1.the faculty or state of being able to see.
Every year there's a genetic theme and every day there's a specific genotype. Everyone born on that one day looks identical, other than basic gender differences. Then, the next day, everyone looks slightly different. A single day of faces, all of them mirrors of each other, as if generated from the same template.
There was a philosopher about three hundred years ago who presented a thought experiment, imagining a world in which every single person was different and every newborn child unique. She wondered what that would do to society and civilisation and culture. Her final conclusion was that it'd result in anarchy and chaos; that without definitions and purpose people would at best be aimless and at worst violent and destructive. It was considered a radical text at the time despite its conservative conclusions.
I thought it was a load of bollocks.
But, then, philosophy was never really my thing. It always seemed like a load of complicated words designed to disguise the really obvious point that was being made.
Anyway, they arrested her and put her under house arrest for the rest of her life. Charged her with heresy and sedition, or something. It was a more religious time back then. It's called the Dark Ages for a reason, I guess.
Point is, Cal reckoned something similar was happening to him. He figured everyone was after him because he was outside the normal routine. Well, hey - I've never much been one for routine and tradition. Turned out that Marv wasn't much into that, either. He'd got too long a family history of persecution to not have a social conscience built-in.
"Don't matter whether you fit the pattern or not," he'd said when I'd shown up at his house with Cal and told him what was going on. "They say we got order and purpose. What we actually got is divisions. It's real easy to keep a group down when they all look the same."
He'd watched, calm and implacable, as Cal changed form again, shifting to a thermal and listing off exactly how many people were in the house and where they were at that moment. "Man, you be some serious disruption," he'd finally said with a broad grin. "No wonder they chasing you."
Each time Cal changed his physique altered drastically but his face remained largely the same. He was still recognisably the same person, despite differing attributes. Would have made it a whole lot easier if he could have changed his face as well, but hey.
"Everything's run from this city," Cal said to us as we sat in Marv's basement. There was beer. There was pizza. There was the taste of revolution in the air. "The Aviary is where they control everything. It's the nerve centre of the country. It all goes through there. Whoever is giving orders to kill me, whoever is responsible for killing others like me - that's where there'll be."
"Or some kind of paper trail," Marv said quietly, looking down at the games table and stroking his pointy beard. He hadn't had that when we'd met at the club. That seemed like years ago, but it was less than two months. He looked around, aware of his situation. "I feel like I'm in a detective show."
"I need to get in there," Cal said. "I've been preparing for this for years. I wasn't just on the run to get away - I was also meeting people. I can only change into a particular genotype if I've been in close proximity." He nodded at Marv. "I'd never a met a thermal until I came here. Thanks."
"No problem," Marv said with a shrug.
I raised a hand. "One problem: you can't get in there. It's like a damn castle in the air. They've got sentries, guys with guns. All kinds of shit. Not gonna happen."
Cal stood up and put his beer down carefully on the table. "On the other side of the world I met a guy. I was in Zhangao, because I'd heard that there was a spectre living there."
"A what now?"
"You don't hear about them much. It was a one-off. That whole year people had been born with adaptive camouflage, or various mimicry abilities. Some could look like specific surfaces, or disguise themselves as plants. This was over a hundred years ago. June 6th, though, was the day of spectres. They were called that because they genuinely couldn't be seen. Millions of babies born entirely invisible. You could feel them: they were there, physically, but were visually impossible to detect. Light passes right through their bodies."
Marv re-arranged himself on the sofa and grabbed a new beer. "I can see where this is going," he said.
"Spectres didn't have a good time of it. Some babies were lost at birth. If they weren't crying when they came out, mothers and doctors simply couldn't find them. Others disappeared during childhood. It's easy to lose a child in a crowd when you can't even see them. Most were hit by horses, or bicycles. Those that survived had all kinds of mental illnesses. Existential issues. Non-existent self-esteem. A whole bunch became criminals, and sociopathic. The rest joined the military or intelligence services.
"This one guy was pretty much all that was left. There was a rumour that he lived up in the hills. I followed the stories and eventually found his hut. I thought nobody was there at first. Obviously. Turns out he was there, and thus..."
The change seemed less painful this time. Perhaps it was tied directly to how much physical alteration was taking place. The reptilian scales flaked away from Cal's skin and as they did he slowly faded away, each scale opening a view through to the room behind.
Cal's clothing stood before us, suspended seemingly by itself.
"Like I said, these guys lived over a century ago. People barely remember them. Nobody is going to be expecting this."
"I'm starting to see why they're scared of you," Marv said.
"OK, invisible man," I said. "What about us?"
"You and Marv?" said Cal's clothes. "You two do nothing. I've already got you way too involved. This is something I have to do. No reason to risk yourselves getting caught up."
My turn to stand up. I walked over to the floating wardrobe of Cal. "Here's the thing," I said. "My dad's dead because he fell onto your stupid head. There's no going back from that. Now, I'm still dealing with it up here, and I'm probably going to have a whole lot to say down the line, but right now I just want to take some proactive fucking action."
"You don't get it," said sweater and jeans. "These people, they will just kill you both."
I reached out, made a best guess, and grabbed at where his jaw probably was. Yep, just there. I gripped it, forcing him to look me in the eyes. "This isn't just about you anymore, Cal. You flew into my shed and turned my life upside down. Half the time it's awful and I wish I'd never met you. The other time, it's the best thing that ever happened. Even as I think of my dad with holes in his chest, I'm thinking just how rad this is. I have some issues that I need to work out, OK?" I took a deep breath. "And for dramatic purposes, try to ignore that my thumb's been kind of in your mouth this whole time."
I let go of his face.
"I did wonder if you'd realised that."
There was a chuckle from behind me, and Marv clapped. "So, you know, I work a lot of jobs," he said. "I got a lot of a mouths to feed, right? So here's my question, Cal. When you just happened to shack up with Kay, and then just happened to end up in my basement, was it pure coincidence that every Saturday I'm the janitor at the Aviary? You know, I'm just curious."
I glanced back and forth between Marv, who was still seated but clearly poised to leap up, and Cal, who remained as an unreadable selection of clothing items.
"Well?" I asked. "Is it true?"
Thanks for reading! Please do vote or leave a comment to let me know what you thought. Chapter notes can be found on my blog: https://simonkjones.com/tag/a-day-of-faces/
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A Day of Faces (complete novel)Science Fiction
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