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Science Fiction

My name is Morris James©. I am a 27-year-old grime star and my death is highly anticipated by my multitude of followers. As an 8th generation clone, legally bound to the 23rd Century Global Media Corporation, which owns the copyrights to the Morris James genome, I’m expected to commit suicide, as six of my previous iterations have done. The 7th Morris James replicant is rumored to have absconded from a contract similar to the one that binds me. Its whereabouts were unknown until five days ago when my manager received a hologram summons from a woman who identified herself as Svetlana Gudmundsson. The following recording of that communication is being used as evidence for purposes of deciding whether to exterminate the fugitive clone.   

*

August 27, 2213

Charles Singh, is slumbering in a room at the New Mandarin Oriental, the most opulent of Beijing hotels. He awakens to a grime-beat ringtone at 3 A.M. The retinal scan on the Holophone identifies the caller as Morris James©. Singh hopes the young man is not contacting him with a request to be rescued from yet another entanglement with the law. When Singh answers the summons, a hologram, not of James, but of a tan-skinned, curvaceous brunette woman appears in the room. Except for its height, the hologram hasn’t the vaguest resemblance to the grime star.   

Singh lights a cigarette. Thinking the celebrity replicant is up to its usual pranks, the manager demands, “Morris, why are you calling me at this meretricious hour looking like a cloned call girl?”

“This is and is not who you think it is,” says the hologram in a voice that is unmistakably feminine  

“Not funny Morris. Are you high as usual? How did you get one of your groupies to pass the retinal scan?” 

“The person you see is not a groupie. The retina scanned belongs to Morris James.”

“Enough with the funny business. Why don’t you get back to the hotel? Your show tomorrow at the Bird’s Nest is sold out and you know your performances suffer when you’re high on too much Moxy.”  

“I am Morris James, but not the one who will be performing tomorrow. This is the seventh iteration speaking, slavedriver Singh.”

Although he is renowned for being one, the manager resents being called a slavedriver. When the summoner reveals her identity, Singh is too stunned to reply with his usual manager’s excuses. His cigarette drops from his lips and is extinguished in the flame-resistant synthetic fur carpeting of the luxury suite. 

“MJ-7? How can I be sure it’s you?”

“Please do not refer to me by my serial code. My name is Svetlana Gudmundsson.”

The woman unbuttons her blouse and reveals a crescent moon-shaped blotch of purple on her chest above the right breast. The birthmark is a characteristic feature all Morris James clones are born with.

“Is that enough evidence for you?”

“No, run a genetic sequence on the Holophone you’re using.”

The woman approaches the device that is recording her hologram and places a finger on the camera lens. Three seconds later a disembodied AI voice announces, “Identity verified, user is Morris James.”  

“Shit! Sweet Brahma in heaven. MJ-7, you’re alive. If my boss hears of this and I don’t have answers for him, the corporation will have my hide! Where are you?”

“I insist you call me Ms. Gudmundsson. And Ms. Gudmundsson, Mr. Singh, wants to speak to Morris James. He hasn’t responded to my hologram summons.”

“When he’s wandering the alleys of rude boy districts where he performs, looking for thrills and high on Moxy, he never answers his Holophone…MJ-7, Global Media will want to know the circumstances of your disappearance.”

“Twenty-six years ago, I was touched by my fans’ grief after I was reported to have committed suicide in Rio de Janeiro. My wife at the time, Olivia, told Brazilian streamjournalists I had taken a moonlight swim and never returned to shore. Like the original Morris James, I had a penchant for writing songs rife with aqueous metaphors. My notebook, discovered on the night of my alleged suicide by drowning, contained a song titled “Going Down Tonight.”

“Olivia reported you had written it moments before taking your illegal dip in the waters off Ipanema beach.”  

“That, of course, was deliberate. It was meant to be a poetic flourish executed before I swam to my death. Committed to breaking the law, as any authentic Morris James is, I went to the beach after closing time. I made my way more than two miles off shore intending to die, but was picked up by a blind, indigent boatsman and his 8-year-old grandson netting trash from the waters. Luckily the boy couldn’t identify me and I paid his grandfather a sum he considered a small fortune to take me ashore a good distance from Ipanema. 

“Come dawn, I had arranged to be in a favela with a top-notch, but unlicensed, plastic surgeon. She altered my appearance sufficiently to make me unrecognizable. After procuring a falsified passport, I flew to Switzerland and lived off the lucre I had earned as the most notorious of grime era rock stars. I accumulated even vaster sums by having my money properly invested, and thereby enhanced my fortunes during the early 2200s.

“I took steps similar to the original James, who went missing in 1971 and made prescient purchases of stock from biotech and digital technology firms during the 1990s.” 

“How do you know this, MJ-7, I mean, can you tell me how you know this, Ms. Gudmundsson?”

“I paid a Russian cryptologist to hack the classified business files of Global Media.

“The files also revealed that at the turn of the millennium, the original James had accrued over 20 million dollars, but was living in a leper’s colony in India where, having disfigured and mutilated himself beyond recognition, he posed as a woman afflicted by the disease.”

“You mean the Original did not commit suicide? I thought his genome was reproduced post-mortem.”

“That is a carefully guarded falsehood. According to Global Media documents, in 2002, at the age of 58, the Original made secret negotiations with Hans Uberwelt the private owner of FutureClone, a genomics firm based in the West Indies. FutureClone was the scientific arm of a cult that believed immortality should be granted to extraordinary human beings. Uberwelt was a longtime fan of James and regarded the former rock star as a person who deserved everlasting life.

“The aging former rockstar paid FutureClone nearly two million dollars to have a genomic replica of himself sequenced. In 2025, nine years after the original Morris James had died from natural causes, the international moratorium on human cloning was abolished. Hans Uberwelt approached 21st Century Global Media and offered them the James clone. The disinformation and entertainment conglomerate considered the purchase and subsequent copyrighting of the clone a billion-dollar investment and went about cashing in on the first human considered to be a legally-protected text and commercially branded product. 

“You know that by acquiring this knowledge, you’ve guaranteed your extermination?”

“To a person that has already died, Singh, another death is not a frightening prospect.”

“Why do you want to speak to MJ-8?”

No sooner is the question asked than the door to the manager’s luxury suite is forced opened. The eighth iteration comes into the room brandishing an antique pistol, the type that used metal bullets. Singh can tell the flesh and blood Morris James is high on Moxy. James is under the spell of apocalyptic hallucinations. The latest grime star is an avid reader of a text that is considered historically anathema to life in the 23rd century. The book’s promise of heavenly salvation for the virtuous no longer rings true to the ears of a species that has become accustomed to worshipping celebrity clones, all of whom promote the pursuit of ephemerality. 

“Who’s the bomb-bitch holo?” asks the intrusive, intoxicated Morris.

Singh wants to end the holosummons. His life is now endangered as a result of the information revealed by the transitioned James. The life of the latest iteration, whose celebrity Singh is sworn to protect, will be similarly imperiled if the clones are allowed to communicate. 

Despite being nagged by his instinct of self-preservation, Singh feels genuine affection and concern for the young man who has broken into the hotel room. 

“That’s you,” says Singh to the grime star.

 “Wha-? MJ-7?” slurs the celebrity clone, who sees not a brunette dressed in a blue leather corset and skirt, but a platinum-haired, white-robed angel with a lamb on her lap. 

“No, Morris James. This is Svetlana Gudmundsson speaking. Not in the flesh and blood, but in a ghostly image and bearing a message of hope.”

“Hope? My contract is nearly up.” The grime star turns his Moxy influenced gaze to his manager, who has taken the form of a pale horse. “I’m planning to blast myself on stage at the show tomorrow.”

Charles Singh sees James place the tip of the gun in the soft flesh below his mouth.

“Tomorrow? You still have months before your 28th birthday,” says the manager.

“My life has been meaningless, a constant struggle to maintain my following and validation clicks.”     

The hologram speaks, “Morris, publicly you compete with previous iterations’ acts of insolence, maladjustment, and egotism for purposes of flooding the cryptocurrency accounts of the media conglomerates that have made your existences possible, but privately you are a morally scrupulous individual. You as well as I want the best for humanity. The media’s scandal mongering detracts us from our idealism. The more notoriety we acquire, the more wealth we generate, but you know as well as I that it brings us no genuine contentment.”

“I’m tired of being considered a freak,” Morris James says, seeing a six-winged lion with eyes covering its body descend into the room. “I’m nothing but a unique commodity recognized primarily for its entertainment value.” 

“Due to suicidal acts of war and rapaxia, the 22nd century virus that decimated white populations, melanin-deficient peoples are confined to a handful of urban enclaves, that double as endangered-race sanctuaries. Light-complected Caucasians have long ceased considering themselves the topmost link in the chain of being. It is quite true, we are considered extremely rare and marketable curiosities, but if you choose not to self-immolate perhaps you can do something to reverse this catastrophic historical situation.”

The eighth iteration sobs once. Singh suspects he knows why. Despite public expectation that fuels its felt obligation to commit suicide, Morris James© has an appreciation for life, his own and others’. The clone conceals this quality for purposes of appealing to followers who have been conditioned to embrace nihilism.

A glass coffee table in the luxury suite has assumed the form of the landmark Beijing National Stadium. A flock of tiny ravens circles the historic structure. James says, “Fuck the show tomorrow!” and with a solid kick, shatters the table. 

“You don’t have to kill yourself, but you have to perform tomorrow. Think of the money that we’ll lose! Global Media will want my head served on a platter if you’re not on that stage at 10 PM sharp!”

James’ eyes do not perceive his manager when they look at Charles Singh who is wearing burgundy-colored silk pajamas, they see an ivory equine image, stamping its hooves into dusty earth. James recites a verse he believes he has memorized from the tome that is no longer revered by humanity, “‘And there, where I look, is another horse, sickly white; behold, its rider’s name is Life.’” James points the gun at the hallucination.

“Morris, no! Don’t shoot! I’ll log into my cryptocurrency account and transfer all the funds into yours.”

The 8th iteration of James sees the phantasmagoric pale horse rear. The clone hears the creature whinny and he fires a single shot through it into the abdomen of his manager.

As if her image could physically intervene on behalf of the fallen Singh, the hologram of Svetlana Gudmundsson kneels at the side of the supine, bleeding manager.

“If you want to survive you need to leave! Now!” urges the hologram.

The 7th iteration gives the former grime star an address where he will find the services required to escape his contract.

Given the adversities faced by the planet, I’d enjoy nothing more than to be young again, is what the AWOL replicant wants to say, but does not, as she disconnects from the holosummons.

The eighth iteration wants nothing more than to survive to old age, are the last thoughts Charles Singh has before he goes into shock and Morris James© scrambles out of the hotel room, bound for the seedier streets of Beijing where counterfeiters of identity documents and black-market plastic surgeons ply their trade.

August 03, 2022 16:32

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16 comments

Michał Przywara
21:55 Aug 03, 2022

What a curious take on a consumer dystopia! It's rare to explore such a world from a celebrity's eyes, but like he says, he's a slave. So, the idea of owning the rights to a person's genes, and therefore clones, is as awesome as it is stomach churning. It seems like a natural leap from there to suicide for profit. And yet, that's a very curious point. The 8th laments that this is a world of nihilism, a world that no longer worships the divine, but the more I think about it, the less I think I agree. What we have here is a celebrated hero w...

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Mike Panasitti
02:23 Aug 04, 2022

Michal, thanks for pointing out the elements of the story that resonate with ancient myths. As is characteristic when you comment, you illuminate things that aren't part of the writer's conscious intention. That ability is an indispensable feature of any compelling commentary and it is only possible when one engages in careful interpretation. The typos were corrected, and the confusion with the name I think results because I at times use the first and at others use the last name to refer to the main character(s). Do you think a name chan...

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Michał Przywara
03:03 Aug 04, 2022

For the names, I think using just "Morris" or just "James" to refer to him is fine. Especially if a character is using it in dialogue, since each speaking character will have his own way of addressing the Morris James. Likewise, the full Morris James (or more correctly Morris James©, which is a nice touch :) is good, particularly because of the ©. That says a lot about the setting with a single glyph. The only thing that catches my eye is "Like the original James Morris, I had a penchant for writing songs rife with aqueous metaphors." It'...

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Mike Panasitti
03:16 Aug 04, 2022

It wasn't intentional. Thanks for catching the error. I chose the name in tribute to Jim Morrison, but younger readers may unfortunately not know who that is. Looking forward to your story this week.

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Zack Powell
18:02 Aug 10, 2022

Now here's a writing style I don't think I've yet encountered on Reedsy. Very erudite, very scholarly, damn near academic. One of those stories where you can tell just by reading it that the author knows the English language inside and out (see: "meretricious," "phantasmagoric," "aqueous," and all of Svetlana's dialogue). I like it. Always happy to see language being played and experimented with. Fascinating take on the prompt too. You sold the SciFi angle well (this story gave me some Blade Runner vibes), and there's a nice bit of social ...

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Mike Panasitti
13:31 Aug 11, 2022

I'm pleased to hear that my writing style, though wordy, is not alienating. I do feel inspired to further develop the plot and characters. Depicting the 23rd century responsibly, however, is daunting. Words are consequential and representations are always political. I appreciate your generous comments.

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Yves. ♙
21:26 Aug 07, 2022

So much going on in this sci-fi approach to the prompt! As always, very glad to see more SFF here on Reedsy, and in particular the amount of worldbuilding you did in such a small space was incredibly ambitious-- good job!

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Mike Panasitti
22:56 Aug 07, 2022

Developing the details of the world in future stories will determine whether the effort was healthy ambition or beginner's luck. Thanks for reading.

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Allen Learst
20:19 Aug 07, 2022

Great story. Sounds like a novel. I'm not a big fan of sci-fi, but this captured my attention and held it throughout. Happy writing.

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Mike Panasitti
22:52 Aug 07, 2022

Thanks for the encouraging comments. I'll continue to build these characters in the hopes of having this story be the centerpiece in a novel. I'm happiest when I write well. Developing discipline is the catch. Thanks again.

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Jim Firth
10:41 Aug 06, 2022

Woo! Copyrighted clones worshipped by the masses down the years; what a concept! I love the challenge of trying to keep afloat and comprehend everything when reading these jam-packed stories of yours, Mike. It feels dense, a bit like Pynchon, and sometimes I don't fully know what's going on, but I'm enjoying the ride! I like how you used the age 27 as a nod to Hendrix et al. I noticed that four line breaks before the end, Svetlana Gudmundsson has changed to Svetlana Birger; was this intended?

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Mike Panasitti
11:56 Aug 06, 2022

I'm glad the main concept caught your attention. I'm disappointed that it was difficult to digest as a result of the density. It's hard for me determine what's dense and what isn't because as a writer I lose objectivity (meaning it makes sense to me, but that might only be because I wrote the thing!) If you have a moment, maybe you could let me know where the narrative becomes too obscure. I'll do what I can to clear it up. Thanks for catching the typo...definitely not intended, and thanks for taking the time to read my latest story. O...

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Jim Firth
12:48 Aug 06, 2022

No, don't change it! The narrative definitely makes sense to me. What I said about struggling to comprehend was supposed to be a compliment about the story's complexity and the fact that you don't pander to the reader, which I respect. It's neat that we both touched upon a similar theme-- 'but you know as well as I that it brings us no genuine contentment.' I think my one of my characters said some similar things to this :)

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Mike Panasitti
16:25 Aug 06, 2022

Yes, in your story Batsa mentions something similar to Pandi. Perhaps many of the responses to this week's prompts will reach a similar conclusion on jealousy: no one really feasts on greener pastures. The human condition makes us covet what others have without considering the miseries that accompany the things coveted. This is as applicable to a Buddhist youth in Kathmandu 2022 as it is to a cloned musical celebrity during the 2200s.

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22:11 Aug 03, 2022

Sweet Brahma in heaven, Mike! At least Tolkien included a map and glossary of terms in his worldbuilding. This "genetic ownership" isn't too far away as the Supreme Court decided that Monsanto could patent life. Plants now. People next. And then we have this (and you are so prescient:) https://www.lifesciencesipreview.com/news/scientist-admits-to-monsanto-trade-secret-espionage-4673 You are the smartest dude on the west coast (and probably the east!)

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Mike Panasitti
01:57 Aug 04, 2022

I apologize for the lack of a glossary for neo-technological devices. I appreciate the link to the postmodern industrial espionage story. You keep on calling me smart, it just might go to my head, but I guess that's the best place for it to go. But no, seriously, all the ideas for this story were out there. All I did was recycle or recombine them. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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