The center of the city was dark and dismal. Blank-faced “humans” paced the streets next to me, carrying on their own conversations through a medium I could only begin to guess at. The streets and buildings were blank and gray–but only for those not connected to the Net. For the cyber-zombies that surrounded me, their visions were treated to an ever-changing kaleidoscope of fantastic colors, shapes, and messages.
For the precious few still on the outside, like me, it was more like standing inside a giant cemetery. A tomb for a species that once was.
My name is Jacob, I reminded myself.
I lingered too long near a bus stop (or a “Public Transportation Terminal,” as the sign proclaimed), and a nearby door opened. A completely unclad lady stepped out and walked rigidly towards me.
“This one requires physical attention,” she questioned/declared, pointing a long-tipped fingernail at my chest.
Surprised as I was, I remembered to conceal my astonishment. For the 8 billion people connected together through the planet-wide super-net, the unexpected was virtually a thing of the past. All sights, sounds, and experiences were instantly shared with those who wished; and at any one moment, an individual could be aware of everything happening in their entire city block.
(I use the term “individual” loosely, of course. This ultimate level of communication had also broken down the last bastion of the human race: the sense of self. The man in drab gray clothes near me was no functionally different than the child sitting on a park bench 100 meters away…or even the prostitute that had just demanded my attention. They didn’t even bother to use names anymore. Individuals were a product of their environment, and now every member of the human species was treated to exactly the same environment as everyone else.)
“Yes,” I replied quickly to the lady, keeping up appearances, “This one requires physical attention.”
I felt her /query my implants. As omnipresent as the Net was, it was not always perfect; and sometimes gaps required direct person-to-person contact. While the lady here had been given no notice of impending visitors, she had noticed me standing at what (I quickly assumed) was the spot where all her customers waited. She had assumed a Net malfunction and had approached for more direct interaction.
Though the implants I had been given would not convince a sustained inquiry, they were enough for a passing glance. The lady nodded rigidly and turned back to her abode. “Come, then,” she said, “This one is ready.”
My name is Jacob, I reminded myself.
The sex itself was unremarkable. I’m certain that if I’d been plugged into the Net, that I’d have been treated to an ever-increasing cacophony of sights, sounds, sensations, and injected hormones–but such was not worth the price of my soul.
There was no exchange of money after the deed. The omniscient new hive-mind of the “human” species no longer saw a need for a monetary system. With instant knowledge of all supplies and services, along with what individuals were lacking, society had now been boiled down to simply delivering what was needed. Even a planet-wide population of 8 billion people still had a physical limit of what they could use and consume in a day, and automated production had seen to most of it. (For the other “needs,” such as the one my new lady-friend saw to, there were other…arrangements.)
Standing back on the street under a new, drizzling rain, I found my attention drawn to a trio of figures standing blank and motionless nearby. Their eyes darted in identical directions…up, left, down, irises widening, then up again.
As dangerous as it was for my limited implants, I chanced a quick /query on the group. The Net obliged and returned a hazy image of floating graphs and diagrams. Whereas in another age, humans used computers to do their thinking for them, these days the process was infernally reversed. Eight billion interconnected humans also meant eight billion supercomputers, just waiting to be taken advantage of. Sometimes up to half of the “people” I passed on the street would be involved in solving problems assigned by the system–psychic slaves, tasked to an inhuman puppetmaster.
I pondered again what had brought homo sapiens to the brink of its own extinction. A carnal need for instant information, for ease of living, for avoiding the inherent hardships of existence, I had often decided. Humans had decided, consciously or otherwise, that the false dream of infants was preferable to the waking world of the adult. And, in doing so, they had condemned themselves to infanticide. For pain, toil, and, yes, even ignorance were the prices paid to take active part in our universe. History was littered with the remains of those who had convinced themselves otherwise.
There was no longer any war, any hate, any prejudice, any need, any suffering–no longer anything that made us human. And though their hearts still beat, I walked as among the living dead.
My name is Jacob, I reminded myself. And if nothing else, that’s the one thing I still know.