Fly Away
by Kyra Cullinan

There are things you try not to think about. The fact that in reality you live in a box under the counter of a bar. A glittering cylinder tucked in neatly beside all the other fantasies these people of the future like to live out, while people walk by you every day, oblivious to your pseudo-existence. You know this, because Julian told you, when you asked. He's delighted with you, giddy about his new toy.

Sentient holograms. The latest rage in holotechnology, and you're more than happy to oblige, to be a part of it all. There's been some trouble in the past, you understand, but they're very careful now. Detailed psychological profiles, all the variables which might cause trouble painstakingly programmed out. So you never have to worry about getting angry or violent or unstable in any way.

And it's not a bad life, really. You know you're luckier than most. You get to do what you love, all the time. There are no worries about salary or drunken patrons or your popularity fading. Only the lights and the music and the patter of applause like raindrops on into eternity. Because this will never stop. Champagne and girls and the same sets as long as your program lasts, a concept you can't even begin to fathom.

But you have to wonder. For all that this is your life now, you wish you understood whose decision it was to program you like this. Because you don't just remember nightclubs and casinos, you've got the memories of an entire life tucked neatly inside your nonexistent head. The way your mother smelled when you were very small, like lavender water and clean clothing. Your little sister crying until you took her to see the latest Shirley Temple movie, two shiny dimes clutched tightly in your hand. The first girl you kissed, sunlight caught in her hair. The perfect crack and tremble of the bat as the ball connected with the sweet spot. The day the war ended, crying with joy in Times Square. Blueberry muffins crumbling beneath your fingertips and melting in your mouth. The sky. And on and on, all these things which you suppose they think make you more authentic, carefully compiled no doubt from a database of the most common experiences for your time. It's all you can suppose, because you can't think of another explanation not impossibly cruel.

You look at the others, into the blank, compliant eyes of your band, your audience, your girls. Proper holograms, the lot of them, no idea that this glittering city isn't the real one, that they're farther away from Nevada than you can fathom. Sometimes you're so jealous you can taste it on your tongue, like bitter metal.

You miss the sky the most. You know, of course, that you could program the holosuite to show you anything you wanted -- the clear, forever blue of summer afternoons, an autumn dawn, the night awash with twinkling stars. You know everything the holosuite can do, because in a way you have more in common with it than with the aliens who come to see you before vanishing again into their world of flesh and blood. You can control it with a thought, the smooth pathways of the computer sparkling always in the back of your mind, natural and yet surreal.

You won't, though. You know this like you know never to mention these thoughts to anyone, lest they take you offline for diagnostics, reprogramming, precautions. You've got to have something of your own to hang onto, even if you know that the memories themselves are fake. You've got to be able to close your eyes and remember the sky for yourself


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