Read Machine Man Online

Authors: Max Barry

Machine Man

Praise for Max Barry’s
MACHINE MAN

“When we first encounter Dr. Charles Neumann, the hero of Max Barry’s wickedly entertaining new novel, he’s human in body, but sadly machinelike in spirit. Then Barry begins the long process of inverting this equation, whittling away at poor Charlie’s flesh while he simultaneously prods his soul into a hesitant, wavering sort of life. It’s a brilliant book: caustically funny, and—by its closing chapter—surprisingly moving.”

—Scott Smith, author of
The Ruins

“Don’t open this one unless you’re prepared to keep reading until the last page is done. Once again, Barry delivers.”

—Seth Godin, author of
Linchpin

“Fast-paced.… Barry is helping to reinvent publishing.”


io9.com

MAX BARRY
MACHINE MAN

Max Barry began removing parts at an early age. In 1999, he successfully excised a steady job at tech giant HP in order to upgrade to the more compatible alternative of manufacturing fiction. While producing three novels, he developed the online nation simulation game
NationStates
, as well as contributing to various open source software projects and developing religious views on operating systems. He did not leave the house much. For
Machine Man
, Max wrote a website to deliver pages of fiction to readers via e-mail and RSS. He lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife and two daughters, and is thirty-eight years old. He uses vi.

www.maxbarry.com

ALSO BY MAX BARRY

Company

Jennifer Government

Syrup

A VINTAGE CONTEMPORARIES ORIGINAL, AUGUST
2011

Copyright © 2011 by Max Barry

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Contemporaries and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblace to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This entire work was serialized in somewhat different form from March 2009 to December 2009 on
www.maxbarry.com/machineman
.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Barry, Max, 1973–
   Machine man : a novel / by Max Barry.
       p. cm.
   eISBN: 978-0-307-74322-0
  1. Mechanical engineers—Fiction. 2. Artificial limbs—Fiction. I. Title.
   PS3552.A7424M33 2011
   813′.54—dc22
   2011004724

www.vintagebooks.com

Cover design by Matt Roeser

v3.1

FINE, IT’S FOR MINTER
.

Contents

AS A
boy, I wanted to be a train. I didn’t realize this was unusual—that other kids played
with
trains, not as them. They liked to build tracks and have trains not fall off them. Watch them go through tunnels. I didn’t understand that. What I liked was pretending my body was two hundred tons of unstoppable steel. Imagining I was pistons and valves and hydraulic compressors.

“You mean robots,” said my best friend, Jeremy. “You want to play robots.” I had never thought of it like that. Robots had square eyes and jerky limbs and usually wanted to destroy the Earth. Instead of doing one thing right, they did everything badly. They were general purpose. I was not a fan of robots. They were bad machines.

I WOKE
and reached for my phone and it was not there. I groped around my bedside table, fingers sneaking between novels I didn’t read anymore because once you start e-reading you can’t go back. But no phone. I sat up and turned on my lamp. I crawled underneath the bed, in case my phone had somehow fallen in the night and bounced oddly. My eyes were blurry from sleep so I swept my arms across the carpet in hopeful arcs. This disturbed dust and I coughed. But I kept sweeping. I thought:
Have I been burgled?
I felt like I would have woken if someone had tried to swipe my phone. Some part of me would have realized.

I entered the kitchen. Kitchenette. It was not a big apartment. But it was clean, because I didn’t cook. I would have spotted my phone. But I did not. I peered into the living room. Sometimes I sat on the sofa and watched TV while playing with my phone. Possibly the phone had slipped down between cushions. It could be there now, just out of sight. I shivered. I was naked. The living room curtains were open and the window looked onto the street. The street looked into the window. Sometimes there were dogwalkers, and school-going children. I shivered again. I should put on some clothes. My bedroom was six feet away. But my phone could be closer. It could be right there. I cupped my hands over my genitals and ran across the living room and pulled up sofa cushions. I saw black plastic and my heart leaped but it was only a remote. I got down on my hands and knees and felt around beneath the sofa. My ass tingled with the first touch of morning sun. I hoped nobody was outside that window.

The coffee table was bare on top but laden beneath with reference books I hadn’t touched since Google. A phone book, for some reason. A phone book. Three million sheafs of dead tree stacked up as a monument to the inefficiency of paper as an information distribution platform. But no
phone. I sat up. A dog barked. For the first time ever I wished I had a land line, so I could call my phone. I peered at the top of the TV and it was empty but maybe I had put my phone down there and it had been dislodged by minor seismic activity. As I crossed the room, my eyes met a jogger’s. Her face contorted. That might have been from exertion. Behind the TV was a cord-based civilization but no phone. It wasn’t on the kitchen bench. It still wasn’t on my bedside table or the carpet or any of the places I had already looked. My teeth chattered. I didn’t know how warm it would be today. It might rain, it might be humid, I had no idea. I had a desktop but it took forever to boot, more than a minute. I would have to choose clothes without information on the environmental conditions. It was insane.

I showered. Sometimes to solve a problem you need to stop trying solutions. You need to step back. I stood under water and mentally retreaded the previous night. I had worked late. I had arrived home around two. I don’t think I ate. I went to bed and fell asleep without even using my phone at all. I realized:
It’s in my car
. It made perfect sense. I turned off the water. I had not used soap or washed my hair but from water was probably 80 percent clean. That was a pass. I wrapped a towel around my waist, grabbed keys from the kitchen, and padded out of the apartment. The stairwell was ice. I almost lost my towel trying to open the door to the underground garage. My car was in the sixth bay and already I could see the empty dock. I bwip-bwipped it open anyway and crawled inside to search between seats. I could not believe I had driven all the way home without docking my phone. Or maybe I could. Sometimes I left it in my pocket and realized only when I stopped the car and reached for it. That had happened. And last night I had been tired. It wasn’t inconceivable. The phone could be anywhere. It could be anywhere.

I stared out the windshield at a concrete wall and became sure my phone was at work. I had taken it out of my pocket because you couldn’t take electromagnetic equipment into Lab 4. It was on my desk. Anyone could pick it up. No. There were cameras. No one would steal my phone. Especially if I arrived early. I groped for my phone, to check the time, and groaned. This was like being blind. I put the keys in the ignition and remembered I was wearing a towel. I hesitated. I took the keys out again but it felt like a tearing. I got out of the car and fixed my towel and took the steps two at a time.

DRIVING IN
, I gripped the wheel. The sun beat through the windshield, mocking my sweater. I had overdressed. I reached the point where I had to decide between the avenue or by the park and didn’t know which had less traffic. I hadn’t read a news headline for hours. War could have broken out. There could have been earthquakes. I turned on the radio for the first time in years and it jabbered about discount carpets and what an excellent medium for advertising radio was and would I like to win a thousand dollars, and I stared at it in disbelief and turned it off. I wished I had my phone. I didn’t even want to do something specific. I just wanted the possibility to do things. It could do so many things.

The avenue was choked with traffic, of course. I sat there and exchanged ignorance with time. Finally I turned the car into the science district and sped past research houses and machine fabricators. At the end, on the river, was Better Future: an eight-story complex of a half-dozen connected buildings, a wide lawn out front and razor wire everywhere else. There was more underground but you wouldn’t know. At the boom gate I fumbled my security pass and had to get
out to pick it off the concrete. A security guard wandered out of his booth and I tried to wave him away because the last thing I needed now was conversation. But he kept coming. “Morning, sir.”

“I’ve got it.” I swiped the card. The boom rose.

“Everything all right?”

“Yes. Just dropped my card.” A hot wind blew by. I tried to pull off my sweater and my security tag snagged in the sleeve and slipped from my fingers again. By the time I freed myself, the guard was offering it to me.

“Hot one today.”

I looked at him. This sounded like a criticism of my information-impaired clothing choice. But I couldn’t be sure. I opened my mouth to request a clarifying restatement, then realized it didn’t matter and took the card. I got back in the car and drove into the bowels of Better Future.

I SWIPED
for the elevator and again for access to Building A. We were big on swiping. You couldn’t go to a bathroom in Better Future without swiping first. There was once a woman whose card stopped working and she was trapped in a corridor for three hours. It was a busy corridor but nobody was permitted to let her out. Ushering somebody through a security door on your pass was just about the worst thing you could do at Better Future. They would fire you for that. All anyone could do was bring her snacks and fluids until security finished verifying her biometrics.