Author: James Callan

In the cozy confines of a VR cell, I can become anybody. When the warm water rises to engulf me from head to toe, when a backwards count of thirty seconds reaches zero and my eyes reopen to take in what world it may, I am, in those transitional moments, as if a flesh-and-blood embryo curled within a metallic egg, an unborn being on the verge of new life. In the titanium embrace of a VR cell, futures are divergent and many…

I am a bartender on Calypso, the Saturnian moon fully furbished into a pleasure pit-stop and casino. I mix drinks and have the gift of gab. I receive high-value tips from high profile galactic travelers. I earn my bread by being the best mixologist on the outer side of the asteroid belt. But where I really earn my credits, the six-figure wads fed to my accounts, is from the gossip I overhear, file away, and sell to buyers at a premium. I get politicians drunk, holo-projection stars hammered, cult leaders tipsy, and business moguls befuddled with booze. I smile as they speak into the recording device nestled in the wedge of my collar, nodding with an actor’s understanding, a simulated warmth and counterfeit sympathy as they feed secrets to the gadget that will expose their dirty secrets.

I am a notorious street racer who has never lost a race. I weave through the busy streets of Ares, capital city of Mars, in my hover car which has broken the sound barrier, broken records, and broken the spirits of my opponents as I leave them in clouds of ochre dust. I outrun the law with ease, watching blue and red lights grow small and distant in my rear view mirror. I am a motion trail, a blur, a passing object far ahead.

I am an Egyptian noble, an architect that has seen pyramids rise from the desert. Along the Nile, I walk with Anubis, hand in hand. As god of the underworld, he promises to love me even after I die. But for now, he assures me, he shall love me adequately in life. On a bed of river reeds we shoo the crocodiles and get freaky, doing more than just walking like an Egyptian. Afterwards, we join Cleopatra in her lavish palace. We drink wine and playfully eat figs from each other’s navels. Our oiled bodies shine amber with a Sahara sunset as we share each other in a sumptuous, sexual caper.

I am a championship boxer, feared in the ring. I jab with my right –flesh and bone. I hook with my left –bionic, electromechanical. I read my opponents easily, like a children’s book. I dodge and deflect. I dance like a butterfly and sting like a nuclear bomb. When the timing is right, I unleash what has made me a legend. My metallic fist, encased in a glove of synthetic leather, rockets upward to obliterate a sneer of overconfidence, making a 100-piece jigsaw of busted cartilage and fractured facial bones. Deadweight –possibly dead– my opponent falls to the floor. The referee counts to ten. Then I’m drowned in cheers and bulb flashes from cameras. I pose. I smile. I am, as I always have been, the champion of all champions.

Fluids drain. My capsule opens. The outside air is cold and invasive. An automated voice announces my time has ended, reminding me of my tab, my surmounting debt to the VR unit. Then I rise –me, the only me. Slowly, I take each step at a time, and wonder at the weight of reality.