Thursday, October 12, 2017


All The Little Worlds
By Paul Alex Gray

“One last round, Kelly,” says Josh over the blare of a gate announcement.
She nods, pouring out what will be our last real drink together. I can feel the buzz but I’m more tired than anything else. I haven’t been this hungover in years. I don’t know how he talked me into those shots. We'd been in some bizarre nightclub where you wore AR goggles and pretend to visit bars around the world. I haven’t slept at all and the entire day has been a blur.
“Man, not again,” says Josh gazing at the TV.
There’s been another attack. I don’t have my glasses on so I can’t read where. A city. Sunshine. European maybe. I tap on my wrist device and my assistant’s digital voice plays in my ear, telling me pre-boarding has begun for my flight. I’ve had no messages about that new project, so I guess I won’t be working tomorrow.
“I don’t think people are going to stick around long,” says Josh. “SR is paradise.”
We’re back to the same conversation. He’s spent practically the whole weekend telling me I should join him. The Simulated Realm company must have offered him one hell of a referral fee.
“I think you’ll be surprised,” I reply, wiggling my toes. I’ve got sand in my socks. I wonder if that’s coded in to his new world. When he goes to amazing beaches will he end up with sand all over his mansion?
“Here there’s war, terror, unemployment like crazy,” he says. “Society falling apart… only going to get worse.”
“What makes you so sure it won’t be like that in SR?” I ask. “Isn’t it the same people as here?”
“Shards, man. You pick your world and who gets to be there. If there’s someone you don’t like, they can stay in their own world,” then he laughs and starts yelling. “You get a world and you get a world and YOU get a world!”
Kelly returns with the beers and Josh taps his watch to pay the bill.
“So. What do you say? Ditch the flight. Come with me,” he says, raising his glass.
I say nothing and look over to the gate. People are milling around, all rugged up in big winter coats. While I soar back to my windswept home, Josh will be on the short hop up to San Jose. He’s booked into a nice hotel, got his folks coming in for the farewell ceremony. Asked me to come. I said I had to get back, although I didn’t have that much work to do. The contracts hadn’t picked up yet after the holiday break.
“Do you think you’ll miss it?” I ask. “Any of it?”
He stares out the windows where the sun has fallen away behind the silhouettes of the mountains.
“How can I miss anything here when I can have everything I want there?”
The whole thing still boggles my mind. In three days, he’ll get in a Simulated Realms neural pod and have a set of wires inserted into the back of his skull. Nanobots will wrap around his nerves and brain.
He sold his house to pay for it, and his body becomes their property. Josh says the physical form is like a computer and his brain is nothing more than a hard drive gradually filling up. Once they work out how to get every bit of his soul into the machine they’ll shut down his biological parts and sell the organs off.
Last call for Allegiant 454 to Chicago.
“Hey,” he says, standing up.
We hug awkwardly. I know I should say something but I just nod, my eyes stinging. He slaps me on the back and whispers.
“Love ya man, I’ll see you again. Promise.”
I grab my gear and get in line. I’ll have to reach out to old gigs when I get back, try to line up some new work. This trip probably wasn’t a good idea, financially. As I move inside I take a last look to wave at Josh but he’s staring out at the mountains.
The flight is only half full and I get a whole row to myself. I sit up against the window and fall into a fitful sleep. Memories of lazing at the hotel pool blur with the nightclub and thread back further to our childhoods.
A summer camp somewhere. We were on a jetty, a lake filled with kids swimming and canoeing and jumping. One of the counselors led some of us up along the shore, stepping over gnarled roots clutching sandstone and rock. Between two leaning-over pines we stared down to the water glittering far below.
One-by-one the kids began to jump but when it was my turn I shook my head and stepped back. It was too high for me so I wandered back down, listening to the thumping splashes timed out behind me. I watched as Josh took a breath, then leapt out. He fell beneath the water and I waited, watching to see where he’d come up for air.
A bump on the flight shakes me and the memory sinks beneath the surface.
In the darkness of the cabin I open the window shade and gaze outside. Sky and earth are one and the same. Below, I see the orange glow of small cities and towns spread out with nothing in between.
They look to me like little worlds.

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Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing linear and interactive fiction that cuts a jagged line to a magical real world. His work has been published in Nature Futures, McSweeney's, 365 Tomorrows and others. Growing up in Australia, Paul traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children.

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