NEW FICTION: WILLPOWER by Jason Stoddard

Paul Raven @ 01-12-2008

I’m willing to bet a pretty big percentage of people reading this have harboured the fantasy of being an astronaut, even though you knew it was a virtually unattainable dream. But sometimes dreams can come true by the least expected route possible… even when those dreams are not necessarily your own.

Jason Stoddard is no stranger to the pages of Futurismic or numerous other science fiction publications, both online and off – and with good reason. In “Willpower” he walks the talk of his own ‘Positive SF’ manifesto, balancing old-school optimism and sensawunda with a plausible (and far from utopian) future setting. Enjoy!

Willpower

by Jason Stoddard

Michael Delgado needed something to do. Today. His last willfare job had ended last Friday, which meant tomorrow morning was contract breach. The foodcard would stop working, and the ever-efficient borgots of the Balboa Arms would be down to usher him out of his 300-square-foot studio apartment. Not that he’d miss it, with Van Nuys cranking to 105 today and him with only a swamp cooler.

He scanned quickly through the willfare crapwork and sinkers:

Job2309170342546

Dog walking, Cerritos area, 0.5D willfare credit (4 dogs, large, aggressive). ACCEPT >>

No way. Not for a half-day credit.

Job2309170342554

Street cleaning, crew of 16, Chinatown and surrounds, multiday contract. ACCEPT >>

(Currently 11 accepted)

Surrounds, as in southeast LA, no way.

Job2309170351565

Research assistant, UCLA medical campus, great status! Includes transpo and housing. Minimum 45-day contract (90 willfare creds), extensible to 90-days. Standard disclaimers. ACCEPT >>

And take a chance that the cancer they infect you with they might not be able to cure? Oh, no.

Michael Delgado frowned, the chant of the taxpayers echoing in his head. WE pay your salary, so you do what WE want. We want you to cut our grass, you get out here pronto! And Congress agreed. Needed for a smooth transition to a post-scarcity economy, they said. Allows them the dignity of productive work, they said. Gets them off the streets, they said. They who drove comfortably to jobs not-yet-outsourced in SUVs with large leases not-quite-paid.

And then:

Job2309170355443

Take my place on the Ares. 180 day contract. I’ll vouch for the full 720 willfare days, even if I have to pay ‘em. I’m done. ACCEPT >>

Michael felt something like an electric shock as he eyeblinked on ACCEPT. Strange shivers worked up and down his spine. He heard something like a whisper, deep within his mind. He felt suddenly strong, powerful, alive.

Oh, no.

But he’d done it.

Thank you for your ACCEPTANCE of willfare Job # 2309170355443. Present yourself at Edwards/Scaled Composites/Virgin facility, Mojave, CA by 5:00PM today to begin work. No willfare credit has been accrued to your account.

Michael pounded a fist into his cheap plastic kitchen table. Fucking keywords! Fucking Vesper! Fucking Kon-Ye BMI! What had he gotten himself into this time?

Because it had to be a joke. Nobody would willfare a Mars mission job. It had to be a cover for something that involved Hershey’s syrup and chickens and octogenarians.

And now he was screwed. He’d ACCEPTED, and that was that.

Michael sighed, and started looking up bus routes out to Edwards. The last vestiges of Vesper’s adrenaline rush made him smile, as if in anticipation.

#

Before he could leave, Angelica called. Her face wavered on the cheap rollscreen. Behind her, big bouffant hairdos were being teased to life.

“Wanna go to the One True Shack?” she said, batting her eyelashes. “I got a big tip. My treat.”

“I can’t.”

Instafrown. “Why not?”

“I got a job.”

“A real job, or more of that willfare crap?”

Michael sighed.

Angelica’s eyes flickered down as she scanned the detail of his job. “Oh, no,” she said.

Michael nodded.

“Why?”

“I couldn’t stop it.”

Instafrown became instasnarl. “I thought you had it under control! I thought you were OK!” Behind her, heads turned to look.

“This is good work. Worth a lot.”

“They’ll never let you onboard!” Angelica screamed.

Don’t I know it, Michael thought, but said nothing.

“You could bandchise,” she said.

“I’m not going to play dead music from brains in wallerstein tanks!”

“You’re already set up.”

“Angelica, I… ”

“What else you gonna do?”

Michael looked away from the flatscreen. “I’m taking this job,” he said. As he said it, the feeling of energy and elation came back. He shook his head, trying to shake the alien feelings.

“No!” Angelica said.

“I have to,” Michael said, softly.

“Even if it’s real, I won’t be here when you come back.”

Michael looked down. “I know.”

She waited. He said nothing.

Her frown tightened once more. The image wavered and disappeared.

#

At Edwards/Scaled Composites/Virgin, the reception area was inside an ancient hangar that housed two museum pieces, SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo. Both were covered with a light film of dust.

Inside the reception area, a kid lounged behind a lightwight aluminum desk and a fogtank displayed images of the Ares. The kid wore the discreet white earpiece of a Dell brain-machine interface. The ACCESS light glowed soft red, indicating he was offline, but his glazed eyes suggested that the BMI was on.

Typical, Michael thought. He slapped a hand down on the aluminum desk. The kid jumped to his feet, looked around blindly for a moment, and finally fixed on Michael.

“What you want?” he asked.

“I’m here for the willfare job.”

“Oh yeah, willfare… wait a minute, what willfare job?”

Michael offered the kid his hand.

“Oh, no, put it on the slate, no sharing bodydata packages, I know that, we’ll see who you are.”

Michael put his hand on the reader. The kid studied the big pix-comm icons in his rollscreen and frowned. “Yeah, right.”

“It’s a real job.”

“Yeah, real funny,” he said, mumbling something to his throatmike. The screen changed, and his eyes widened again.

“You’re kidding.”

“No,” Michael said. Now get the hell out of my way and give me this job!

The kid darted scared eyes from the screen to Michael and back again. “Uh, Bob, better come in here,” he said. “Sit down, uh, Mr. uh, Delgado.”

Ten minutes later, a small balding guy with a halo-cut appaeared from somewhere deep within the hangar. He wore a sweat-stained white shirt and a really bad tie with pictures of old-fashioned circuitry on it. “What’s up?”

The kid tapped the screen. Bob took a look at it and blinked. Looked at Michael. Looked back at the screen.

“What is this?”

“Looks like Tom flaked.”

“Shit,” Bob said.

“He always was a bit of a… ” the kid pinched two fingers around an imaginary joint and made sucking sounds.

“Can he do this? Post it to willfare?” Bob asked.

“You can post anything. A friend of mine, he posted for a buncha skanks to come to this guy’s dorm room… ”

“So Tom could’ve done this?”

Again the puffing, a nod, and a like-duh look from receptionist-boy.

“And it’s OK for him to get it?” he said, nodding at Michael.

The kid held up his hands. “Not my problem,” he said.

Bob sighed and turned to Michael. “I’m sorry, Mr. Delgado, there seems to have been a mistake. It’s too bad you had to come all the way out here. I’ll see if I can get you credited for–”

“I want the job,” Michael said. His voice sounded unusually strong and decisive.

“What?”

“I don’t want the credit. I want the job.”

“There’s been a mistake–”

“No mistake. You posted a job. I accepted it. Binding willfare contract.”

Bob glanced at the kid. The kid tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile.

“I really can’t take this seriously,” Bob said. “You don’t have any of the qualifications to be an astronaut. Education, physical condition, psychological evaluations… ”

“Doesn’t matter. Job was posted. I accepted. Done deal.” Michael fought to keep his hands from curling into fists.

“I’ll have you thrown out.”

“Go ahead. Call security. Call willfare legal, too, and see how long your jail sentence is.”

Bob frowned and muttered. He had the kid call up willfare legal on the rollscreen. The autoattendant was a porcelain-skinned blonde who looked far too good to be real. It listened, expressionless, as Michael and Bob both told their side of the story.

“Willfare contracts are binding,” it said, finally.

“See!” Michael said.

“Though the acceptor does have to meet the physical and mental qualifications of the job description. Astronauts, even private ones, have extensive entry tests that must be passed.” it continued.

“See!” Bob said, smiling. He gestured towards the door.

“If I pass the tests, I get the job?” Michael said.

“The contract is effectively binding,” the attendant said.

“Bring it on,” Michael said.

Bob’s mouth dropped open. “But–”

“Get out the tests. I’ll take them.”

“There’s no way you’ll pass.”

Michael smiled. “Want to bet?”

#

It wasn’t really cheating. Not really. Not when the connection was there for the taking. Not when the burning in his mind was saying, Yes, yes, anything it takes.

Fucking Vesper.

Michael opened a window with his Kon-Ye BMI and picked answers out of the global net.

Images of Vesper’s impossible Mars floated close in the back of his mind. The gleaming marble cities of Vallira and Pentadon. The beautiful faces of the Erinyes, calm like Greek gods under blonde ringlets. The slavering Ficarons. The deep blue sky over twining blood-red forests. And feelings. The elation of Quest, the brooding menace of the Hall of Dark Memories.

Those are not my memories!

But every time he squeezed his eyes shut, the images just came brighter.

#

Bob brought him pizza. Plain, just cheese and sauce. The expression on his face said, Fuck, you fuckhead, I’m staying late for you, why don’t you just give up so I can go home. Michael ate, not tasting it, punching answers into the rollscreen. Bob watched for a while, then left him alone.

“You’re a frogger,” Bob said, when the test was done and scored.

“I passed, didn’t I?”

“You’re a frogger!”

“You have a BMI, too,” Michael said, nodding at the polished silver pebble he wore at his ear.

“I can turn mine off!”

Michael sighed. He would too, if he could. But a free game BMI came at a price. You didn’t turn it off. You didn’t override it. A lot of people told him he was lucky the game was dead. At least he didn’t have play-alerts flashing in his mind, ruining his concentration. And he had a persistent connection to the global net.

Of course, it also meant he could never be accepted to a serious college, or take any real job. Because it wasn’t his intelligence. Not really. Even though it took him years to figure out how to get an unencumbered connection to the global net. Even though it took months to train himself how to use it. Even though using it shouldn’t be any different than looking up the answers in a book. The globe was covered in nets. He could surf virtually any one of them.

He would have had the damn thing cut out years ago if he could afford it.

“You pulled the answers!” Bob said. “That’s not fair!”

“I passed the test, didn’t I?”

“That doesn’t matter. Astronaut candidates aren’t allowed to be fr–aren’t allowed unauthorized brain-machine interfaces.”

Michael wanted to jump up and strangle the man, but he made himself sit calmly. “I’m calling willfare legal,” he said.

“And I’ll need to get our corporate counsel involved,” Bill said.

They made their calls. Automated attendants passed them quickly on to legal-algorithmic services. Finally, two human lawyers appeared. They asked questions. Michael tried to keep his smile when he answered. Not that it would help. He was sure they knew exactly what he was thinking.

Eventually, it boiled down to one point.

“You don’t have a clause that states that a candidate cannot use a brain-machine interface during the test,” willfare’s lawyer said. He was a sharp-dressed man in a blue business suit.

“We do clearly state that candidates are not allowed undefeatable BMI’s!” Edwards/Scaled Composites/Virgin’s lawyer said. She sounded a bit shrill.

“Determination of eligibility is your responsibility. By giving him the test, you’ve implied that he is an acceptable candidate. I’m referring this up to Federal Contracts Court.”

A frown. “Wait.” Edwards/Scaled Composites/Virgin’s lawyer addressed Bob. “Give him the other tests.”

“But he cheated!”

The frown deepened. “Give him the other tests. Let me work on this.”

Bob glanced at his watch. “I can’t give him the physical or attitudinal until tomorrow. What do I do with him?”

“Put him up in a hotel!” the lawyer snapped.

“But–”

“You’re under contract!”

Bob bowed his head and nodded.

Michael didn’t try to hide his smile.

#

They put him in the Mojave Motel 6. Not much different than the Balboa Arms, really. Cheap plastic furniture and heavily-patterned carpet and bedspreads to hide the inevitable stains. Ancient rollscreens and limited wireless bandwidth. He even saw two borgots, hiding in an alcove. Apparently Motel 6 had the same problem with guests overstaying their welcome.

One difference: great air conditioning. Michael turned it up to max and lay on top of the covers, letting the dry, chill air pour over his body. He let it strip the last bit of heat from his body. He let himself shiver in its icy blast.

Is this me? He wondered.

Is this what I really want?

Michael closed his eyes and surfed to the latest data on Mars. The previous Ares missions. The bacteria. The fossils. The frozen seas buried under the red sands. One site had a simulation of what it would be like to stand on the surface of Mars without a spacesuit. Michael tried it. He felt his ears pop, felt the icy spike of cold, like clenching a piece of dry ice, but all over his body. He felt his chest heave and heave, and bring in nothing. He felt his vision blur.

And through it all, a smile.

Vesper’s doing that, he thought. He’s making you feel this way.

He should just go back to Van Nuys, take any willfare he could.

But Mars!

He should listen to Angelina.

But… he knew Mars wasn’t the playground of his ancient Kon-Ye game. He knew it wasn’t marble cities and red jungles. And he still wanted to go.

But is that me? He wondered.

Memories came back. Playing that Kon-Ye game for the first time, using nothing but a helmet. Meeting the Girl Who Would Be for the first time. Being Vesper. Coming back the next day to play, again and again. Until the gamestore kicked him out. Until he had done enough yardwork to pay for the game, marked down and near the end of its lifecycle. Installing the BMI. That night. That night he opened his eyes and had a whole world in front of him. Endless. As far as he wanted to grasp. That feeling of possibility. That feeling of freedom.

It wasn’t just Vesper. It was him.

Michael closed his eyes. Eventually, he slept.

#

The next morning was cold and gray. As the cab took him in, Michael Delgado watched a drunken video message from Angelique, taken in some dank little bar he didn’t recognize. She was trading tongues with a rat-faced man with a big pompadour.

There was also a text message from an email address Michael didn’t recognize:

Show them you can do it, Michael. Show them that you’re not Vesper, but his spirit still lives.

And another:

Willfare or not, you’re my hero.

Michael frowned. A quick search on the mediascape with the keywords “Michael Delgado,” “willfare,” and “Mars” showed tiny sparks of activity, widely distributed on the smaller boards and blogs, with some weighting towards BMI gaming.

Michael felt a swell of pride. He’d never done anything that hit the mediascape.

He was still feeling buoyant when they took him out to the physical course. Bob was there, flanked by Edwards/Scaled Composites/Virgin’s lawyer. A short woman wearing a severe gray suit stood several yards away from them. She strode forward and offered Michael her hand.

“I’m Felicia Ponderosa,” she said. “Willfare legal.”

“From last night,” Michael said.

“Yes. You’re stirring up some media attention.”

“I’m sorry.”

Felicia smiled. “Don’t be. If you make it, this is an important triumph for willfare. It’d prove that we aren’t just dog-walking and grass-cutting.”

“Even if he passes the test, there is still a question of interpretation of intent regarding the written portion,” said the Edwards lawyer.

Felicia offered the man a thin smile and dragged Michael away from them.

“They’re going to try to take this from me, aren’t they?” Michael said.

Felicia nodded.

“Can they?”

She sighed. “I don’t know.”

#

The physical test was something like an obstacle course. Michael ran, twisted, dodged, and jumped. All those years of lawnmowing, cleaning and construction paid off. The course was easy.

The Edwards lawyer bent close to whisper something to Bob. Some new way to fuck me, Michael thought. Some other trick to take away his prize.

And in that moment, he almost stopped and walked off the course. Because even Felicia couldn’t guarantee he’d get it. His step faltered. The little timer he’d set up in his internal view winked towards his disqualification. He felt eyes on him, some hungry, some disappointed.

Eyes. The media. Of course.

Michael smiled. He ran faster.

He beat the maximum time by tens of seconds. Bob looked at him grimly, arms crossed. But Michael didn’t really notice. His attention was focused on the willfare site, and on the job he’d just eyetyped:

Job2309170556098

Public protest, Edwards/Scaled Composites/Virgin Lancaster facility, main entrance. Help your fellow willfarer go to Mars. See media details at this address. One day credit per person, paid from my own account. Maximum 720 credits. Will have to accept IOU. ACCEPT >>

Michael smiled at Bob as he passed.

#

They put him in a cage made of heavy copper mesh for the psych evaluation. The psychologist was a young, red-haired man with wide blue eyes and a smattering of freckles on his face. He let the two lawyers into the cage and made Bob stay outside.

“What’s this?” Michael asked, pointing at the copper mesh.

“Faraday cage,” the psych guy said. “Swept of line-of-sight transceivers hourly. We don’t want you getting outside help on this test, do we?”

The heavy copper door clanged shut and latched. Every telltale on Michael’s BMI went red.

Michael felt suddenly lighter. The static in his mind was gone. He tried to pull a window on the global net and got nothing but smooth blankness. He was cut off for the first time in years.

Michael laughed. It was a weird feeling.

“How do you feel?” the psych guy said.

“Better.”

“Still want to go to Mars?”

“Of course!”

The psych guy nodded and they began. Michael recognized some of the questions from school. All of them were opinion-type questions. No wrong answers. Or so they said. Michael knew there were wrong answers, just like he knew they could tell when you were trying to spoof the right ones. He answered quickly, hoping for the best.

When it was over, they took him into a little office where the psych guy ran the test and displayed the results on a privacy screen. He looked at Michael sharply.

“You’re a Vesper, aren’t you?” he said.

Michael felt his guts clench. He didn’t know what to say. He opened his mouth, but no words came out.

The psych guy smiled. “You don’t have to answer. I know you are.”

“What’s a Vesper?” Bob asked.

“Vesper was a game character,” the psych guy said. “Kon-Ye games. Epic Mars, a Burroughs pastiche. Vesper was the hero, the one who saved Mars from the depredations of the Erinyes.”

“What does that have to do with him?” Bob said, pointing at Michael.

“Vesper was one of the early experiments in personality overlays in BMI gaming. Which in itself wasn’t bad. But the game was hacked, and there were some adverse effects.”

“Such as?” Bob said.

“Many of the active players ended up with neural weighting that’s a measurable percentage of Vesper’s.”

“What does that mean?”

“Vesper is a part of them. Forever.”

Bob was silent. After a while, the Edwards lawyer spoke up. “So this person’s desire to go to Mars may be because he’s part video-game character?”

Psych guy shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s impossible to separate.”

“So he failed the psych?” Bob asked.

A grin. “Oh, no. He passed just fine. With flying colors, as they say. All signs indicate he’s substantially more stable than his predecessor.”

“But he’s not… himself!” Bob thundered. “He’s not really human!”

“It looks like only about 1% of his neural weighting is Vesper’s,” the psych guy said. “And besides, our tests don’t specify where you get your motivation.”

Edward’s lawyer leaned close to Bob and said, “There’s precedent for disallowance, though,” he said. “A case can be made based on undefeatable BMIs and external influences.”

“You’re going to have a hard time proving external influences,” Felicia said.

“Why not? He’s persistently connected to the outside. Do you want to prove there are no gamestubs or backdoors into the Kon-Ye codebase?”

Felicia frowned and said nothing.

“But I passed all the tests!” Michael said. He felt the familiar tension, the familiar build. Like he should knock heads, break out of here, run into the red twining jungle…

Felicia shook her head.

Bob grinned. He turned to Michael. Michael forced himself to look into Bob’s dark, beady eyes. He knew what he was going to say. The same speech he got whenever he applied for a real job. Sorry, no, can’t take you, don’t know who you are, save your money and have that game BMI taken out and maybe we can talk later, here’s your hat, what’s your hurry.

But the receptionist kid came in, eyes wide, and everything changed fast.

#

Outside the Edwards/Scaled Composites/Virgin facility, a sea of people pressed tight against the gates. A shimmering line of cars traced a silver river back towards the more populated part of Mojave. The scent of biodiesel hung in the air, like French fries from an old-style fast food restaurant.

A cloud of smartsmoke hovered over the crowd. It morphed from FLY MIKE FLY to IF HE PASSES, LET HIM PASS, and END THE BMI DOUBLE STANDARD. Many of the people outside the gate also held old-style painted signs or wove flashwords around their bodies. They were too far away to read.

Michael stopped just outside the building as the kid pointed to the crowd and Bob and the lawyer had a quick huddle. Someone in the crowd pointed at Michael and a ragged cheer went up. Michael felt light-headed. What did he owe? This was way more than seven hundred and twenty people.

He looked inside at his willfare account. Nobody had accepted his offer of credit. Instead, his feedback was full of comments like this:

I’ll come out anyway. Keep your credits! You deserve them!

And

I’ll be there, you don’t need to bribe me.

And

Heard it through the mediascape. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Michael’s feeling of lightheadedness grew. They were helping him on their own dime. On their own time. Because they wanted to.

He raised a hand to the crowd. The ragged cheer swelled.

Felicia bent close to Michael and said, “Did you do this?”

Michael nodded, still looking at the crowd.

“How?”

“Posted a willfare job. Offered my Ares credits to anyone who would come out and protest.”

Felicia smiled. Her eyes glimmered like Michael’s mothers, on the day he’d gotten his baccalaureate degree. “Was that you or Vesper?”

“It was me.”

Felicia nodded. She went to join Bob and his lawyer. There was a lot of shouting and pointing at Michael. Bob’s face turned red and his expression squinted down into something that wouldn’t look out of place on an apple doll. The Edwards lawyer stood, expressionless, his eyes on the crowd.

Michael was still connected to his willfare posting. He saw the mediascape connections growing as he watched. People were feeding fuzzy video from the fence.

Michael smiled. No doubt there were some microcams or grain-of-rice transceivers lying about. He did a quick search and found a good view of the argument and fed it into the global net.

In the now-clear video, Felicia said. “I’d say the public has spoken. Do you still want to take this to court?”

“There’s no way we’re going to let a… a thing that’s part video game on the Ares. Especially not on the first long-term crew!” Bob yelled.

A groan went up from the crowd as the media reached them. Bob’s lawyer bent and whispered something in Bob’s ear. Bob shot a murderous glance at the crowd and fell silent.

“So you’re going to argue that the willfare contract is invalid?” Felicia said.

“Don’t say anything,” the Edwards lawyer said. Bob clamped his mouth shut over a frown.

Then both of them looked up at a Jeep that was approaching from within the Edwards/Scaled Composites/Virgin facility. It trailed a thin cloud of dust behind it as it sped across the vast concrete expanse.

When it came close, Bob went pale and whispered in his lawyer’s ear. The lawyer looked grim and nodded.

The Jeep passed within inches of Bob, ruffling his dark blue suit-jacket. He flinched as it roared by. It skidded to a stop in front of Michael.

The woman driver, a middle-aged blonde with hair just starting to gray and leathery desert-sun skin, eyed Michael over the rim of tiny mirrored sunglasses. She wore a utilitarian gray coverall that bore the Edwards/Scaled Composites/Virgin logo.

She jumped down from the jeep as Bob and lawyer came running.

“So you’re the new man?” she asked Michael, coming within eighteen inches of him. Her eyes, blue ghosts behind the mirrorshades, didn’t waver from his face.

“I want to be,” Michael said.

“Wrong answer,” she said.

Michael felt his hands clench. His stomach turned over and over, as if it was trying to tie itself in knots.

“Captain,” Bob said.

She held up a hand. Bob’s mouth clicked shut as if it were wired. “Give Michael and I a minute, please.”

She walked Michael fifty yards away from the others. She stopped and looked at him.

“You know Mars isn’t like the game,” she said.

“Of course,” Michael said. “But–”

“No beautiful princesses, no jungle, no air.”

“I know.”

“You know how long this mission is for?”

“Three years. Longer if we want to stay.”

“You know the chance of dying before you come back?”

“Zero point three five percent,” Michael said. It had been one of the test questions.

“Do you want to stay on Mars?”

Michael felt his eyes go hot and wet. “Yes. I do.”

A nod.

“What would you do to Mars if you could?” she said.

“Make it like the epic.”

The woman looked at him for a long time, expressionless. Finally, she let a thin grin spread across her face. “So you’re the new man?” she said.

Michael remembered his answer, and her response. “Yes,” he said, standing straight.

A laugh. Nothing more.

“Who are you?” Michael said.

“I’m the captain. Gloria Vandermeer.”

“And you’re ok with a video game character for a crewmember?”

Gloria smiled. She bent close and whispered, “I used to play Epic Mars, too. Though not as Vesper. As the Girl Who Was To Be.”

Michael couldn’t say anything. She saw his expression and laughed. “Not much of the girl left, is there?” she said. “So much for the romance.”

“No. I mean, if you played, how did you get into the program?”

“I got out before the meltdown. And I paid to have the network hacked out of my head. But it still stays with you. The dream.”

“Am I in?”

Gloria looked out over the desert. “You’ll like Roddy. I think he’s almost two percent Vesper.”

“Roddy?”

“One of our crewmates.”

“I’m in?” Michael said.

“You have to ask?”

Michael’s heart pounded. His hands felt slick and sweaty. He had a sudden vision of himself flying over the red jungle. He blinked it away and replaced it with a vision of himself trudging over salmon-colored sand. It felt just as good.

“The one question they don’t ask,” Gloria said. “What percentage of astronauts got hooked on interactives? What percentage are carrying some bit of a hero around in their heads?”

Michael shook his head. “You mean this was planned?”

A laugh, long and hard. The setting sun painted Gloria’s face in hues of gold. “Want to go tell Bob the good news?” she said.

But you haven’t answered my question, Michael thought. He opened his mouth to say something. Then he closed it again.

“Yes,” he said.

They went back to where the earthbound stood, amid the cheers of the crowd.

###

Jason StoddardJason Stoddard is an evil marketer, metaverse developer, and proponent of positive science fiction (though he has been known to enjoy a dystopia or two–shh.) He’s a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and Sidewise Award finalist, and editors at Futurismic, Sci Fiction, Interzone, Strange Horizons, and other publications have been crazy enough to buy his stories. He lives in Los Angeles, CA, with his wife and eight reptiles. Feel free to email jason [at] strangeandhappy [dot] com.

Be Sociable, Share!

14 Responses to “NEW FICTION: WILLPOWER by Jason Stoddard”

  1. JustinP says:

    Thanks, Jason – I’m amazed at how much information and worldbuilding you managed to fit into a comparatively short piece. :)

  2. Adam Rakunas says:

    So glad to see this one come out of critique and into the real world. Though if you take on Kon-Ye as a client, I quit.

  3. Robert Koslover says:

    That was a very enjoyable short story. Keep up the good work.

  4. Raul Gonzalez says:

    I don’t know what that public protest scene triggered, but I got teary eyed. Probably emotion and excitement. There’s always a huge thrill when you see links and care that are only in the ether materialize into the meatspace.
    Great story, and I could easily envision a world like that. I think I get the point of the positive fiction movement, it’s giving you something to work for, to look forward to. My one problem is that with the zeitgeist as it is, it’s hard to imagine a post scarcity society that actually works. But I guess that’s just me.

  5. Jason Stoddard says:

    Adam, did I forget to mention who our new client was?

    To Chris and Paul: thanks again for accepting this story!

  6. Adam Rakunas says:

    Jason: ARGH.

    Raul: Zeitgeists change if we *want* them to change.

  7. Steven says:

    Let me see…video game character implanted without user knowledge/permission? A Manchurian message only this time for the common good. I’m looking for something like this. Where do I apply?

    Sequel please…

  8. Dominic says:

    Bloody brilliant. Well done.

  9. Denise says:

    Bravo Jason! Another brilliant story. I see a possible sequel here too…

  10. Bint Arab says:

    Nice story! The character changes didn’t work for me though: Bob is Bill for a while, Angelina becomes Angelica becomes Angelique, the male lawyer becomes female and the female lawyer becomes male — there’s so much else that’s new and original going on here that these switches just detract from the story. I kept having to go back to check on who was who was what.

    Other than that, it’s a strong story.

  11. Connie CJ says:

    very enjoyable story. strong character development, well developed plot, and great mix of technology & future economics. This kind of reminds me of the style of Mac Reynolds. Kudos

  12. Chris says:

    Enjoyed. Made me think of Gibson and Stoss, two of my favorites. Stumbled over the itsy bitsy paragraphs a bit, too simplistic for the prose or something, choppy maybe. Really nice story though, kind of a metaphor for how marketing usurps our minds already.

  13. Wayne Castanaveras says:

    Thanks. This really hit home for me. I had my entire life planned out when I was nine. Astronaut via the Air Force. Lost my eyes at puberty, and had to give up the dream. I have tears in my eyes as I type this. Well crafted and heartful story.

  14. Edith says:

    I have now read three of your stories here on futurismic and they all have that something. Great and unique work. Best of luck to you in your writing career – I know you will do great!

Leave a Reply

Please note: by commenting on Futurismic you explicitly agree to be bound by the Futurismic Comments Policy!