Author: Alex Z. Salinas

Back when I was at the Academy, on the outskirts of the Red Asteroid Belt, I bunked for six months with a trainee whom I can still say, with absolute certainty, is the most memorable person I’ve ever met. His name was Kolson, or at least that’s how I’ve remembered him.

Every night before lights out—though we always had, out there, the feeling that lights were out no matter the time—Kolson, that bizarre entity, would bend my ear trying to convince me that he really wasn’t Kolson, a man born on Praxis-7 the night of Moonseve, but the fragments of other souls since passed. Kolson, who had Germanic features—dark blonde hair, a strong sharp chin—said he remembered living a day as Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, in New York City in August 1962. Kolson claimed he not only remembered living as Stan Lee, but he understood what it meant to live as Stan Lee.

“Since then, us boys of the human race, all of us, have never ceased modeling our lives after the superhero,” Kolson said. “Even now when heroes aren’t necessary.”

“Shut your mouth,” I said.

It got better; by better, I mean batshit crazy.

One night, Kolson said, to my complete bafflement, that he knew what it was to play chess against Einstein—yes, Einstein—as Garry Kasperov. Or Bobby Fischer.

“His wit—their wit—my wit—is short distance, like a sprinter with massive quads,” Kolson said matter-of-factly, “whereas Einstein’s wit, akin to a bicyclist, is long distance. Small and spindly. Remember reading about that guy named Lance Armstrong? The cheating bastard!”

“They must’ve poisoned your make today, you’re talking like a drugged lunatic,” I said after a loud yawn.

“I don’t own a part of Christ’s soul, though, don’t get me wrong,” Kolson said, changing the subject nonchalantly. “That would imply I possess God, and if you understood what it was to be Albert Camus, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Stephen Hawking, Stephen King, Genghis Khan, or even Jorge Luis Borges, you’d know then that God’s little more than a kill switch in our easily corruptible brains. A pawn invented for domination.”

Deploying a different tactic—and what was about to be said has never left my conscience, like a cancerous sore—I asked Kolson:

“And myself? Do you know what it means to live as me?” Then I added: “Do you own a piece of my soul, Kolson? Huh? Do you own me, you slimy snake?”

In utter darkness, in lights out, somehow still I saw—I swear—a smile so huge it beamed, emitted its own perverted light.

“Remember, Salinas,” he answered softly after a short pause, “I collect dead souls. When the time comes, when yours cuts its tie, you can ask me that again.”

After graduating from the Academy, we went our separate ways. Shipped off in opposite directions, gloriously. I’ve never seen him again. The likelihood I will is practically nonexistent. A shot in the dark, eyes closed.

But to tell you the truth, I’d be lying if I said, every once in awhile, when I see a streak of red slice across the cosmos, that a part of me doesn’t feel, beyond reason—beyond awful, terrifying conviction—that I could be, I might be—very, very wrong.