Chapter One – Ares Morgan
I woke up on the water planet Sisyphus in the current year - 2174.
I could remember neither how I got there nor what had happened during the previous weeks of my life. The sun beat down on me – it was a bright white star, a shiny little star that emanated heat. I sweated a little bit. The dock was surrounded by nothing but water. It was about ten yards long from end to end and five yards wide. No one else was there. Nothing was around me except for water. I looked down into the water and could see a little. I saw…creatures, swimming around the dock. Some of them had fangs and swam quickly. A red creature with horns and a sword – yes, a sword – swam around my dock, from side to side, and winked when I looked at him. I quickly looked away so as not to draw attention to myself, but nothing helped. He swam around the dock with his sword, staring at me with bright, menacing eyes.
My options ranged from bleak to fucking disastrous. Looking in my pocket revealed that my device wasn’t working. I pressed the button to reset it.
“Reset incomplete,” a voice said.
“Reset,” I said. “Reset, turn on, please.”
“Processing,” a voice said.
“Processing,” the voice said.
I waited even longer.
“Restart failure. Please see customer support.”
“How do I see customer support if I can’t communicate with anyone?”
“Processing,” a voice said.
I waited even longer still.
“Unknown,” the voice said. “Shutting down.”
“Thank you for your enormous help,” I said.
It didn’t respond. I sighed.
I waited for another few minutes. My forehead began to sweat more and more. I looked around. I had nothing else on me. I wore my blue jeans and plain white t-shirt with leather jacket – my favorite outfit. I wore my cowboy boots and smiled. At least I had my cowboy boots.
Being alone felt…strange. It felt different to not be around devices and people and homes and stores and society and everything being planned and regimented and controlled, everything a haze of obligations and entertainment and being expected to do this, do that, and conform to the status quo of a terrible and balanced and boring society.
I sat on a black dock until something appeared. I heard a sonic boom first and then looked up.
I saw a war spaceship above me. There was no other way to describe it except to say that it had lean, smooth lines, sharp angles, and tons of guns and missile racks. It looked several hundred yards long, a similar amount wide, and from bottom to top could hold hundreds of people easily. The spaceship landed into the water right next to my dock. There was a door there, but it didn’t immediately open.
I knocked again.
“Please wait,” a voice said.
The door opened.
Shouldn’t I learn to swim? I thought that somehow I had picked the wrong planet, a place with demons in the water and spaceships with all the guns. How had I become this, become someone on this unknown planet far from Earth? Life had banished me, sent me to this place to punish me for offenses unknown. Life sent people down to this place when they failed at something utterly and overwhelmingly. Life punished me by sending me here, but I couldn’t remember what I had done. I didn’t know – what did I do? I knew that I was Ares Morgan, former engineer and failed esports pro. I had failed at esports and then tried to invent some spaceship upgrades that didn’t work as well as the highly-financed competitor. I grew up in Michigan, near West Bloomfield, and went to college at the University of Iowa. I knew nothing that would make this military – or paramilitary – ship want to dock here to talk to me.
The base looked like an enormous boat that dominated a couple of city blocks. It had white exterior, painted white and bristling with guns and satellite connection points and other pieces of advanced technology, both human and alien. A gigantic body of water spread out in all directions from me, beautiful blue waves of water with waves rocking from one side of the vast expanse to the other. I lay there, with blue mountains of water below me. Several shuttles had landed on top of the ship for people to enter the facility, but no one was up there now.
When I looked down I saw the blue mountains below me at the bottom of a deep body of water. Alien buildings dominated the water, with crab-people and starfish-people and even daemons swimming around in the water down there. The daemons sat there, swimming in place, having a dinner. Some of them looked red and had horns, whereas others were purple and larger and carried huge axes.
“Welcome to Sphinx Headquarters,” my device said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“You are welcome,” the voice said.
“What the hell is Sphinx Headquarters?”
“Processing. It’s a privately funded facility fully armed and capable of fighting any kind of military engagement. It’s a base that travels from system to system fighting the deadliest battles against the most powerful of enemies.”
“Um, I’m fat, thirty, and possess no fighting skills,” I said.
“It would seem that their intentions are not hostile,” the voice said.
The news blared on my device. Geeks Attack Luxury Spaceship, it said. It showed a holo – a hologram in front of me that only the people synced to it could see. I looked at it with the fascination of someone who wants to watch something totally and irrevocably fucked up. One frigate launched a dozen missiles that cascaded into a luxury capital ship, causing a massive explosion. Afterwards a small group of people boarded on a small transport dropship. A geek walked into the spaceship and screamed at the beautiful people and shot one in the head, watching him die and laughing. Then I looked at the boots of one of those offenders. They were my boots. I looked down. The killer had worn my boots. I didn’t know how or why, but I noticed the markings on them perfectly. How could that possibly happen? What happened to me the last few years? I remembered living in Arizona on Earth and becoming troubled, but I didn’t remember anything after that.
The second article of news: demons got mad. They felt mistreated by an incident – a stupid incident in which a human had ripped a demon’s head off for an alleged murder. The kicker – the human didn’t investigate anything at all. The demon was innocent. The demon, Asgarnis, had been a nice, innocent citizen. Demons poured through the neighborhoods on Mars, burning and pillaging, and humans on the internet called them all kinds of monster. I looked into the facility of V Max One and saw two demons, sitting there, playing a game in the front waiting area.
I walked over to the entrance to the ship and pressed the button to ask to be let in. The door opened downwards. I climbed down to a meeting area with a sign – V Max One. A receptionist stood in the entry area. She was a beautiful woman, maybe twenty, and with short red hair. The facility’s entryway looked like a reception area, with chairs and coffee tables and a main office area with a representative standing there, looking smart and capable. She wore a blue shirt and blue pants with a symbol of Space Limited on them. Space Limited were the heroes of our era, and everyone worshiped them. She was able to handle all of life’s problems that caused so much trouble for me. I felt jealous. Also sitting in the entryway were two demons. They were arguing. When I walked into the entry area and sat down they looked at me for a minute and then nodded. I nodded back. One of them, the alpha male, put his hands on his shoulders. I didn’t know what that meant.
The other demon talked to the alpha male in pleading tones in a language I didn’t understand. They started to yell at each other again. I glanced to the receptionist.
She smiled. She gestured for me to walk up to her.
“Welcome to V Max One, Sphinx Headquarters. You are our new patient. Hi, Ares Morgan.”
“Hey,” I said. “What?”
“Hey,” she said. “You’re experiencing a psychotic break, a total mental collapse. We are here to treat you and figure out the problems behind the symptoms and find a long-term treatment plan. Will you come in willingly?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I talk to myself, in my head, say things, then I get confused, can’t pay attention to the world around me, can’t focus. I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“Hey,” she said. “Really? You don’t remember anything? Fascinating.” She looked like someone who had her own story and life completely independent of mine, and someone who didn’t want her life to be interrupted by my bullshit.
“I need help now?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “You need help. Let me help you, please. This facility, here, we’ve got doctors, nurses, specialists. This is V Max One. We can get you better, quickly, and it’s not expensive.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t know, I’m not sure, I don’t need this.”
“We can help you! You need help. Police are talking, whispering. It’s this or jail. Your choice. I’m sorry to say it.”
“I don’t need to go to jail, I’m a good person, I didn’t do it.”
“Sorry, but you need to come with us.”
“Why? Because I’m sad? Broken? Everyone’s sad and broken.” I blushed. I didn’t want to be here. “No offense, I want to leave. I am leaving. Going. Away. I’m grabbing a bite to eat. I need to watch some of my favorite shows. I need to talk to my friends. I don’t need to go here to some hospital for criminals and sit drooling in a chair for twenty years.”
“This is the planet Sisyphus,” she said. “I’m Alexandria Harren. I’m going to show you around and introduce you to everyone. This place, this mental health facility – they get you better. They want to show you how to be a good, respectable adult. Purge any negative thoughts or emotions which are holding you back, making you hurt people.”
“Oh,” I said. I walked through that area, wondering what had happened to make me end up in this place.
“Take things slow. Get better. Work out. You could lose some weight. That would help.”
“No,” I said. “Salads, three times a day? No thanks.”
Someone walked up to me from inside the facility. She was Victoria, the most beautiful brunette I had ever seen, dark hair, quite pretty, doll-like face, pouty, with black leather and low-cut and high-cut, looking angry at the disaster that is the real world, and around twenty-five years of age. I was immediately smitten with this person. I adored her. She was black.
“You need to come in or die,” she said. “Two choices. Live or die. Enter, and get better. Leave, and I fucking kill you, rip your arms off, rip your legs off, rip your dick off, and scream at you as I do it. Those are the choices.”
“After careful thought and contemplation – “
“Jesus!” she said.
“I’ll enter the facility,” I said.
They walked me in to talk to a woman, fifties, in nurse’s garb. She smiled. “I’ll find you a room to change into your hospital attire,” she said. She left the room and gave me pants and a shirt that looked like sweatpants and a pajama top. I put them on and then let her back into the room. She gathered my clothes and device and put them in a locker somewhere and gave me a chance to record where they were. Then she walked me over to a room with two beds. I grunted. Living with someone in the same room could be hell. Sitting in my room felt comfortable, with a desk and bed and light and bathroom. It didn’t even have a closet to stash things.
Reflecting on my impact to the universe made me miserable – I hadn’t even stopped bad guys, become rich, saved a princess, or even designed a solid computer program. Writing a program for picking oranges or dodging missiles or even how to get a better job would better me and the universe. None of that had happened. I mattered, damn it. I still mattered, even though I was fat and thirty and in a facility to get better – a heavily armed facility to get better. Every single person, one of billions and billions, those people all rocked beyond comprehension, mattered, made a difference, fucked up the world around them, and made their impact on the universe.
I broke down gradually over the course of a few miserable years. It started with not wanting to sleep at night. I would stay up until noon the following day, watching wrestling and soap operas and softcore porn on my holo and wondering if someone should be making me go to bed at a reasonable hour. No one did – and no one made me get a job or pay my bills when my parents would pay for everything. I sat there, a young man in America in the year 2170, wondering what I should be doing with my life. A buddy of mine, Ralph, went to Arizona to see me one weekend and then said that he wanted to live with me for six months because he loved the desert and because he knew someone there – me. I expected to find important work and find a job and a career that would mean something. I wanted to work as a paralegal but couldn’t find the right job at it and ended up just doing data entry that the AI’s didn’t want to bother with.
Things started to break, become more difficult. Someone asked me to leave a grocery store. He told me that I was pacing in his store and needed to stop. I began to get worse jobs. The employment agency had me put potato chip bags back onto shelves. Someone, a bored white male in his fifties, fired me.
“It’s a hard call, but you pace back and forth. You don’t do your job. You take twice the time the other guy does. I’m sorry, but I can’t keep you on the team. Good luck for you in everything that you do, okay? Thanks for helping out.”
“Fuck off,” I said. “And thanks, goodbye.”
The employment agency couldn’t find anything for me after that.
Life didn’t matter as much as what happened in my mind. I listed out my favorite superheroes and soldiers and spaceships and drafted them onto teams for a daydream I had of fighting bad guys. I walked around my apartment, fighting invisible monsters in my room, knowing that my life meant nothing, trying not to admit reality.
The reality I tried to ignore? I was one of billions of people on one of a hundred planets. Every experience had already been felt a thousand times by a thousand other people. And women?
Women were a problem. There was a girl I liked, Allison Fenris. I liked Allison more than I liked anyone else in life, and it seemed like she liked me, too. I just couldn’t bring myself to ask her out. I hung out with her and our mutual friends and tried to be good. Allison’s friend had married Benjamin, and I enjoyed the ceremony.
Allison brought a date to the wedding. She smiled and gestured for me to shake hands with her date. His name, of course, was Buck Johnson.
“Hey, dude,” Buck said. “I’m Buck.”
“Hey,” I said. “I’m Ares Morgan.”
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Attending a wedding,” I said.
“No, for a job,” he said. “I’m a doctor.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m unemployed.”
“Ah,” he said. “Too bad.”
“Must be nice, being a doctor,” I said.
“I save lives all day long,” Buck said. “It feels good.”
I fucking hated him so much then – Allison fucked a gorgeous stud who saved lives all day long. What. The. Fuck. This sucked.
“I don’t know what to say,” I said.
“You’ll always be a friend,” Allison said, and I walked away from them, bought a shot of whisky, went to the bathroom, and punched the wall. Another patron screamed and left the bathroom. Richie immediately talked to the manager.
“He didn’t punch the wall,” Richie said. “He was just excited and expressing excitement. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
The bouncer disagreed. He yanked my arm behind my back and kicked me out of my friend’s wedding. Buck smiled and apologized.
“Sorry about that, man,” he said. “Sorry.”
I remembered all that while watching the waves from inside the Sphinx headquarters of V Max One. I went to an area with the devices that we were allowed to use. I used mine to call my beloved parents.
“Hi, honey,” Mom said.
“Hi, Mom,” I said. “I’m in a facility, V Max One.”
“I know,” Mom said. “It’s a nice chance to get better. They can help you, make you better.”
“I just don’t like being locked up,” I said.
“How’s your sister?”
“No idea,” I said. “Haven’t talked to her for awhile.”
“She’s supposed to be there with you,” Mom said.
“Well, I haven’t heard from her,” I said. “I don’t know. She might be here. This place, it’s barren, quiet.”
“Integration and education, honey. Work on that. Get better at communicating. Stop all those feelings of resentment. Be okay with the world, okay? Integrate. Get educated. Okay?”
“I don’t remember,” I said. “I have no memory, getting here, what happened.”
“You don’t need to remember, yet,” she said. “Just know that we love you and care for you. Here. Talk to your father.”
“Okay,” I said.
Dad grabbed the device and began to talk to me. “Hey, A-Man,” he said. “Hope you’re doing well. How’s everything?”
“I’m in a facility, Dad,” I said. “This could be a lot fucking better than it is now.”
“Well, you overcame a lot, already. You graduated from college, you worked, you have a great life, great family, some close friends. You’re doing great.”
Dad and I talked for a few minutes – the weather, the planets, the sports teams – and then we hung up. I looked around the facility and saw a bunch of places to exercise. I walked over to one and began to walk on a treadmill and watch a holo. I became winded almost immediately by the physical exertion. I couldn’t handle the basics of working out. I hated myself for being fat. I couldn’t believe that fatness hadn’t just been eliminated, but it hadn’t. A few rich people became immediately skinny, but a middle-class brat like me wouldn’t get access to that kind of tech.
I worked out, ate a dinner, and went to bed. I finished my first day in a facility, talking to no one except for administrators and doctors. That happened.