debuting makeup made especially for cats had been viewed fifty million times in thirty seconds, which was a new record.
Samuel R. Buckley is a writer from the UK. He has been published in magazines such as Bewildering Stories, EgoPhobia, Scarlet Leaf Review, Datura Magazine, and Terror House Magazine.