Author: David Henson
Tilson Henderson gets out of bed and realizes his back’s not stiff. Hasn’t happened since he stopped doing the exercises his chiropractor prescribed. He feels so vigorous, he joins his wife, Gloria, in the shower. Been a while for that, too.
Late getting to the office, he can’t blame yet another flat tire. He tries to slink in without getting caught, but as soon as Tilson’s butt hits his desk chair, Mr. Rogers heads his way. Tilson braces himself hoping he doesn’t get fired from another job.
Rogers puts his hand on Tilson’s shoulder. “Looking forward to your presentation, Henderson.”
As Tilson talks through his PowerPoint slides, he finds the words flow effortlessly. A memory of studying the data late into the night streams into his mind. He’d thought that was a dream. When Tilson finishes speaking, Mr. Rogers claps him on the back. “I see a raise and promotion in your future, Henderson.”
Tilson gets home from work first and decides to surprise Gloria by making dinner.
“Lasagna’s in the oven,” he says, greeting his wife at the door with a hug and kiss. “You have an hour.”
A few minutes later, Tilson hears the shower and goes to join his wife.
After dinner, Tilson tells Gloria about his day. “I’d given up on getting ahead at work, but I think if I apply myself, the sky’s the limit. It almost seems too good to be true.”
Later that evening, as Tilson enters the bedroom, he catches Gloria on her phone. “Should you dial it back a bit?” she’s saying.
“Dial what back?” Tilson says.
Gloria disconnects the call. “Oh, hi. I … gave Patricia Jansen my green bean casserole recipe. She said it was a little dry so I said to dial back the temperature next time.”
Thinking about recent events, Tilson sits on the bed beside his wife and takes her hand. “Gloria, I love you and the way I’ve felt today. But something doesn’t seem right. How —”
“I confess. A special app.”
“I uploaded your behavioral profile, and the app helps you … improve.”
“I should’ve known. I don’t know how an app could do that, but please delete it.”
Gloria reaches for her phone, then hesitates. “Are you sure?”
“I don’t want to depend on an app. I’ll be better on my own. I promise.”
“So,” Gloria says, “when my husband wakes up, he’ll be a changed man?”
The technician from Deep Makeovers removes a computerized helmet from Tilson Henderson. “Correct. He’ll no longer be such a loser. If you don’t notice anything at first, be patient. He’ll be committed to self-improvement based on the illusion we’ve just streamed into his mind. Stand by him. Give him plenty of encouragement.”
“So,” Tilson says, “when my wife wakes up, she won’t be on my case always?”
“Correct, Mr. Henderson.” The technician from Deep Makeovers removes a computerized helmet from Gloria Henderson. “Your wife will be under the illusion you’re the one who’s undergone treatment and that you’re now dedicated to self-improvement. You won’t have to make major alterations in your behavior. Just be a bit more attentive and don’t get sacked. Her thought processes have been modified such that she’ll think you’re Mr. Wonderful.”
The technician from Deep Makeovers removes a helmet from Tilson Henderson.
“Well?” Gloria says.
“It’s my first double-switcheroo, but I’m confident you’ll see some improvement. He’ll pay a little more attention to you and finally hold down a steady job. Mind you — he’ll never be Mr. Wonderful. But I believe you’ll find him to be adequate.”
Author: David Henson
Colors are less vibrant, flowers without scent. Water doesn’t feel as wet. All this and more so our simulated world consumes less energy. And data errors slipped through. In NewWorld my toes are webbed — a constant reminder of where I am. Still, life here isn’t bad. But most of us would love to get back to RealWorld despite its flaws.
As I sit at the hover table in the interface chamber, the Council of the Wise — a man, woman, and a third who looks not-quite human — enter and sit at an identical table in RealWorld.
“Mr. Singman, this is Councilwoman Perez and Councilman Wilson,” says the artificial sentient. “I’m Arthur. You’re petitioning this Council for return to reality because you have a story?”
Councilwoman Perez leans forward. “Most living space made available from the recent interstellar colonization initiative is reserved for the Breathing Room Project,” she says. “There will few NewWorld returnees. I don’t believe having a story sufficiently raises your Value Quotient.”
“Not just any story,” I say. “An original story.”
“Mr. Singman,” Councilman Wilson says, “It’s been 300 years since the last original story?”
“I have one.”
“Not credible,” Councilwoman Perez says. “There are no new word sequences left.”
“That’s never been proven,” Arthur says. “Mr. Singman, proceed with your story.”
“No. You have to bring me back to RealWorld if you want to hear it. And you must agree to let me stay no matter what.” I’m glad emotions are dulled in NewWorld or I wouldn’t have the nerve to try this.
The three whisper among themselves. “Mr. Singman,” Arthur says a moment later. “You’ve piqued our curiosity. We’ll bring you here to tell us your story. If we deem it original, can you stay. Wait while we have your body pulled from cryogenic storage and refreshed.”
I find myself sitting across from the COW. At the real hover table. In my real body. Brrr. Not fully warmed yet. I resist the urge to take off my shoes and socks and check my toes.
“Proceed,” Arthur says.
I swallow hard and begin, starting years ago when I learned my Value Quotient was insufficient to remain in our overcrowded solar system. I describe how frightened I was when they yanked my consciousness from my body and streamed my mind to NewWorld. I tell them I was relieved when I got there. The place isn’t home, but isn’t horrible. There’s art and music, although the paintings are washed out and the symphony is tinny.
I describe how I learned to play the clarinet, my articulation so-so. I talk about my dog Lilly. She loved to play Magic / Split / Heel, a game we made up. I talk about the time I fractured my tibia when my light board flickered. I reminisce about Jennifer. We might’ve fallen in love, but feelings in NewWorld are too pastel. I admit my irrational fear of birds. I even tell them how I refer to the Council of the Wise as the COW — why hold back? — but mean no disrespect.
I say nothing profound because there’s nothing profound about me. I remind them I promised an original story, not a deep one. And I feel I’ve delivered. My story isn’t merely a sequence of words. It’s a life. My life. Unique. Original.
When I shut up, the three whisper among themselves again. I hold my breath….
When Arthur tells me I can stay, I pull off my shoes and socks and look at my toes. Then I walk to a window. Big sun. We must be on earth. Not home, but close enough.
Author: David Henson
I regain consciousness in a small hut made from sweet-smelling grass and blue sticks. A male garbed in the same type of grass stands over me. When he notices my eyes are open, he looks away and begins clicking and whistling. I ask about my crewmates. He becomes silent and, bending at the waist, backs out of the hut.
I take a few moments to rub my arms and legs then walk unsteadily outside. I find I’m in the center of a small spiral of huts. The village is surrounded by fields being worked by people walking behind animals that resemble horses with moose antlers. They must be morse, I chuckle aloud, trying to ease the tension squeezing my throat.
A woman with bright red, green and orange hair approaches me. Averting her eyes from mine, she lays a basket of what appears to be fruits at my feet. Then, bending at the waist, she backs away quickly. When I thank her, she drops to her knees and looks over her head. Yes, I come from the heavens I say, pointing to the sky. The woman flings herself to the ground and begins whistling loudly.
I see, beyond the field of workers and morse, the wreck of my ship. Pieces jutting from the burned-out hull make the craft look like a decaying, beached whale. I walk closer and see men in long, black robes arranging stones around the smoldering crash site. They pause and bow to me. I call the names of my crew. Silence answers.
Feeling dizzy, I return to the hut and sleep. Over the next few days, I’m given more baskets of food, a bitter juice, and something with scales, raw. I gradually grow strong enough to go back outside. When I do, a man with one arm bent behind him approaches me. He clicks erratically, his face contorted.
I touch his back and feel a separated shoulder. I hold it in one hand and grab his arm with the other. This is going to hurt, I say, and jerk. He screams then rotates his arm, falls to his knees and kisses my feet. A crowd begins to gather about me. A lame man and a woman whose face is covered in boils approach. I retreat inside my hut.
A few moments later the whistling and clicking are the loudest I’ve heard. I go back out and see a black-robed man holding a blade to a morse’s throat. No! I shout and snatch the blade. I slice my palm and raise my hand so they can see the blood spiraling down my arm. I’m flesh and blood the same as you, I scream.
The crowd prostrates itself and goes silent. Then a young woman with plain brown hair rises and walks to me. She clicks at the morse, which ambles away. The black-robed man stands. The girl takes the blade from me and gives it to the man. He places it under her chin and looks at me as if waiting for a sign. The throng rises and begins to whistle, the people stamping their feet, clapping their hands, rhythmically. The noise is deafening. Hypnotic. I feel myself wanting to be what the people of the morse believe I am. I draw my finger across my throat.
Author : David Henson
“Tommy and Sally, fly down to your seats and turn off your levitation belts, OK?” Miss DeRozan says gently. The two children ignore their teacher at first, then glide down to their places.
“Let’s get started,” the teacher says. “We’re going to have a wonderful time learning a lot of wonderful things this year.” — “Sounds wonderful” — someone giggles from the back of the room. Miss DeRozan smiles. “We’re fortunate to have an IACD conference with Captain Sandier. But first TA will deliver a quantum mechanics refresher. TA.”
The featureless android walks to the front of the class, light streaming from its synthetic skin to form a perfect image of Albert Einstein.
“Spooky action at a distance,” TA Einstein says in German.
“Miss DeRozan, I think his hair is spooky,” Sally says, also in German.
“Please, Sally, be nice. And by the way, you should have your UT checked. You just said TA Einstein has a scary rabbit. TA.”
“Spooky action at a distance,” TA Einstein repeats then reviews the early study of quantum mechanics. Every few minutes, lights swirl as TA’s appearance progresses through a series of prominent physicists. All the while children glide in and out of their seats despite Miss DeRozan’s pleas. The glowing android finally concludes as renowned artificial sentient Ciress Prime Xavier, who describes how she used the phenomenon of quantum entanglement to develop ICAD, instantaneous communication at any distance.
“Thank you, TA,” Miss DeRozan says. The teaching assistant assumes its blank appearance then turns toward the noisy students and flashes brightly. As it does, Tommy and Sally fly up near the ceiling and chase each other around the room.
“Children!” Miss DeRozan says sternly, then clears her throat. “Please,” she says sweetly. After another lap around the room, Tommy and Sally return to their desks.
“TA,” Miss DeRozan says, “Connect with Captain Sandier.” TA goes to the communications port, inserts its index finger, and glows the appearance of the Captain light years away.
“Good morning, class,” TA Captain says with a friendly salute. “Who can tell me the Expansion’s mission?”
“You’re on the far side of Alpha Centauri B looking for planets to terraform,” Jimmy shouts. “I have a question.”
“Have you ever been in a laser duel?” he says, rising into the air and pretending to shoot at Tommy, who flies out of his seat and fires back.
“Boys, please,” Miss DeRozan says.
“Captain Sandier, do any of those planets have giant frogs?” Sally says, rising and hopping through the air.
“Class, class,” Miss DeRozan says, but soon most of the children are hopping, back-flipping and somersaulting above their desks.
“Maybe we’ll do this another time,” Captain Sandier says. “Signing off.” TA immediately goes blank.
“Students,” Miss DeRozan says weakly, then walks to her desk and slumps heavily into her chair, the children roiling above her.
Suddenly TA begins to glow more brightly than ever. The swirl of light broadens and nearly reaches the ceiling till finally a Rhondarian Dragon is towering in the middle of the room. The beast roars and snaps it’s huge jaws, just missing Tommy. The boy freezes then immediately drifts down to his desk. TA dragon bares long razor-sharp teeth and eyes the other children, who quickly return to their places as well.
“Uh, thank you, TA,” Miss DeRozan says as her assistant reverts to its neutral form. “Now, students, please activate Chapter 1 in — Yes, Tommy,” she says noticing the boy waving his hand frantically.
“Miss DeRozan,” Tommy says. “May I please be excused to go to the bathroom?”