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.