Usually I’m woken by Tom’s voice tickling my ear. ‘Morning Isa, slept well?’ He always sounds as if he’s also only just woken up – still a bit woozy and hoarse from the night. But this morning I’m not woken by him, but by a loud bang. Tom’s lying motionless beside me. I pinch his cheeks, his eyes remain closed. Tom’s legs feel warm, and his new white underpants suit him.
I walk through the flat, but I can see that nothing has fallen over. When I ask my coffee machine for a macchiato, it refuses to start. Even the light in the room won’t switch on – my home is ignoring me. Through the kitchen window I can see that the whole city is blacked out. I open up my laptop, but it only emits a few flashes of light – the system’s breaking down. All it does is show the time, it’s half-past five. I wonder whether I should perhaps just go back to sleep. I’m sure everything will get back to normal later on.
I snuggle up to Tom and put my head on his shoulder, gently rubbing his crotch, but he doesn’t move. I bite his earlobe, first very gently and then more and more firmly until I’m chewing it. Finally I pull his arm round my neck like a scarf and turn round. Tom’s is now lying on his side against my back, I try to find his respiration, but he’s gone away. I push him roughly off me, give him a good shake, and tug at his eyelids. One eye stays open, staring at the ceiling. I thump his chest with my fists, hoping to bring him back to life. Jab his leg a few times with my hairpin. His skin feels smooth and has a fine beige colour. ‘Hallo, are you there?’
Outside there’s still no light. The sun’s rising in the distance, smog is blanketing the city. I put on my air pollution mask and go out onto the balcony, staring into the gaping void. It attracts me strangely, and I cling firmly to the railings, as if otherwise I might be sucked downwards.
Then I see revolving red alarm lights in the distance, and I hear the announcement: ‘Your attention, please – “The system” has been hacked. Everyone is asked not to panic, and to stay indoors until the problem has been dealt with. We are doing our very best to get “The system” going again. Meanwhile keep an eye on your IQ intelligence, which may also have been hacked.’
I go back inside, make coffee by hand and try to phone my work, but there’s no dialling tone. I do most of my work from home. These days we only really visit people who are very seriously ill. In the last stages of our lives we’re entitled to be touched by a real person – a hologram will no longer do. The doorbell rings, and through the spyhole I can see a dark-haired man with perfect cheekbones standing in the corridor. Almost as good-looking as my Tom.
‘Yes?’ I say through the door. I don’t dare open it. The man might be carrying a virus.
‘Do you know what’s going on? Everything’s stopped working.’
‘I hear the system’s been hacked – we’ve got to be patient.’
The man looks thoughtfully at the floor.
‘I’m sure things will be alright again soon,’ I say reassuringly.
Now the man leans one hand against my door and looks straight into the spyhole – I’m shocked by the look in his eyes.
‘What’s your name anyway?’ he asks.
‘Isa – what’s yours?’
‘Pete – I haven’t lived here long, but I think I’ve seen you around. Blonde ponytail?’
I grin. ‘That’s right.’
‘No time’, I reply.
‘Pity, you could make a nice copy of yourself.’
I blush, and feel like letting him in. It’s been a long time since I last saw a real person.
‘I’ve got things to do,’ I say. ‘Sorry’.
The man goes.
I sit on top of Tom and lift his hands up to my shoulders. Kiss his stomach, which is just right, not too muscular but still nice and flat. ‘So, guy, you may have been hacked.’ I lift him up and lean him against the wall. Then I take a blue chequered shirt out of the cupboard and put it on him. I expect he’ll like that when he comes to. Tom always has an explanation for everything, and can put things in perspective. I miss him, and have to try hard not to lose it – I’ve never been offline for so long before. I do relaxation exercises, breathing deeply in and out like an elephant. Then Tom suddenly starts rolling his eyes. ‘Are you there at last?’
He looks at me without the slightest sign of recognition – coldly, in fact.
I stroke his shoulder. ‘Take it easy.’
He smiles, but he still doesn’t quite seem to recognise me.
Perhaps he just needs to warm up. I sit on him again, playfully unbuttoning his shirt and pulling my own off over my head.
‘The city’s broken down, everything’s stopped working. Just take a look outside in a bit.’
Tom puts his fingers on my mouth to stop me talking, and kisses me. Not the way I’m used to – it’s a bit stiff and clumsy. Then he pushes me against the mattress, which is exciting, until he roughly presses my head into the pillow. ‘I know you’ve missed me, but could you be a bit gentler?’, I blurt out. Tom grins and bites my ears like a dog. ‘Ouch, ouch,’ I cry, trying to kick him away. Then Tom presses my face into the pillow with a flat hand, picks up my hairpin which is still in the bed, and drives it as hard as he can into my thigh.