B.A.S.I.C. by Joshua Sky - A Heavy Metal Short Story

By Joshua Sky
© 2022

Yury awkwardly waited in the urinal beside mine, pretending to
pee. He didn’t get the hint that I was waiting for him to leave. He
was never good at hints and I was never good at being blunt. So, I
answered his stupid questions, while looking up at the funny patterns
on the ceiling. “I’ll find something,” I exhaled. We’ll find
“That’s the thing, Dean. Will we?” He paused and I realized
there was a bigger reason why he was lingering. He was seeking my
approval. He wasn’t just asking for my permission; he was wondering if
I’d cave too.
The urinal flushed. I went to the sink and washed my hands. “Do
what you want. I’m not going through with it.”
Yury floated over, head lowered. “Maybe you should. We've got
family to think of.”
“And principles too, remember those?”
“... I Guess my family is worth more to me.”
We were both quiet, anxious about the prospect of starting over.
Wondering if we could do it again.
“There’s a program, you know about it, right?” I shook my head.
“It’s government subsidized. They’ll pay to have their O.S. installed,
so we can be work ready. We should sign-up.”

I clenched my fists, trying to remind myself that he meant well.
He was right, of course, but it didn’t make me feel better.
Packing my desk was a blur. Ten years of memories were either fit into
a small box, or thrown in a dumpster, most of it the latter.


The drive home was a fog. By the time I got to the trailer park
it was just after one, and I arrived thinking I’d have some alone time
to decompress and think things through. That wasn’t the case. Lisa was
in the living room with two of her friends, boys, sharing one of my
half-empty bottles of vodka.
I was surprised to see Dan, Yury’s son. Did he know what
happened, or was the news waiting for him when he got home? I asked
them to leave. I wasn’t mad about Lisa spending time with boys. I
trust her to not do anything stupid, but the combination of vodka and
ditching school broke too many rules in my book. This was already a
bad day as is stood.
Lisa sat on the couch, wearing a flow-tee two sizes too large,
which silently streamed retro Coca Cola ads. She gazed at me with big
green eyes, scared, yet defiant. Her young face was taut, and her hair
was bundled in a ponytail. She’s so young, just fifteen, a part of me
felt envious. I told her to get her backpack, I’d be driving her
to class.
“I don’t want to go back. I hate it there.”

A grunt escaped my throat. I adjusted my baseball cap, crossing
my arms.
“I’m looked at like a weirdo. I can’t sync with any of the
machines. People tease me like I’m handicapped.”
“That drove you to drink?”
“No -- it just feels good sometimes. I’m not an alcoholic or
anything, like you.”
“I see.” Her words stung.
“I’m just -- I’m tired of being looked at like a freak.”
“You’re not a freak. You’re beautiful, not to mention overly
“Everybody in town looks down at us, because they’ve got all the
upgrades and we don’t even have Basic. They’re having me use touch
screens and tablets like it’s the Stone Age.”
“Relax, when I was a kid, we lugged textbooks.”
“I want to upgrade.”
“You can, when you’re eighteen.”
She grimaced, the same way her mother used to. “If you had just
signed your permission, I wouldn’t’ve been here today.”

“Hey, if I teach you one thing it’s to take accountability for
your actions. Now, how’s two weeks of being grounded? I’d say that’s
fair, what about you?”
“Great. Now we can spend more time together, since you were
She almost choked on her words. I rose from my seat, too angry to
look at her.


That night the dreams started coming again. Most of the time
they’re foggy and nonsensical. But the ones about Elena are always
vivid, maybe because they come from memories I can’t seem to forget. I
read somewhere that dreams only last something like eight seconds, but
I don't believe that. Mine seem to last hours. In this one we were
sitting in the living room. Not the one in my trailer, but when we had
a house. I’d just gotten home from work, still new at the job, and
Elena was on the couch, wearing an excited expression.
“Honey, I’ve got great news!” The way she said it, such elation
in her voice. Her enthusiasm was so ironic, so ignorant of all the
pain her news would bring us.
She was CC’d on an email from her office at Oren Labs. They were
seeking medical volunteers to beta test the first computer operating
system to be installed directly in the mind. It would supposedly sync
with the user’s cerebral cortex and digitize their thoughts, allowing
them to mentally interact with machines.

The concept made me leery. Who wants a computer in their head?
Well, back then anyway. But, like now, back then, we were desperate
for money. And this little experiment would pay $150,000. More money
than I’d ever had. That reward combined with her excitement suckered
me into supporting her. I would’ve volunteered, but Oren already
successfully tested the technology on male subjects. Something in me
knew I should’ve stopped her, but she was stubborn. Everyone in the
family has that trait in common.
The installation was fine; it’s the testing that killed her. That
moment haunts me. Seeing her lying on the cot, post operation, with
the bandages on her head, the silver medusa wig of steel cables
embedded in her skull. She was smiling and calm the whole time. "Don't
worry, babe. Now we’ll be able to take good care of Lisa. Give her the
life she deserves."
Despite wanting to weep, I smiled instead and told her that I
loved her. "I love you too." She said, holding my hand. "Not as much
as you love me, but pretty close." That got me laughing.
Then the moment came when they booted-up the mental software, the
machines began humming and all these displays streamed data that was
beyond me. Suddenly one of the computers shut down, then failed. Three
seconds later blood started running from her nose, ears, and gradually
bubbled up from her eyes. She writhed violently in my arms. I held
her, and screamed at the staff, screamed at her, begged her not to
die. But she died anyway.

So, I started drinking. Not long after that, I pissed away all the
money. It was supposed to be Lisa's college fund, and I'm guilty and
sorry about that. Really. But I was depressed and lacked self-control.
I'll make it up to her. Somehow.

The next day I woke up at 9:30, which is late for me. I’m usually
a 5:30 guy, but I had nowhere to go, and quite frankly, I was feeling
down. Lisa was gone. Probably at school. She’d better be. I gave the
campus a call and they confirmed she was there. Good.
Then I started my job hunt.
It took all day, but I sent out five applications. There weren’t
many openings. Especially for applicants who hadn’t transitioned.
Actually, there were none, but I applied anyway.
No replies.
The following day, I applied to every opening I could find. This
time there was a position whose qualifications I met! I spent all day
crafting the perfect resume, writing it, and my cover letter exactly
to the specs of the opening. You must do that if you want to have a
shot of getting a response.
The next morning, I rushed to the computer and checked my email.
No replies.
Day three, four and five were the same.

Weeks two, three and four were the same too.
I became depressed.
At night, I'd drive around aimlessly to take my mind off things,
but it didn't help. I'd go past an area called the Bonfires, a giant
field where clusters of homeless people would congregate every night.
Some folks, I'm embarrassed to admit, I recognized from work. Decent
people who lost everything and were now just trying to scrape by. I
never stopped to say hi. I'd just hit the gas.


This might sound silly, but a part of me wished I grounded Lisa
longer, then at least I wouldn’t feel so damned lonely all the time.
When you’re too busy working, you often fantasize about all the free
time you’d have, all the exciting things you’d do. In my case, I
didn’t have much money to indulge with; all of it was used to stay
afloat. It’s scary, not knowing where the money is going to come from.
That fear ruins the free time.
After another week of no luck, I was craving alcohol again. Not
just a drink, or a bottle, but an all-out binge. The craving
frightened me. I know how I can get with liquor, so I preempted
myself. I ransacked the trailer. There was a six-pack of Bud Light,
half a bottle of Vodka, a quarter bottle of Bullet and an expensive
bottle of high-end whiskey that was a gift from Elena before she died.
I dumped them all except for the one she gave me.

Lisa found me on the couch. I was watching news reports on the
slumping global population. The numbers are staggering. It’s not war
or disease that's taking us out, but simple obsolescence. Families are
having fewer kids because they are so expensive, and even if they do
manage to raise them right, there probably won’t be any jobs for them.
Some politicians running for office are making calls to “rehumanize”
the workforce, demanding companies to create jobs that could otherwise
be automated in exchange for tax breaks.
I tried telling all of this to Lisa, but my words kept slurring.
She seemed mad but didn’t say much. She just kept muttering,
“something smells funny,” under her breath.
More weeks passed, bills mounted, and desperation with it,
chipping away at my confidence. That’s a man’s most valuable
possession, he can't do anything without it. I needed to get off my
ass and do something, so I went to a copy center and Xeroxed my
updated CV. They were on expensive smart paper with all these fancy
features that I didn’t know how to use, so it must’ve looked plain to
the companies I dropped them off at. I would’ve printed them on
regular paper, if it weren't so damn expensive.
It wasn’t until I began scouting for jobs in person that I
realized how cooped up I’d been. I shaved, showered, put on nice
clothing, far nicer than I’d worn in a long-time and went store-to-
store at the local strip-malls. It was frustrating, I didn't run into
anyone who I could identify with. It was mainly machines and young
people, with their upgrades and metal all over their faces.

The eeriest places were the vacant offices, empty, save for the app
management software that was willing to speak with me. It was
frustrating, I grew up around some of these buildings when I was a kid
and remember them when they were full of people. Now, I go to the
local drug store and nobody's behind the counter, just self-check-out
kiosks and cheerful androids stocking the shelves, wearing fake grins.


This week, I woke up early every morning and really pushed
myself. Dropped off over a hundred resumes.
No replies.
I made follow up calls to every company. The few places that I
could get a hold of an HR rep, would tell me I wasn’t compatible with
any of the machines since I didn’t have a neural interface installed.
Or, they'd politely state that they went with another candidate, and
to check their job site for more openings. Is it just me, or are job
sites hellish? Like, if hell were a real place, it'd probably be a job
Eventually I swallowed my pride and reached out to my few friends
who were still working. I told them about my situation, asked them to
go to lunch, or coffee. To my surprise, they were more than willing to
meet. And so, we did. It was fun, but also kind of embarrassing. Some
of them were people I helped when their careers were just starting
out, and now they had blown way past me. All of them were
Transitioned, which they admitted was a hurdle that I would have to

get over. They all said they’d keep an eye out for any openings and
send them my way. It made me feel relieved.
I never heard from any of them again.
I bought another bottle of liquor.
This time Lisa found me on the floor. I can’t recall much that
night, I just remember that she was crying.
Lisa disappeared after that. A few days went by and I went over
to Yury’s house, figured she was staying there with his family. They
were polite when I came over. I knew that they knew that I was
drinking again.
Yury appeared different now. He “invested” a lot of money into a
mental interface. He swore it opened whole new vistas, or whatever. He
kept bragging about how he can turn on his house lights with just a
thought, how he doesn't forget anything anymore and can instantly
recall any memory in pixel perfect detail.
It sounded like hell to me. Sometimes it's better to forget.
We were alone on his porch. The kids were inside. Lisa wouldn’t
come out to see me.
“Dean,” Yury pressed. “You’ve got to do two things: Lay off the
booze and upgrade. There’s no way around it. Not if you want to find a

job. Lisa told me everything, she says that the bank has been sending
reps over about foreclosure.”
“I’ve got options.”
"You're pissed about Elena. I get it."
“Sure …"
"You’ve got to move on. Think about your daughter. If it's bad
now, it's only going to get worse. Don’t just save yourself … save
We were both silent, and I kept nodding, feigning a grim smirk.
“Go for Basic. Its government subsidized. The Liu Administration
really pushed the initiative, so we’d be more competitive in the
global economy. I paid extra for the latest software. Cost a lot, but
I wanted to give myself an edge. It’s a status thing.”
Yury meant well, but he was being condescending. I sprang from my
seat and walked into his house, finding Lisa. She was upset and angry,
and no matter what I said she wouldn’t come home.
"Get away from me!" She yelled. "Go away!"


More weeks passed, as did more bottles, and I still couldn't find
a damn job. Robots dressed in business suits knocked on my door. They
looked like they could work for a bank, so I didn’t answer. I hid in
the bathroom, catching a glimpse of my face in the mirror. It was

awful. See, in my mind, I always picture a younger version of myself,
but my reflection tells a different story. Who I wanted to be wasn't
staring back. I’d grown a double chin and a larger belly. My jaw was
stubbly with gray hair. I’m still handsome more, or less, but I need
work. A lot of work.
I took a shower. Sometimes I hide in there with all the lights
out and sit on the floor. I'd run the water, and just feel the warmth
in the darkness. It helps me forget. It's a habit I picked up back
when my parents divorced.
I dressed and decided to go back on the hunt. When I got to my
truck, the bankers were there. The robo-suits. They’d been waiting and
handed me a letter informing that I had less than a month to start
paying them again, or they’d take my trailer, my home, away.
I called Lisa and apologized. Told her that I sobered up, which
was more or less true. She told me the only way she’d come back was if
she could sign up for Basic and if I’d sign up too.
I promised her everything, told her that things would be
different this time.


“Why do they have to call it Basic?” I asked, glaring at the
giant metal decals on the walls. “Sounds … demeaning.”
Lisa didn't hear me. She was lost in her own mind, staring at a
horizon beyond the wall before us. She was finally going to be normal.

I glanced around our dull surroundings. The air was cold, and nearly
all the seats were filled by men and women who were in their 50’s or
Three hours passed before our number was called. We were led
through a labyrinth of cubicles to a consultation room. The social
worker who met us wore a cheap tan suit, and an attitude that
telegraphed that he’d prefer to be elsewhere. “Welcome.” He said,
without making eye contact, still staring at a holo monitor, silently
concentrating at the screen, which synced with his thoughts.
“Hey, can I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” he turned to me, as his mind traced new actions on
the screen.
“Since people are putting computers in their heads, how do they
know that their thoughts aren't being read by strangers? Don’t they
“Maybe. I don't mind. I have nothing to hide.”
“What about privacy? Isn’t anyone concerned about that?”
"Dean..." Lisa protested, embarrassed.
“There are safeguards in place, Mr. O’Donnell, nothing to worry
about. The government isn’t reading your thoughts, and even if they
were, they’re only looking for the bad guys, and you’re not one of
those, are you?” He finished his sentence with a forced chuckle,
turned back to the screen and continued. “Okay, so I’ve gone through

your file and you both qualify for low-income subsidized upgrades. The
procedure takes about fifteen minutes, we just have to run a few
tests. Once those are clear, I can set up appointments for you at the
The lab was more sterile and crowded than the intake center. This
time, the wait was four hours. Lisa was so excited; she held my hand
until we saw the nurse. A woman in her 40’s, silver haired, pretty but
tired and overworked. The doctor, equally fatigued, kept droning on
about the mechanics of the procedure. She had Lisa strapped in a chair
and brought out a device that would shoot a pellet of Nanos up through
her nostril and into her brain. From there, the nanos would be
released and build microscopic infrastructures along her neural
pathways. They certainly came a long way since Elena's botched
procedure, but it didn't calm my nerves.
I stopped paying attention, all I could see was my daughter,
strapped in that chair, staring up at me with her hopeful, vulnerable
smile. Happy.
I felt terrified. Terrified that I was allowing her to die, just
like her mother. Terrified that I was reliving it again.
Elena’s bleeding eyes were seared in my mind.
Lisa was crying tears of joy.
Everything turned out fine.

My daughter lived, and now claims that she sees everything in a
whole new way. She feels connected. To people, to a collective, to
some greater form of consciousness, or whatever.
The clinic asked if I wanted to have my session, but I asked to
reschedule, then didn't.
Lisa started going out more after that. She said she wasn’t mad
at me for breaking my promise. Though, she didn't look me in the eyes
when she said it. I kept assuring her that I would when the time was
right. I kept lying. She suddenly had more friends and was invited to
parties. I was just happy that she was happy. That’s all that
The robo-bankers kept knocking on my door, and I kept evading
them. The social workers from Basic were trying to get a hold of me
too, lots of calls, lots of messages. No returns.
One night, Lisa didn’t come home until about three in the
morning. I was sitting in the living room in the dark, awake with just
my thoughts. Painfully sober. She sat beside me, silently placing her
head on my shoulder, then took my hand. “Daddy …” My brows rose, it
had been a long time since she called that. “You’re so stubborn.”
“I know, sweetie.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I’m going to get a job.”

“When? How? You haven’t even …” She stopped herself. “You’re not
going to, are you? You've been lying all along.”
I nodded and she began to cry. “You’ll lose everything. Don’t you
realize? Don’t you care?”
“What I’ll keep is more important than anything I’ll lose. And I
still got you, don’t I?”
“You’ll always have me... But this isn't the way it was supposed
to be. Mom, she would've wanted us to move on. Can't you do that?
Can't you move on?"


Eventually she asked to stay at Yury’s. He offered to take care
of her for a while, after the banks took away my home and until I
figured things out. A while turned into a year, and then two. I’d run
into them around town and she always seemed more family with them than
she ever did with me. Sometimes, when she saw me, I could swear she
was embarrassed.
I sold most of my stuff, except for the truck and some clothes,
and attached a hatch on the back, so I could sleep there at night. I’m
still looking for a job, and even had a couple interviews, but not
being Transitioned has been a challenge.
Six months ago, Lisa came to the Bonfires and found me. I almost
didn't recognize her. Her face had changed, she had all this silver

metal on it. Her eyes were augmented with digital iridescence, like
great big shiny bubbles. She took me for a cup of coffee.
"Look at you, daddy." She kept saying with sadness in her voice.
"Look at you."
We were in awe of each other. We changed so much.
She took my hand, and kept apologizing for some reason, I don't
understand why. She kept saying, "I'm sorry for being a bad daughter.
I'm sorry for being a bad daughter. I'm sorry for being a bad
daughter. I'll be better. I promise, I'll be better."
And I kept telling her that she was a great daughter. She would
shake her head, and cry, and I cried, and then we hugged.
Time passed and I don’t see Lisa anymore. Last I heard, she was
going to college and studying law. I’m really proud of her.

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